Jonathan Crocker

Editorial Director | Journalist

Talking Movies… James Cameron

Posted by Jonathan On December - 8 - 2009

james-cameron1. Piranha Part Two: The Spawning (1981)

“I was hired by a very unscrupulous producer. He put me with an Italian crew who spoke no English, then fired me a couple of weeks into the shoot and took over directing. Turns out, he’d done that on his two previous films. He wouldn’t show me a foot of film that I’d shot, so I went in and ran the film for myself. I made a few changes – I don’t know if the editor ever noticed – and it was fine. So I thought, ‘I actually can do this. I just fell in with a pack of thieves and whackos.’ I also realised nobody would hire me after that experience. I’d have to create my own thing to direct again.”

2. The Terminator (1984)

“I had many, many people trying to buy that script, but I wouldn’t sell unless I went with it as the director. Initially, I didn’t really want Arnold. I’ll never forget telling my roommate, ‘I’ve got to go have lunch with Conan and pick a fight with him.’ That was my agenda: to get in an argument and come back and say he was an asshole. But he was so charming and so into the script. Even though he made me smoke a cigar that made me sick for six hours. Funny thing was, he even had to pay for lunch, because I was this loser who didn’t have any money. Casting him shouldn’t have worked. The guy is supposed to be an infiltration unit and there’s no way you wouldn’t spot a Terminator in a crowd if it looked like Arnold. But that’s the beauty of movies. If there’s a visceral, cinematic thing happening that the audience likes, they don’t care if it goes against what’s likely.”

3. Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985)

“Yeah. For my sins, I wrote that for Carolco. I did that for the money. That film put them on the map. I admire the film’s success and I’m happy for everybody involved, but I always have to distance myself from it because it’s not the film I wrote. I wasn’t really vocal about it at the time, but it was substantially rewritten by Sylvester Stallone. The script that I wrote was pretty violent, but not in such an amoral way. My work with Stallone consisted of one lunch to discuss the script. He said, ‘I think you should put a girl in it.'”

4. Aliens (1986)

“Our intention was to do a film that was not as scary but more intense and – I like to use the word – exhilarating. It turned out everybody but us thought the film could be made without Sigourney Weaver, which completely blew my mind. One of my biggest problems was coming up with a reason why she goes back. Soldiers from Vietnam re-enlisted because they had an inner demon to be exorcised – that was a good metaphor for her. I wanted to have the final confrontation with the Queen to be a hand-to-hand fight. A very intense, personal thing. I think of the Queen as a character, rather than a thing or an animal. And there’s a lot of revelation going on there, how their whole social organization works.”

5. The Abyss (1989)

I used to always dream about tidal waves. I don’t know if it’s a Jungian thing; I haven’t researched it. Waves are rather good metaphors, which is probably why I was attracted to rewriting Point Break, even though I don’t surf. In The Abyss, there was no monster. We were the monster. Audiences didn’t like that. They wanted another duke-out between Sigourney Weaver and the Queen Alien. And that’s not what that movie ever was. I sat with the entire cast beforehand, one by one, as they were being considered for their parts and said, ‘Don’t take this if you’re not willing to learn how to be a helmet-rated deep diver, which will take you four weeks.’ I told them this would be worse than a Kubrick movie.”

6. Terminator 2 – Judgment Day (1991)

In the first film, the Terminator’s not really a character, he’s the embodiment of the ultimate tidal wave. And the idea of this little guy who could kick Arnold’s ass, was fun to think about. I wanted the effect of the T-1000 to look like a spoon going into hot fudge. The last 25 pages of the script were written non-stop – we’d been up for 36 hours straight – and we shot the film in under 13 months. The first time I saw the film with an audience, the moment Arnold walks down the steps of the bar in his motorcycle outfit got the biggest reaction. I thought, ‘Why are they reacting so strongly here? Because they got it. He’s back. Now we can do anything.’”

7. True Lies (1994)

“I was interested in a character where Arnold shows vulnerability and comes unravelled for love. And I liked the comedy potential of the lies, the facades, the allegory of relationships. For me, this movie is about the unknowability of people. True Lies is both James Bond and the anti-James Bond. Eliminate the context of Cold War and nasty international terrorists and what is 007? A single man travelling the world on a limitless bank account – the ultimate male fantasy! True Lies takes this fantasy and compares it with the problems of the ordinary man. If situations are ridiculous, the feelings are real.”

8. Titanic (1997)

“I had dark hours on Titanic that were as dire if not more dire than on Piranha II. We missed the iceberg by that much. But I’m at my best when I’m neck-deep in ice water trying to work out how we’re going to, you know, keep the lights turned on when the water hits the bulbs. Titanic was conceived as a love story. If I could have done it without one visual effect, I would have been happy. It was definitely a goal to integrate a very personal, emotional filmmaking style with spectacle – and try to make that not be chocolate syrup on a cheeseburger, you know. The cathartic experience is what made the film work.”

9. Expedition: Bismark (2002)

“You know, I was a wreck diver before I was a filmmaker. Ghosts of the Abyss was originally supposed to be about Titanic and Bismarck, but that that spun off into a separate project. For me, the Bismarck was the Death Star. You have to imagine a ship so powerful, it could bring an entire nation to its knees. It was this monstrous piece of steel that held together no matter what the British threw at it. And when it finally sank, it became a legend with the same force the Titanic had.”

10. Ghosts Of The Abyss (2003)

Whatever happened, happened. No second takes, no lighting, nothing. What we said was, if anything ever goes wrong on the expedition – people dying, blood on the deck – I don’t care what it is, you shoot it. It was pretty amazing. Here we are shooting IMAX off the shoulder, which had never been done before. We’d been so rigorous about not imposing ourselves creatively on the expedition that we wound up with 1,300 hours of footage to make a 60-minute movie. That was crazy. We had 300 hours just of 3-D. One of my favourite shots is when we’re getting slammed by the storm and we can’t get the sub out of the water. We’re just getting trashed. I was in the sub, I wasn’t even shooting!”

11. Aliens Of The Deep (2005)

“I said, ‘We’re going to make this one a little more cinematic, we’re going to contour this a little more. We’re not going to make anything up that didn’t happen, but we’re going to do some lighting, we’re going to make it feel a little more movie-like.’ That was just a conscious decision. In the underwater subs, I call it flying because you feel like you’re in a helicopter. We were about 2.5 miles down. A lot of pressure. No sunlight. Amazing. The question is, how can what we know about these animals that shouldn’t be there tell us what we might find on Mars or Europa or other places in the solar system?”

12. Avatar (2009)

“This film integrates my life’s achievements. It’s the most complicated stuff anyone’s ever done. I’ve been working on this sucker four years now, fourteen years in the dreaming. When I was a 14-year-old boy riding the school bus, reading a sci-fi book a day, my body was trapped in Chippewa, my mind was wandering the galaxy. This film is very much being made for that boy. When you see a scene in 3D, that sense of reality is supercharged – Avatar takes place in another world and you’ll feel like you’ve been to that world. I can say with absolute certainty that you will see stuff you’ve never imagined.”


Publication: Total Film

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About Me

Jonathan is a London-based journalist, critic and editor. He currently works for data visualisation agency Beyond Words.



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