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James Cameron on Reddit: Three 'Avatar' Sequels Almost Written, 'Years of Living Dangerously,' Guilty Pleasures, Oculus Rift

Interviews
by Anne Thompson
April 12, 2014 5:35 PM
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James Cameron at NAB
James Cameron at NAB

James Cameron has been a vegetarian for two years and explains exactly how the search teams in the Indian Ocean will find the submerged crash site for Flight MH370 --if the pings they've located are in fact from the crashed jet's black box. Find the full unedited Reddit Ask Me Anything (AMA) session here, or read choice highlights below. Not surprisingly, Cameron's fans are ardent and smart. And they still love The Guv!

And yes, we now know that the 59-year-old filmmaker/explorer is writing and prepping all three "Avatar" sequels at once before he starts shooting--they should be finished in the next six weeks, he writes. He also likes singing Wagner's "The Waltz of the Valkyries" in the shower, considers the original "Resident Evil" a Guilty Pleasure, and loved South Park's "Raise the Bar" episode (song lyrics below). And we've learned that both Neil DeGrasse Tyson ("Cosmos") and amishbob can claim that they caused Cameron to make changes in his movies.

Introduction

Hi Reddit! Jim Cameron here to answer your questions. I am a director, writer, and producer responsible for films such as Avatar, Titanic, Terminators 1 and 2, and Aliens. In addition, I am a deep-sea explorer and dedicated environmentalist. Most recently, I executive produced Years of Living Dangerously, which premieres this Sunday, April 13, at 10 p.m. ET on Showtime. Victoria from reddit will be assisting me. Feel free to ask me about the show, climate change, or anything else.

If you want those Avatar sequels, you better let me go back to writing. As much fun as we're having, I gotta get back to my day job. Thanks everybody, it's been fun talking to you and seeing what's on your mind. And if you have any other questions on climate change or what to do, please go here.

"Titanic"
"Titanic"

Most memorable moment on set, ever?

I think that there was a moment of magic-- pure magic--, of coming together with the lens, when we shot the kiss at the bow of the ship during Titanic. The way the sun set, we were all inspired to run to get the shot and we had seconds to do it. There was no rehearsal, we didn't have time, but the actors did beautifully. We did two takes, one that was out of focus and one that was half out of focus, and the one that was used was the one that was half out of focus. And it was beautiful.

From what I heard, George Lucas sent you this drawing when "Titanic" became the highest grossing film of all time. Do you still have it?

Yes-- George took out a full page color ad in one of the trades, Variety or Hollywood Reporter, I can't remember which, and it was an extremely gracious gesture. I sent him a thank you note after.

Do you still talk to DiCaprio? It seems to me that you catapulted his career to where it is today.

George Lucas trade ad for James Cameron
George Lucas trade ad for James Cameron

I think Leonardo, when I cast him in Titanic, he was well on his way. I think I helped him skip a rung or two on the ladder maybe, but he certainly would have gotten there on his own because he's one of the most talented actors of his generation. Do I still talk to him? Yes, occasionally. We're friendly but we're not close friends.

How did it feel when Neil DeGrasse Tyson pointed out that your sky in "Titanic" was wrong?

I wasn't particularly embarrassed because I think that's an unbelievably specific nitpick and if that caused him to not enjoy the film, he may need to reevaluate his priorities. That said, because I'm such a perfectionist, I challenged him to provide me with the correct star fields and incorporated them into the future rereleases of the film. So, if you watch the film now, the stars are correct. 

What is your response when an actor like Sir Ian McKellen says, “this is not why I became an actor” in reaction to acting in front of a green screen without any other actors?

Well, different actors have a different tolerance for green screen work. usually theater trained actors have the confidence to work alone, or work in the absence of props and scenery and so on, because they are used to sort of black box theater and/or one person shows, and they know that part of an actor's power and the magic is their ability to create when nothing's there. Other actors simply just don't like it. So it's always good, if you're making a green screen heavy film, to talk to the actors before you cast them about that issue. Because you don't want to have to be buying someone's talent, certainly actors are well-paid, but you also want them to want to be doing that.

Mr. Cameron, what do you like about filmmaking the most?

I personally love the close work with the actors when we're trying to break a scene, when we're trying to figure out the heart of a scene. I may have written it a year earlier, but the real creative work is that day, when you're going to shoot that scene. I love that we find that magic that was not obvious on the page.

Being the director of a long list of award winning films, what is it that motivates/inspires you every day when you're on set? Any good book recommendations?

I think that what inspires me when I'm on set is working with people I enjoy working with, whether it's the actors, or the visual artists, or even the engineers and technical people, I enjoy the feeling of a group solving problems together and feeling a sense of accomplishment together. That's why to me the expeditions aren't that different from the feature film projects.

I just read a number of good books on similar subjects. One is called Just Food, and it looks at a lot of the myths around food and sustainability. Another is called the Sixth Extinction, which looks at the one we're in right now. There have been five major extinctions in paleo-history, and we're in the middle of the one we're causing. The book I would recommend to everybody is The China Study, which shows definitively that we can not only survive but thrive without meat or dairy, which I see as the key to solving the climate crisis.

What do you feel is going to be the next innovation in film? Do you have any thoughts on the Oculus Rift and it's use in film making? Thanks!

I personally would be very interested to find a way to incorporate VR and a narrative filmmaking experience. So a narrative directed experience that has individuated pathways where you have choices that you make in real-time, I think that would be a lot of fun. I think it would be very technically daunting and expensive, to do it as the same quality level as a typical feature, but it would be fun to experiment with. It sounds like a lot of fun. I don't think it would take over the feature film market though. I'm very familiar with VR, but I haven't seen the specific Oculus Rift device. I'm interested in it, I'm meant to see it sometime in the next month or so, but I've been familiar with VR since its inception. In fact, virtual reality is a way of describing the way we work on Avatar, we work in a virtual workspace all day long. We use a "virtual camera" which is how I create all the shots that are CG in the film, a window into a virtual reality that completely surrounds me.

You have made some of the most successful and best films of the last 30 years, or ever for that matter. Where do you want to see the feature film industry go? That could include, but is not limited to, the stories being told, digital vs film, 24 vs 48 fps, reboots, IMAX, you name it. 

48 fps to me is not a format, it's a tool, like music it's good to use sparingly and in the right spot. I believe all movies should be made in 3D, forever, but the projection needs to be better, and brighter. I want people to see in the movie theaters what I am seeing in my perfectly calibrated screening room, and people aren't seeing that. Larger formats. I'd love to see screens get bigger. In terms of storytelling, I'd like to see Hollywood embrace the caliber of writing in feature films that we're currently seeing in the series on television - more emphasis on character, and less on explosions and pyrotechnics. And I'm talking the big tentpole movies, I think they're obnoxiously loud and fast. Not that I don't like loud fast scenes, I just don't like whole movies that are that way!

Did you laugh at South Park's depiction of you? I've always wanted to know what the celebrities involved in that show think of it.

It's funny. It's like they were actually on the expedition, except I didn't actually make the crew sing a song about me.

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