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Interview: J. Cameron

11.25.2002

Right after my interview with Steven Soderbergh last week at the St Regis Hotel, I sat down with James Cameron, the “king of the world” director that made such classics as TITANIC, THE TERMINATOR, and T2: JUDGMENT DAY. Since his worldwide, record-breaking success with TITANIC, Cameron’s been on hiatus, producing side projects including the now-cancelled TV series DARK ANGEL. And now…SOLARIS.

I must say, before I met him I had heard so many stories about his ego I didn’t think he was going to fit through the doorway of the room I was in. Of course, it’s hard to judge someone’s character during a brief, 20-minute encounter you have with them at a roundtable, but he sure seemed to be an ok guy, considering he is one of the more powerful men in Hollywood. He chatted about working with Soderbergh, his future plans, and the role of special effects in Hollywood today. Here’s more from Mr. Cameron…

What was the plan behind this? What were you guys thinking exactly?

I think that’s what people are thinking, because it’s not obvious. Everybody’s been sort of going along with this momentum like well, it’s a big studio, George Clooney science fiction film, and like, whoa, they stop. This is not like anything else that’s been done in a long time. And think about it from a studio’s perspective. They were scared to death when they started this thing, but I think they need to really be applauded for having seen the power of it and wanting to go ahead and do it. And having respected Steven enough to want to do it.

How much did having your name attached helped keep the studio off Steven’s back?

They had concerns. And, you know, Steven’s process is the second he had it done, he wanted to cut it and show it to everybody, and get some feedback. That’s the way he’s used to working. And the studio is not used to seeing anything until it’s really refined. And we’re talking, we saw a cut about 8 days after it was finished. And that was just phenomenal. I wouldn’t show anything I’ve done for at lease three months. So, the studio was at a point where they could’ve had miles and miles of notes and criticisms, but they didn’t. They held back…and that’s hard for them to do. This is a considerable amount of money for them. It’s not $100 million, but it’s still, they want it to be as good as it can be. And now they feel that it actually is.

George says there’s a small window in you career, like at this point in his, where you can take a risk like this. What are your thoughts on that?

Everybody interprets that window differently. Everybody’s always got that window. I mean, as an artist, nobody’s telling me what to do. So you ask yourself the question, do I want to have the nice house, and the Porsche, and the money, and take a chance. Or do I want to just go tell everyone to go fuck themselves and do what I want. Most people choose to make a career out of it. But I think we all believed that this film would speak to people, because ultimately it’s not a sci fi film. It’s not even really like the underlying novel, which was about a lot of esoteric philosophical ideas. I think it’s unconventional in the way the story is told, but I don’t think it’s esoteric in terms of its themes.

How would you have marketed this movie?

Oh, I think they’re doing a good job with this film. They’re saying it’s a relationship film, which it is. They’re saying there’s an other-worldly aspect to it, without being too specific. So it seems to allude to a kind of spiritual kind of story. Whether that means it’s a ghost story or an angel movie. But there’s some kind of a penetration of the life-death barrier going on here, and that’s absolutely true. So, they’re saying this is a story about a guy who loves his wife, but she’s dead. And that’s how they’re selling it. The specifics of this movie, I don’t think you can sell.

Since you were thinking of directing this film, how did you see it?

I personally am more excited about what Steven has done than what I would’ve done. What I would’ve done would’ve been more like THE ABYSS, where visual set pieces might have gotten in the way of what is a clean line as a relationship film…He’s not interested in the hardware or the visual effects very much, which is good.

Why was everybody in such a hurry to shoot it, edit it, and release it?

That’s how Steven works. He works at a breakneck speed. He just goes in there, guns blazing. It’s not that it’s ill-considered. He really sits and works with it in the scripting stage. But it’s a furious process. And he shoots really quickly. But you can see that it’s a beautifully lit film. It’s absolutely gorgeous. But he ‘s like Jackson Pollack, he just wants to get the stuff on the canvas and see what happens.

What made you think George was right for this?

Well, Steven took the lead on that one. But I’m a big fan of George. And I’ve never had a concern with him having the acting chops for this film. This was a push for him, but I just thought inherently he could do it.

What do you think of the CGI revolution? Is it overused right now?

I think it’s positive. Anything that gives us better and better ways of putting on screen what we imagined is a good thing. Are people going to abuse it? Of course. They abused the zoom lens when it came about. They abused color when it was invented. Every new technology has boneheads that use it in bad or obvious ways. And then there are people that use it properly, and those are the ones we remember.

What are some of those?

Geez. I don’t know. Well, I’ll give you an idea of a film that had great power because of its very revolutionary use of CG was LORD OF THE RINGS. I loved that film. I thought it was great. Many of those scenes were very powerful. They weren’t even great CG shots, but they had real scope, and I’m looking forward to the next one.

When will you return to directing?

Within the next year is the current plan.

Is there any truth to the rumor that you’re now camera shy since the success of TITANIC, and that’s why you’ve been away for a while?

No. I’ve just gotten really interested in a lot of stuff that, really, I’ve been interested way before I ever wanted to be a filmmaker. And because I was able to use filmmaking and the technology to do this stuff, these deep ocean imaging expeditions, I’ve spent 4 months out of the last year on an oceanographic ship. And my wife isn’t happy about it. But she’s dealing with it.

Is there any way to prepare the audiences for this film?

That’s your job. I mean, you guys have to say, whether you liked this film or not, I think you have to give the film its due. It’s an unusual film that’s from a very interesting filmmaker. And it may have resonances with people who don’t even like sci fi films. And it’s not a sci fi movie. I think that anybody who’s been in love, and/or will die, should see the movie. And that’s pretty much everybody out there. That’s most of the human race.

When you say this isn’t a sci fi movie, I think you really mean it isn’t a sci fi movie, based on how sci fi is seen in movies today, right?

Exactly. If you’re really a sci fi purist, which I think of myself as, that was all I read as a kid…yeah, it is very much a sci fi film. But it differs from our current pop culture perception of sci fi, because that has been formed by this post-1978, post STAR WARS mentality that sci fi is all about action.

That’s all from Cameron.

Read my interview with Steven Soderbergh here

Read my interview with George Clooney here

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Source: JoBlo.com

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