JAMES FRANCIS CAMERON
The Early Years
James Francis Cameron, the son of Shirley, an artist and nurse, and Phillip Cameron, an electrical engineer, was born in 1954 in Kapuskasing, Ontario Canada, a little town just north of Niagara Falls. He grew up in Chippawa, Ontario (now part of the city of Niagara Falls). At an early age, Cameron's creative interests gravitated toward fantasy. And on the weekends Jim and his siblings and friends would decamp to the local Niagara Falls cinema.
Given his mother's influence, it came as no surprise when Cameron, by age twelve, had become a fairly good artist and announced to anyone who would listen that he was going to "be a comic-book artist" when he grew up. Comic books carried the young James Cameron into Stamford Collegiate High School where his interest in comic-book heroes took a sudden turn to science fiction. His father was an engineer for a paper company; his mother brought up five children, and told stories of racing stock cars and joining the women’s auxiliary of the Canadian Army.
Jim was the oldest, the ringleader of his siblings and the other kids in the neighborhood. His hero was Jacques Cousteau, and although he lived four hundred miles from the ocean, he became obsessed with scuba. He learned to dive in Buffalo one February in a Y.M.C.A. pool. At fourteen, Cameron saw the movie that made him want to make his own: Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey,” the first cinematically exquisite treatment of what had traditionally been B-movie material.
When James Cameron was seventeen, his father got a job in Orange County - Southern California, which thrilled James, because by that time he was intent on becoming a filmmaker, and he was happy to be closer to Hollywood. He had left Canada without a high-school diploma, but later graduated from high school with a better-than-typical grade point averge... He was torn between two career paths, arts and science. He was outstanding in both areas and felt he could make a satisfying life in either arena.
In 1971, he moved to Brea, California where he studied physics at Fullerton College while working as a precision tool-and-die machinist and, later, a truck driver. While he studied at California State University, Fullerton, Cameron used every opportunity to visit the film archive of USC. To the surprise of many people, although Cameron had a large educational background in the natural sciences, he chose a philosophy major from The University of Toronto in 1973.
Cameron's grades in physics and engineering at Fullerton College were good, and he appeared comfortable in the campus environment. But he admitted on more than one occasion that he was torn between the hard realities of science and the potential freedom of the arts.He announced his plans to his family and friends in 1973, shortly after enrolling in Fullerton College. Cameron decided to major in physics and English with an engineering minor.
Cameron would go to great lengths to find creative outlets amid the onslaught of academics that often seemed contrary to his basic state of mind. With barely enough money for food and rent, Cameron would often wind up on the doorstep of family friend Susan Gaede, eager to borrow and play with her camera. James Cameron struggled with higher-level math and became more interested in becoming a writer. At the age of 20, he dropped out of Fullerton College shortly before the fall 1974 semester began.
But rather than sampling life outside of campus, he slipped into a period of lethargy: drinking a lot of beer, sampling other substances, and doing a lot of writing on an ever-present clipboard and yellow writing paper. When Cameron was not actually making [amateur] movies, he could usually be found reading or writing at a cramped table in their equally cramped living room. When he was twenty-three, married a woman who worked as a waitress at a Bob’s Big Boy. In archetypal terms, this was his period of exile and self-denial, the refusal of the call.
Ideas were flowing at a fast pace. He was in a constant state of hyperspeed. And it did not stop when it was time to play. When Cameron read Syd Field's book Screenplay, it occurred to him that integrating science and art were possible. Him and his friends raised money and rented a camera, lenses, the film stocks, studio and shot his amateur movies in 35 mm. To understand how to operate the camera, they dismantled it and spent the first half-day of the shoot trying to figure out how to get it running.
Cameron continued to thrash around a filmmaking career through 1977. He made his movies and showed them to family and friends. However, he made no attempt to get them into the hands of the people who might help him get a foothold in the industry. During that period, Jim would inevitably respond to any questioning of his supposed lack of professional drive by insisting that he just wasn't ready. However, the reality was an inner frustration at the fact that the state of the art of moviemaking had not caught up with the fantastic scenarios that were constantly playing out in his head.
The Inspirational Years - Xenon Genesis
Everything changed in 1977 when he wandered into a local theater and saw Star Wars for the first time. Cameron had become part of an informal group that trekked religiously to the lcoal cinema every time a new science-fiction entry unspooled. They were usually disappointed at the hack work that Hollywood was spewing forth. Then came Star Wars. Cameron was suddenly and appropriately inspired. And he knew he had to alter his professional game plan if he was going to play in the big leagues.
He began casting around for major financing for a serious themed film. In Brea, Cameron met William Wisher and Randall Frakes, who also wanted to make movies, and who are still his two best friends. Eventually he was introduced to a group of dentists who wanted to put up money for a low-budget movie. Cameron and the dentists met. Cameron submitted a batch of ten story lines and was surprised when the dentists decided on a special-effects alien movie called Xenon Genesis, starring Wisher as a futuristic man in an orange jumpsuit who battles an armored robot with a metal pincer for a hand.
The dentists proposed a budget of $400,000; they eventually turned over $20,000 in actual cash. Jim had been counting on at least $150,000. This drastic change in finances caused an immediate alteration in plans. What had originally been designed as a full-length feature would end up being a 12-minute mini-feature that would be used as a calling card to get further financing for the full-length opus. Once again Jim turned to his friends for cast and crew. Space suits were sculpted out of tinfoil.
When he was able to secure Fullerton College's eye clinic as a location, Cameron immediately tailored the script to maximize the use of that set. Jim designed all the models from scratch, he would go out and buy these models of battleships and airplanes and take the pieces and cobble them all together. But, while outwardly confident during the early days of filming Xenon Genesis, Cameron was internally insecure at the prospect of making a real movie with real money.
Jim overcame his insecurities and was soon shouting orders and making outrageous demands of his friends, just like the Cameron of old. He made full use of his arsenal of equipment and took his first major foray into big-time special effects. In the meantime, the dentists putting up the seed money had started to get nervous about how their dollars were being spent. Consequently, the initial stream of money finally stopped, four months into production on Xenon Genesis.
Cameron was greatly disappointed, but finally turned philosophical about having the project dropped. In point of fact, James Cameron was feeling quite fulfilled. Despite sitting on a pile of footage that might never be used, he felt he had, in his own mind, passed a test. What he had shot was respectable for somebody who was totally self-taught, and indicated that he was on the threshold of the nxt big unknown event in his career. Jim returned to the pile of film that was the unfinished Xenogenesis.
He decided he had enough footage to edit into a special-effects laden promo reel that was a shortened version of the proposed full-length production. The result was a 12-minute, 35mm entry that Cameron was quite happy with. And Cameron was confident enough to take a chance to screen it in some local theaters. The response from audiences was good, and inspired the young filmmaker to take what he considered the next step.
Enter Roger Corman, king of the B movies
Roger Corman was legendary in Hollywood for having given many unknowns their first chance to make movies, to make mistakes, and, most importantly, to develop their own personal styles of filmmaking. Cameron had read the stories of how such future film greats as Francis Ford Coppola, Jonathan Demme, Joe Dante, and Martin Scorsese had literally been hired off the street by Corman, so he figured Corman's New World Studio in Hollywood was the place to start. So, with the promo footage of Xenon Genesis tucked under his arm, James Cameron went calling.
Chuck Kaminsky, the head of Corman's special-effects department, thought Cameron's efforts showed a lot of promise. However, he was equally impessed with the fact that the brash young filmmaker had no shortage of self-confidence to go along with his obvious talent. Cameron tried to handle getting this job in the Corman low-budget factory with some degree of cool. However, as he celebrated that night, there was no mistaking his wide grin and the jubilant glint in his eyes. Cameron distinguished himself immediately.
As he continued educating himself in techniques, he started as a miniature model maker at for Roger Corman. Making fast, low-budget productions enabled Cameron to pick up the pace efficiently and effectively. He was focused—often working through the night—and he was scrappy. James Cameron began working at Corman's New World Studio on the sci-fi movie Battle Beyond the Stars, Corman’s takeoff on “Star Wars, and before long he ended up becoming that film's production designer when the person previously in that position was let go.
Each spaceship reflected the character of its pilot, and also Cameron’s instinct for the iconic, literal image; to the mother ship, Nell, he gave a curvaceous shape and a pair of heaving breasts. This was Cameron's first work on a film that was seen in a general theatrical release, and it set him on the path toward his full-fledged film career. He did special effects work design and direction on John Carpenter's Escape from New York, consulted on the design of Android, and acted as production designer on Galaxy of Terror.
Cameron was hired as the special effects director for the sequel of Piranha, entitled Piranha II: The Spawning in 1981. However, the director left the project and Cameron was hired by Italian producer Assonitis to take over, giving him his first directorial job. Under duress, Cameron says he had a nightmare about an invisible robot hit man sent from the future to kill him, giving him the idea for The Terminator, which would later catapult his filming career.
Unleashing the Machine - The Terminator
Cameron was soon able to parlay his experience into a stint as Second Unit Director on Galaxy of Terror. Convinced that he'd found his calling, Cameron decided to write his own script and attach himself to direct. That fateful decision led to Cameron's 1984 sleeper hit, The Terminator, which launched his directorial career. In 1981, Cameron had the idea that became his first autonomous movie. It came to him, as he tells it, in the post-Freudian form of divine intercession: a dream.
He was in Rome, trying to see a cut of “Piranha 2,” a bikinis-and-blood exploitation flick that he had been hired to direct. He was sick and broke, and staying in a tiny pensione. One night, he said, he dreamed of “a chrome skeleton emerging out of a fire.” Then he sketched the figure cut in half and crawling after a woman. Cameron came home and recruited Wisher and Frakes to help him with a storyline centered on the chrome skeleton he had begun to think of as the terminator.
He analyzed the common traits of the ten most successful movies of all time: an average person in extraordinary jeopardy was a major trope. His story posited a future when much of Earth has been destroyed in a catastrophic nuclear war; out of the rubble, a race of machines rises up and tries to eliminate the few remaining human beings. To win the war for good, the machines send a cyborg terminator back in time, to 1984 Los Angeles, to kill the woman, Sarah Connor, a waitress at a burger joint who will later give birth to the leader of the human resistance.
As a young writer, Cameron borrowed a trick from Walter Hill, who, working on the outer-space horror movie “Alien,” took a character that was originally male and, with minimal revision, made the character female. Cameron learned to shoot—shotguns, assault rifles, pistols—in the early eighties, when he was writing The Terminator. He has continued his education, training with a handgun expert on a course with pop-up targets, and spending a lot of time in the desert with his friends, shooting up watermelons and jalopies with an AK-47.
The script for Terminator caused a stir in Hollywood and was a huge hit among the studios. But the production companies he contacted, while expressing interest in the project, didn't want to let James Cameron, who had almost zero credits as a director, be the director of it. Finally, Cameron found a company called Hemdale Pictures, which was willing to let him direct. His soon-to-be-wife, Gale Anne Hurd, who had started her own production company, Pacific Western Productions, had previously worked with Cameron in Roger Corman's company.
The deal he had made with the producer and Gale Anne Hurd was that they would not let any studio make the film unless Cameron himself directed it. She agreed to buy Cameron's screenplay for one dollar, on the condition that Cameron direct the film. Hurd was signed on as producer, and Cameron finally got his first break as director. Orion Pictures distributed the film. Initially, for the role of the Terminator, Cameron wanted someone who wasn't exceptionally muscular, and who could "blend into" a normal crowd.
Lance Henriksen, who had starred in Piranha II: The Spawning, was considered for the titular role. However, the script also went out to Arnold Schwarzenegger, the bodybuilder best known for playing the title role in “Conan the Barbarian”; he was asked to consider playing Kyle Reese, a human from the future charged with protecting Sarah Connor from the cyborg. Schwarzenegger says that, reading the script, he considered everything that the terminator would have to do: repress all emotion, shoot without blinking, speak like a recording from a Dictaphone.
Arnold Schwarzenegger and Cameron first met over lunch to discuss Schwarzenegger playing the role of Kyle Reese and over lunch he said how excited he was to play Reese, but also shared his ideas for the cyborg. So Cameron persuaded Schwarzenegger that he was much better suited to the terminator role. Henriksen got the smaller part of LAPD detective Hal Vukovich and the role of Kyle Reese went to Michael Biehn. In addition, Linda Hamilton first appeared in this film in her iconic role of Sarah Connor, and later married Cameron.
The Terminator was a box office hit, breaking expectations by Orion Pictures executives that the film would be regarded as no more than a sci-fi film, and only last a week in theaters. The film was low-budget ($6.5 million), but it earned over $78 million worldwide. Schwarzenegger’s lines in that film and its sequel, where he plays a good cyborg fighting an evil liquid-silver one, were so memorable, but it is Sarah Connor who has emerged as the cult figure of the “Terminator” films: a full-bore female action hero, the mother of a generation of Xenas, Buffys, and Lara Crofts.
Good Aliens, Bad Aliens
The huge success of The Terminator pushed Cameron onto the Hollywood A List, and after co-writing Rambo: First Blood Part II in 1985, studios were eager to have James Cameron direct the screenplay he had written for Aliens, the sequel to Ridley Scott's film Alien. As Cameron already knew, sequels could be a poisoned chalice, and this particular follow-up was riskier than most. The 1979 cult horror classic Alien had redefined both slasher and sci-fi movies, and Aliens was certain to cause a stir.
It is a common mistake in sequels to simply increase the number of monsters, but in Aliens Cameron used the tactic to great effect. Adding an extra chunk of action to the tense claustrophobic thrills of the original he pulled off the rare feat of making a sequel which rivalled the original. The film earned Oscars for best Sound effects and best Visual effects, and was nominated in five more categories. Fox originally didn't want to bring Siguorney Weaver back for the sequel, thinking that it would be too expensive to do so, but he insisted on Siguorney.
His movie, “Aliens,” intensified Ripley’s machismo, and gave her an important new motivation: to save a little girl whose parents have been killed by aliens. Weaver says that she was shocked when she showed up for work, not having read the script’s stage directions carefully. Her performance was nominated for an Academy Award, a rare recognition for the star of a sci-fi action film.
In the pièce de résistance, Weaver, who also has a large role in “Avatar,” dons a metal-plated hydraulic suit and confronts the Alien Queen, a bony black monster with dripping translucent fangs, like a T. Rex skeleton exhibit come to life, whose goo-encrusted ovipositor is a Satanic vision of the procreative principle.
As an instance of feminist iconography it perhaps leaves something to be desired. “Get away from her, you bitch!” Weaver spits when the Queen goes for the little girl, invoking an archetype that is more catfight than warrior goddess, before she engages her in hand-to-hand combat and takes the old girl down.
To Cameron, making a movie is going to war, and he is a Spartan general: he comes home carrying his shield or on it. It is a posture that requires a good deal of self-parody. Before beginning production on “The Abyss” (1989), the most ambitious underwater movie ever attempted, he went to see Leonard Goldberg, then the president of Fox, which was financing the film. Making “The Abyss” was brutal.
The story, about a deep-ocean oil-drilling crew called upon to prevent a nuclear catastrophe, while dealing with a hostile Navy SEALs unit and visitations from a marine alien, takes place almost entirely at the bottom of the sea. Cameron built the set in Gaffney, South Carolina, in the containment vessel of an abandoned (and never activated) nuclear-power facility, which he filled with eight million gallons of water. The principal actors and much of the crew had to be scuba-certified.
As part of the production design, the actors wore helmets that were lit from within. Cameron wore a similar helmet, but his contained a one-way communications device that broadcast his every grunt and breath through underwater speakers all over the set. None of the crew members could talk back, or to one another, and some of them came up with their own sign language. The crew was in the water ten hours a day; in ten weeks, the production went through ten thousand five hundred air tanks.
To break up the water surface and minimize reflection, the tank was filled with tiny black polypropylene beads, which made their way into noses, ears, and mouths. Infections were rampant, even though the water had enough chlorine in it to turn an electric-blue dive suit gray in a day or two, and bleach the hair and eyebrows of the crew albino-white. Leonard Goldberg got pneumonia after visiting for an afternoon. The weather turned cold, and a black tarp that had covered the tank, blocking out unwanted light, tore. They started shooting nights.
They would surface for lunch at 2 A.M., and their fragile white hair would freeze and break off. Cameron took to wearing a T-shirt—it reappeared during the “Titanic” shoot—that said “Time Means Nothing in the Face of Creativity.” Fox, worried that it had a runaway production on its hands, sent a veteran producer to the set. He arrived in a rented Cadillac, wearing a suit, to tell Cameron and Hurd that they had to scale back the shooting schedule and the budget.
The subplot of “The Abyss” is that Bud Brigman (Ed Harris), the leader of the drilling crew—Cameron’s treatment describes him as “a peculiar mixture of intelligence and hard-headedness, built-in leadership qualities and laid-back casualness, with a good dose of disregard for authority thrown in” — is getting divorced from his wife, Lindsey (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio), an aggressive, no-nonsense engineer. Despite their wretched situation, they are forced to work together. As it happened, Cameron and Hurd were also in the midst of a divorce.
Re-Tooling the Machine
Terminator 2: Judgment Day - 1991
After the success of The Terminator, there had always been talks about a sequel to continue the story of Sarah Connor and her struggle against machines from the future. Although Cameron had come up with a core idea for the sequel, and Schwarzenegger expressed interest in continuing the story, there were still problems regarding who had the rights to the story, as well as the logistics of the special effects needed to make the sequel.
Finally, in mid-1990, Mario Kassar of Carolco Pictures secured the rights to the sequel, allowing Cameron to greenlight production of the film, now called Terminator 2: Judgment Day. For the film, Linda Hamilton reprised her iconic role of Sarah Connor. In addition, Arnold Schwarzenegger also returned in his role as The Terminator, but this time as a protector. Unlike the T-800, who is made of a metal endoskeleton, the new villain of the sequel, called the T-1000, was a more advanced Terminator made of liquid metal, and with polymorphic abilities.
The T-1000 would also be much less bulky than the T-800. For the role, Cameron cast Robert Patrick, a sharp contrast to Schwarzenegger. Cameron had originally wanted to incorporate this advanced-model Terminator into the first film, but the special effects at the time were not advanced enough. The ground-breaking effects used in The Abyss to digitally depict the water tentacle convinced Cameron that his liquid metal villain was now possible.
TriStar Pictures agreed to distribute the film, but under a locked release date only about one year after the start of shooting. The movie, co-written by Cameron and his longtime friend, William Wisher, Jr., had to go from screenplay to finished film in just that amount of time. Like Cameron's previous film, it was one of the most expensive films of its era, with a budget of about $100 million. The biggest challenge of the movie was the special effects used in creating the T-1000.
Nevertheless, the film was finished on time, and released to theaters on July 3, 1991. Terminator 2, or T2, as it was abbreviated, broke box-office records (including the opening weekend record for an R-rated film), earning over $200 million domestically, and over $300 million overseas, and became the highest-grossing film of that year. It won four Academy Awards: Best Makeup,Best Sound, Best Sound Effects Editing, and Best Visual Effects.
It was also nominated for Best Cinematography and Best Film Editing, but lost both Awards to JFK. James Cameron announced a third Terminator film many times during the 1990s, but without coming out with any finished scripts. Kassar and Vajna purchased the rights to the Terminator franchise from a bankruptcy sale of Carolco's assets. Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines was eventually made and released in July 2003 without Cameron's involvement. Jonathan Mostow directed the film and Schwarzenegger returned as the Terminator.
Director James Cameron reunited with the main cast of Terminator 2 to film T2 3-D: Battle Across Time, an attraction at Universal Studios Florida, Universal Studios Hollywood and Universal Studios Japan. It was released in 1996 and was a mini-sequel to Terminator 2: Judgment Day. The show is in two parts: a pre-show where a spokesperson talks about Cyberdyne and the main feature which has performers interacting with a 3-D movie.
Not long after Cameron finished shooting “Terminator 2,” he got divorced from his wife at the time, the director Kathryn Bigelow. He and Hamilton got together, and moved into the house in Serra Retreat. She found herself on survivalist weekends in the desert, flying kit planes and shooting fruit, and riding shotgun in Cameron’s Corvette. She wanted to get married, but Cameron, she says, was not interested in a conventional domestic life. She got pregnant, and moved out when their daughter, Josephine — Cameron’s first child — was nine months old.
Despite living apart, Cameron and Hamilton remained a couple, and he proved to be a devoted father. After six years, when Cameron was making “Titanic,” they married. Hamilton was going to get scuba-certified, but the relationship unravelled too rapidly for that. They divorced, and Cameron and Amis married shortly thereafter. Wisher, Cameron’s old friend, says that strong women are one of the constants in Cameron’s life: “He likes to write about ’em and he likes to marry ’em.”
True Lies (1994)
Before the release of T2, Schwarzenegger came to Cameron with the idea of making a remake of the French comedy La totale!. Titled True Lies, with filming begun after T2's release, the story revolves around a secret-agent spy who leads a double life as a married man, whose wife believes he is a computer salesman. Schwarzenegger was cast as the secret spy, named Harry Tasker, whose mission in the movie is to investigate and stop a plan by Arab terrorists to use nuclear weapons against the United States.
Jamie Lee Curtis played Schwarzenegger's onscreen wife, with Tom Arnold cast as the secret agent's sidekick. Cameron's Lightstorm Entertainment signed on with Twentieth Century Fox for production of True Lies. Made on a budget of $115 million and released in 1994, the film earned $146 million in North America, and $232 million abroad. The film received an Academy Award nomination for Best Visual Effects. ”
After he finished making “True Lies,” Cameron met with Stanley Kubrick. They spent a day, in the basement of Kubrick’s house in the English countryside, watching “True Lies” at Kubrick’s flatbed editing station. Cameron went over the shots—Schwarzenegger in a Harrier jet firing a missile, with the villain attached to it, through an office building and into a helicopter: boom!—so that Kubrick could learn how the effects were done.
'King of the World' - Titanic
The casting of Jack and Rose was the toughest nut to crack. To Cameron's way of thinking, the fate of the entire movie depended on finding young actors who were up to the emotional as well as the physical requirements of the highly demanding film. Consequently, Cameron was particular and did not find anyone to his liking, especially a twenty-two-year old British actress named Kate Winslet, who came in to audition for the part of Rose. Cameron was aware of her credits in such films as Heavenly Creatures (1994) and Sense and Sensibility (1995) but, at first, was not impressed.
But when Kate auditioned on film, it was a very simple decision. It was Cameron's casting idiosyncracies that indirectly led to eighty-five-year-old Gloria Stuart landing the coveted role of the elder Rose Bukater. The director had always insisted that actors up for parts in his movies had to read for him as part of the audition process. He was not one to suffer egos lightly, and so he passed on a number of bigger screen names than Stuart, including Fay Wray, when those talents refused to read for him, claiming their past work spoke for them.
Stuart had no problems reading for the director and subsequently got the key role. James Cameron was living and breathing Titanic into the fall of 1995. He was such a thorough researcher and storehouse of facts that he was close to becoming his own expert. James Cameron announced, in an excerpt from a personal diary that appeared in Wired magazine, that unless he could film the actual remains of the Titanic, he would not make the film.
Typical of Cameron's work ethic, Titanic, with its more than two hundred special-effects shots, was coming together just a step ahead of the release date. He scrupulously trimmed frames and seconds in an attempt to get Titanic down to what he considered a manageable 3 hours, 13 minutes. Titanic, which Cameron wrote, produced and directed, currently holds both the domestic and worldwide box office records, having grossed over $1.8 billion at the global box office. Cameron has an uncanny ability to make people want to see him fail.
This is an unheroic characteristic, but sometimes it serves the storyline. In the mid-nineties, he sold Fox on “Titanic,” a tale of forbidden love between an upper-crust girl and a steerage-class boy, set on board a sinking ship. To many in Hollywood, the project seemed ridiculous—didn’t everybody already know the end?—and more so as it became clear just how big the undertaking was. Cameron didn’t care. He designed a seven-hundred-and-seventy-five-foot-long set—a seven-eighths-scale replica of the “Titanic,” which could tilt on hydraulics and be flooded at will.
There was no tank big enough to contain it, so Fox, for the first time in its history, built a studio from the ground up, in Rosarito, Mexico. There were thousands of actors; Cameron directed, over a loudspeaker, while sitting on top of a tower crane. A few weeks into the shoot, Bill Mechanic, who had recently become the chairman and C.E.O. of Fox Studios, and who was therefore the first in line to lose his job should “Titanic” fall apart, drove down to Rosarito for what he thought was a friendly visit.
There he discovered a production in chaos: no one knew how much money had been spent, and there were stacks of unpaid bills. Mechanic brought on a producer, Marty Katz, to sort it out; Katz says he found that the production was already tens of millions of dollars over budget. Trying to be conciliatory, Katz asked Cameron to consider him a friend. Cameron gave up his directing and producing fees—worth roughly ten million dollars—keeping only about a million, his payment for the script.
He says that he also offered to relinquish his profit participation in the film, but the studio, believing that it would still lose money on “Titanic,” demanded points on his next film, too. The media delighted in “Titanic” ’s troubles. While the movie’s early scenes were being filmed, in Halifax, Nova Scotia, someone sprinkled PCP in the chowder; the perpetrator was never caught but was thought to be a disgruntled crew member. Cameron had the presence of mind to stick his finger down his throat, and was one of the few who didn’t spend the night in the emergency room.
Reports came from the Rosarito set of grueling night shoots and dangerous working conditions. Crew members slept on their feet, leaning against walls. Before the movie came out, Kate Winslet told the L.A. Times that she’d chipped an elbow bone, and that she’d nearly drowned. “Titanic” missed its release date, in July, 1997, and the budget, originally set at a hundred and ten million dollars, swelled to two hundred, the largest in Hollywood history. Cameron was miserable, convinced that he had ruined his career. Amid the mayhem, the director remains a perfectionist.
He fusses with each shot, unbuttoning the jacket on an Irish musician who is about to be wrenched from his wife's arms by a flailing fellow passenger. An extra with a bandage on his head -- presumably from damage inflicted during an earlier shot -- is admonished to keep his face turned away from the camera. When the poop-deck angle gets to 30 [degrees] or more, the actors don harnesses so they can't fall off.
The director paid a dozen visits to the ocean-floor site of the Titanic wreck, some 400 miles off the coast of Newfoundland and 2 1/2 dark and chilly miles below the surface, to shoot footage. That meant nearly three hours drifting to the bottom of the sea, packed with two crew members into a sphere about 7 ft. in diameter. Cameron, an inveterate thrill seeker, loved it. Cameron was gazine intently at a small monitor displaying footage of a shot scene.
The sound hadn't been added yet, but the faces of the doomed passengers indicate that they know the outlook is grim aboard the supposedly unsinkable ship. A priest is leading a prayer, and as his lips move, Cameron murmurs the lines, "Hail Mary, full of grace . . ." One can almost imagine that Cameron is asking a higher power to help navigate his Titanic to a safe harbor at the box office next summer. The picture, which had been in production on locations ranging from Nova Scotia to Baja California, caused a stir in Hollywood with its burgeoning budget.
Throw in tales of the usual Cameron-generated on-set turmoil -- plus an extraordinary incident in which virtually the entire cast and crew were dosed with PCP--and you have one of the most talked-about productions in years. Cameron, according to a source on the set, is ran behind schedule and over budget. It's hardly the first time he's been here -- his last film, True Lies with Arnold Schwarzenegger, started out costing $60 million and wound up with a final price tag of well over $100 million.
This level of expenditure makes some sort of twisted sense to studio executives for a big-action picture starring Schwarzenegger. But Titanic is a historic piece without major stars; it features up-and-comers Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio. An executive at another studio had said he couldn't imagine attempting "a period movie for that kind of dough on the water with Jim." What Cameron promises to deliver, of course, is the Titanic as no one has seen it.
The director of Aliens, both Terminators and The Abyss, Cameron has "vast cinematic appetites," as an agent had put it, consistently delivering event films with dazzling effects. Nevertheless, Hollywood insiders can't fathom how Fox and Paramount--which are splitting the cost--could have made money. Indeed, soon after shooting began, Paramount became spooked by the budget and demanded that Fox limit its exposure. Facing a possible court fight, Fox agreed. But Cameron won't yield when it comes to getting his vision on the screen.
Filming also took place at the Mexican beach town of Rosarito on a 40-acre site dominated by a massive 750-ft.-long re-creation of the ship--a hulking shell built almost to scale. It rested in a 17 million-gal. tank, and was lowered into the water by degrees. One shoot takes place on the poop deck, which can be tilted as much as 90 [degrees] by hydraulic lifts.
This is one of the film's more harrowing sequences, at least from a production point of view: a couple of hundred extras playing steerage passengers had to endure take after take in which they careen down the deck to its end, slamming into each other at high speeds. It's about as rough as football, and without helmets and padding. One night's work produces two broken ribs and a sprained ankle.
Despite the logistical difficulty of the film, Cameron claims his Titanic is more a love story than an action picture -- which may not have soothed his backers' anxieties. Inspired by the romance and sweep of Doctor Zhivago, the director-screenwriter has devised a fictional liaison between first-class passenger Winslet and third-class cute guy DiCaprio. Cameron said he's fascinated by the notion that people who were supposed to be coddled and secure were facing imminent doom.
Fox calculated that even if “Titanic” outperformed the most successful three-hour movie in memory — “Dances with Wolves,” which won the Academy Award — the studio would still lose seventy million dollars. The movie came out just before Christmas. “Titanic” won eleven Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director, tying the previous record-holder, “Ben-Hur.”
Accepting the directing award, Cameron, in a long tailcoat and a gingery-blond goatee, quoted a line from the movie, uttered by Jack Dawson, the steerage-class boy astounded by his good fortune. “I’m the king of the world!” he crowed to the audience, brandishing his statue overhead. It was Cameron at his most vulnerable, exulting in his character’s improbable arc from truck driver to Oscar winner.
The Recent Years
Cameron's films have earned numerous nominations and awards from a variety of organizations, culminating in Titanic's record-tying 11 Academy Awards, including Cameron's three Oscars for Best Picture, Best Direction and Best Editing. To date, his directorial efforts have grossed approximately US $1.1 billion domestically, unadjusted for inflation. After his string of landmark feature films, Cameron turned his focus to documentary filmmaking and the co-development of the digital 3-D Fusion Camera System.
In recent years, Cameron has explored other entertainment avenues, including a small screen maiden television effort, the one-hour dramatic television series Dark Angel, which won the People's Choice Award for Best New Television Drama. Years ago, with Vince Pace, who had worked on “The Abyss,” Cameron started to develop a 3-D camera. He wanted to use it to shoot a dramatic, gritty, realistic Mars movie that would present a compelling case for planetary exploration.
At the time, stereoscopic cameras weighed four hundred and fifty pounds and were the size of washing machines—so cumbersome that when Cameron shot a 3-D short for a “Terminator” ride at the Universal theme park the stuntmen had to run at half speed for the camera to keep up with them. Cameron challenged Pace to come up with what he called a “holy-grail camera”: lightweight, quiet, and capable of shooting in 2-D and 3-D simultaneously. While researching his Mars movie, Cameron made friends with a number of astronauts.
In 2000, he went to Russia to train for a flight aboard the Soviet-era spacecraft Soyuz; the idea was that he would spend thirty days at the International Space Station, do a space walk, and film the whole thing in 3-D. He’d catch a ride home on the NASA space shuttle. It would be like living inside Kubrick’s “2001.” But, before bringing a camera into space, Cameron had to prove it safe. He decided that the best way to test the camera’s worthiness was “combat at sea,” and he took it to the site of the Titanic wreck.
His brother Mike, an engineer, designed two remote-operated vehicles, each equipped with an early prototype of the 3-D camera that Cameron and Pace were developing, and nimble enough to explore the ship’s interior. Late in the summer of 2001, with Vince Pace as D.P., Jim and Mike spent several weeks diving the wreck in submersibles launched from a Russian research vessel, recording images of places that only the ship’s passengers had ever seen. In the middle of the expedition, the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were attacked, and the trip was cut short.
The mission to the space station was put on hold, but the footage from the dive was released as “Ghosts of the Abyss,” a 3-D documentary. Cameron is continuing his passion for exploration by immersing himself in the study of man's potential next great step in the exploration of space: Mars. He is a member in good standing of the Mars Society, a private organization whose membership includes science-fiction writers and astronauts, and whose purpose is to advocate for the human exploration and settlement of that planet.
He shares with the Mars Society the opinion that NASA—on whose advisory council he sat for three years—has become too risk-averse. Through extensive research, and working closely with experts at NASA and throughout the private sector, Cameron has developed a wholly feasible near-term mission architecture, which could put man on the red planet within the next 15 years. Cameron also made an underwater filmmaking expedition to the hydrothermal vents, home to extremophiles, organisms that thrive in environments toxic to most life forms.
Conditions at the vents are thought to resemble those elsewhere in the solar system, so Cameron invited astrobiologists and an astronaut from NASA and the Jet Propulsion Lab, and a scientist affiliated with the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institute, to accompany him. Over sixteen months, Cameron and his team made forty dives at ten sites in the Atlantic and the Pacific. People were tired and stressed and sometimes afraid. It was Cameron’s idea of fun.
These central plans provide the spine of a group of related entertainment projects that Cameron is currently working on, including a novel, which he is co-writing. Cameron produced an adaptation of Stanislaw Lem's science fiction classic Solaris, which was written and directed by Steven Soderbergh, and he produced and directed James Cameron's Expedition: Bismarck, a two-hour documentary on the German battleship for the Discovery Channel.
He is currently working on a return to feature filmmaking with the science fiction film Avatar, which will make use of the Fusion Camera System technology. Home, for Cameron, is a fortress of preparedness. Since 1992, he has lived in Malibu, in a gated community called Serra Retreat, a patch of scrubby hillside across the highway from the beach.
Cameron’s place is a custard-colored nineteen-eighties Spanish house, with a red tile roof, in a small cul-de-sac; at the end of his driveway, there is a gate, beyond which stands a red Humvee platform fire truck and a uniformed security guard, with a clipboard and a badge. Ex-military buddies of his younger brother John David, who served as a marine in Iraq during the first Gulf War, sometimes provide additional security.
He is still an avid scuba diver; when there are sharks in the water, he says, he’s the first one in. Free-diving, he has held his breath for more than three minutes and reached a depth of a hundred and ten feet. He used to have a JetRanger helicopter, and owns a slew of dirt bikes, three Harleys, a Ducati, and a Ford GT—“basically a race car with a license plate”—in classic blue-and-white livery. In Corvettes, he has favored triple black—black body, black interior, black top.
For pleasure, he has designed submersibles; one can go to thirty-six thousand feet, and he hopes to use it to explore the Mariana Trench, the deepest spot on earth. Five years ago, Cameron bought the house next door, which had belonged to George C. Scott. Same architect, same style. It contains a post-production facility, and has editing rooms and a screening room.