James Cameron talks upcoming Terminator films, Spider-Man and Avatar sequels
This past Saturday at the Hero Complex Film Festival, James Cameron stopped by to answer questions after screenings of the first two Terminator films. He delivered some anectodes that are pretty well known at this point; meeting with Arnold to play the part of Kyle Reese, and deciding after lunch that he would be the Terminator, or his how his low-budget Roger Corman roots helped to pave the way for the effects practices used in the original Terminator. He also spoke about TERMINATOR: GENESIS, and how he may have had a suggestive influence on the sequels.
Here's what he had to say:
I pay attention to (the upcoming Terminator sequels) but Im not terribly concerned about it one-way or the other. Ive let it go. There was a point in time where I debated going after the rights. Carolco Pictures was failing and in bankruptcy and the rights were in play. I talked briefly to 20th Century Fox about it. At a certain point, I think I was finishing Titanic at the time and I just felt as a filmmaker maybe Ive gone beyond it. I really wasnt that interested. I felt like Id told the story I wanted to tell. I suppose I could have pursued it more aggressively and gone to the mat for it but I felt like I was laboring in someone elses house to an extent because I had sold the rights very early on. Basically I went from being a truck driver to being a filmmaker and part of my dues was that I sold the rights to The Terminator in order to keep myself attached as a director. And the outcome was fine. The rest of my career really hinged on that. But I no longer had control of it. I thought to myself why dont I just create my own new thing that Ill have control over the IP.
So I let it go and in the act of letting it go, I now have to live with the consequences of that which is I cant get too emotionally involved. Now having said that when Megan Ellison bought the rights, she asked me if I wanted to be involved. I said, "Look I dont mind standing behind the curtain and whispering some court advisory in the 13th century type thing". My goal in that was not to insinuate myself artistically but to try to make sure they stayed true to the Terminator character and the idea of Arnold hes a friend of mine and weve been through all the wars together I wanted them to see the possibilities I saw for what they could do with his character. And then David Ellison took the project over from Megan and he and I met a couple times. Arnold is very much front and center in the new Terminator films. So I might have had some tiny effect on it but obviously they had to make the right financial and creative decisions themselves so Im not trying to take credit for the film that theyre making but that was my goal for being loosely attached to the film.
I always felt it'd be ridiculous not to consult the man who created the Terminator franchise as far as what he sees for the future of that world. Even if they don't end up using whatever ideas he had in mind, at least they listened to what he had to say. I suppose I can also understand him not fighting for the rights. We would have all loved a third Terminator film directed by Cameron, but if his heart wasn't in it, and he had the rights, we wouldn't have gotten any more Terminator films at all. Now, I'm sure most are okay with RISE OF THE MACHINES and SALVATION not existing, but if TERMINATOR: GENESIS and its sequels actually turn out to be good, then Cameron's "sacrifice" was worth it, ya know?
Cameron's infamously bad Spider-Man script has been talked about for a while now, although I'll always feel he may have delivered something interesting with that, or any comic book property for that matter, although James Cameron super-hero flick doesn't seem likely at this point, given what he has to say.
In regards to directing a Spider-Man film:
Spider-Man. Spider-Man was kind of going nowhere. Canon a very low budget film company back in the 80s had had it briefly. Nobody had really done anything with it. Marvel characters in general werent being developed very well at that time. I got Carolco Pictures to buy Spider-Man. I was going to launch that as a series of films. I wrote quite an extensive treatment I think eighty or ninety pages long And then again when Carolco collapsed, those rights were in play and I didnt pursue it because I was on to Titanic and I was doing other things. When I was a kid: to me there were all the superheroes and then there was Spider-Man. So having not gotten Spider-Man, its not like Im looking around for the next comic book character.
It's impossible to talk James Cameron and not have AVATAR brought up, but I have to admit that for the first time in the pre-production process of those films, I'm actually quite interested. Since James Cameron wanted to shoot the three sequels together, he hired three writing teams (Josh Friedman, Shane Salerno, and Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver respectively) to help him flesh out the story (one team for each sequel), rather than sitting down and writing those sequels back-to-back-to-back. Furthermore, it looks like they all collaborated on a three story arc, rather than writing one after another.
Here's what he had to say about the writing process:
We tried an experiment. We set ourselves a challenge of writing three films at the same time. I knew I could certainly write any one of them but to write three in some reasonable amount of time we wanted to shoot them together so we couldnt start one until all three scripts were done and approved. So I knew I was going to have to parallel process which meant I would have to work with other writers. And the best experience I had working with other writers was in television when I did Dark Angel. The television room is a highly collaborative and fun experience. So we put together a team, three teams actually one for each script. The teams consist of me and another writer on each one of those three films. Each (writer) would have their own script that theyre responsible for. But what we did that was unique beforehand was we sat in a writing room for five-months eight-hours-a-day and we worked out every beat of the story across all three films so it all connects as one three film saga. I didnt tell (the writers) which sequel was going to be theirs to write until the very last day. So everybody was equally invested story-wise in all three films. So the guy that got the third movie, which is the middle film of this new trilogy, he now knows what preceded and what follows out of what hes writing at any given moment. We all consider that to be a really exciting, creative and groundbreaking experiment in screenwriting. It worked as a process to get our minds around this epic and all these new creatures and environments and characters.
I feel James Cameron is very similar to George Lucas, in that he has some great ideas but should probably take a backseat to writing given how focused he is on other aspects of film-making. The biggest gripe with AVATAR was that the story was all too familiar. Now that we have these separate writers working on each sequel (and that Cameron was there to collaborate with them at the start), I feel we may have some interesting stories in regards to these sequels. Anywhere you turn, people are quick to bash the idea of AVATAR sequels, so they must just surprise us. Time will tell.
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