The “Tiny Dancer” bus scene from Almost Famous ranks among the most beloved music moments in modern cinema history.
Following a tumultuous night in which lead guitarist Russell Hammond (Billy Crudup) fought with his band, ditched them to attend a house party and got drunk and declared himself a “golden god,” the members of Stillwater are reunited on their tour bus. The tension is palpable, as people sit in silence. That is until the notes of Elton John’s classic track breaks the ice and unites everyone in song.
The scene unfolds over roughly two minutes of the film, but it took more than two days to get the moment just right.
“We were already running behind a little bit,” director Cameron Crowe recalled during a recent 20th anniversary conversation with Rolling Stone and members of the cast. “Right about that time, we came to the scene that was two lines in the script, which is: ‘They listen to ‘Tiny Dancer’ on the bus and sing along as Russell realizes the warmth of the community of his band and crew.’”
The studio had become leery of Crowe, who seemed to be taking a long time to create his love letter to rock ‘n’ roll. Though executives told him to “rein it in,” he knew he had to take his time to get the “Tiny Dancer” scene absolutely perfect.
“I talked to the cinematographer and said, ‘We gotta cover everybody singing ‘Tiny Dancer.’” And he’s like, ‘Did you hear what the studio told you recently? This is gonna take two days!’”
“It was one of those situations where you just felt it,” Crowe said of the energy while shooting on the bus. “It was like a physical thing when they started singing along, and you could feel all the relationships all in that one spot.”
Still, capturing that energy on film took a lot of time. Wide shots would showcase everyone singing, while later takes would focus on specific individuals. The process was tedious, but the director knew it was worthwhile. “We were doing shots traveling from one to the other. And it felt a little bit like we were on an exotic journey with that short scene. But man, from the first second we started showing that scene to people, it was the beachhead, it was the thing.”
Of course, not everyone enjoyed the experience — or the song. Crowe described actor Noah Taylor, who played the band’s manager, as “the one guy who’s a punk rocker who hates ‘Tiny Dancer.’ You can see two days worth of angst in his eyes as he sang along with that song. He hates ‘Tiny Dancer.’ But everyone else was just feeding off the elixir.”
The scene also gave birth to one of the most iconic lines in Almost Famous. When teenage journalist William Miller (Patrick Fugit) looks at “band-aid” Penny Lane (Kate Hudson) and says he needs to go home, the blonde bombshell waves her hand, smiles and magically says, “You are home.” The line was improvised by Hudson, who found herself caught up in the euphoria of the moment.
“I just remember being on that bus and having my Polaroid camera and singing. I loved when we were all together,” the actress confessed. “That song, that moment really does sort of personify what those moments felt like as a whole for me doing the movie.”