Published at: Feb. 7, 2006, 3:52 a.m. CST by staff
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here. I am a geek. Certifiable, some have said. I do pride myself in keeping myself from heavily geeking out in some of the "lucky bastard" situations I've found myself in over the last few years. There are times when I can hold back the big green monster inside of myself pretty easily, but then there are those half dozen times in my life where I came dangerously close to geeking out.
Meeting Spielberg on the set of WAR OF THE WORLDS was one of those times. Conducting a phone interview with John Cleese was another. And today I talked to James Cameron.
I could run through his credits, but you don't need that. I will say I wore out my VHS tape of ALIENS as a child. I had TERMINATOR memorized before my voice broke and TERMINATOR 2 was the very first film I was able to talk my parents into going to see more than once theatrically. I have an ALIENS daybill on my bedroom wall.
See, that's the geek that was trying to break free. All that above.
Below is my nearly 20 minute exclusive one on one interview with James Cameron at the Santa Barbara Film Festival, shortly before he accepted the David Attenborough award for his documentary work. There is a ton of info below... even though the Moby Dick of James Cameron secrets is still swimming free, I promise you you'll know more than you did before reading this interview. I heard him conduct 2 interviews while I was waiting where he batted away questions on AVATAR or any mention of PROJECT 880, so I decided on a kind of different approach to asking him for information on his current slate. Also, you'll notice a cameo question from my pet sea monster (and faithful photo bug) Kraken, who might just be as big of a fan of Cameron's films than I am.
So, without any more jibber-jabber, let's get things moving, shall we?
QUINT: I'm a big fan of your feature work, but I have to say that everything I love about your films... the pushing of the technology, your passion for the story and the material I have found in your documentary work as well.
JAMES CAMERON: I'm kinda glad you saw that. In GHOSTS OF THE ABYSS we didn't really bring the style that you'd have on a feature 'cause that wasn't our brief. We were trying to make it natural. You know, just whatever happened happened. No second takes, no lighting, nothin'.
On ALIENS OF THE DEEP 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.
QUINT: Was that to benefit the IMAX 3-D experience...
JAMES CAMERON: It was... It was just sorta what we wanted to do because I was working with the same crew and we'd had this experience on GHOSTS OF THE ABYSS that we had been so rigorous about not imposing ourselves creatively on the expedition that we wound up with 1300 hours of footage to make a 60 minute movie. That was crazy. We had 300 hours just of 3-D and the other 1000 hours was all the sub interior multi-cam... they were all standard-def video images, but still... it was just hours and hours and hours of stuff.
So, we said, "Alright. We can't do this." Because it just doesn't service because out of all that time you still don't have that person saying that thing you needed to say. So, the way we work now is I say, "Okay... You're the expert, you put it however you want, but you know what we're trying to say here. Put it in some concise way that I can put in the movie..."
QUINT: To try to get some sort of structure...
JAMES CAMERON: You just got to structure the moment a little bit more. What I found out is... that's what everybody does. (laughs) I had this idea of what a documentary was and it was wrong. It was surveillance. We were doing surveillance.
Now, there's some beauty in it because when things happen... We were out filming the Titanic (for GHOSTS OF THE ABYSS) when September 11th happened and I just walked around with the camera and talked to people afterwards... in 3-D and blew it up to IMAX. There's a moment where a friend of mine, Lewis Abernathy, on the expedition... he just went off. He just started talking. It was beautiful. I wish I could have put it all in the film.
You can't make that up. I couldn't have written that down ahead of time. That was just a moment.
There's something that's really intoxicating about the documentary process when something does happen, when it does line up in front of the lens and you're like, "That's incredible!"
QUINT: And you were the one to capture it...
JAMES CAMERON: Yeah, yeah! Or even if the other guys get it... One of my favorite shots in GHOSTS OF THE ABYSS is when we're getting slammed by the storm and we can't get the sub out of the water and we're just getting trashed. I was in the sub, I wasn't even shooting!
I had briefed everybody ahead of time... we had this big plan. What we said was if anything ever goes wrong on the expedition... wrong, wrong, wrong... people dying, blood on the deck... I don't care what it is, you shoot it. I don't care what it is, you shoot it. As long as you're not interfering with emergency operations or if by shooting you're not helping in the situation... But if there's a legitimate case to be made that you're not in the way and they don't need you... shoot it!
So, when September 11th happened, we just shot it. It was pretty amazing. Here we are shooting IMAX off the shoulder, which had never been done before. Shooting hours and hours and hours because it was all HD.
QUINT: I remember seeing the behind the scenes on T2:3-D with the old IMAX 3-D cameras you used and just how gargantuan they were...
JAMES CAMERON: Yeah, the beam-splitter rig... the size of a refrigerator. I wanted to make a 3-D film, but I didn't want to have to use that gear again. I said, "Why can't we use HD?" They said, "Well, HD won't blow up to IMAX." I said, "Yeah, but maybe two HD pictures overlaid with each other will blow up to something that looks a lot like IMAX." They thought I was nuts.
We went to Tokyo, got Sony to work with us... They built these special camera heads for us that we incorporated into our 3-D system. We built the system... you know, it cost millions of dollars to build this camera system, but it works perfectly. It's state of the art.
And now the projection is coming along, too. Now you can shoot it and slam it straight into a digital theater. I can do live 3-D. I can do live 3-D that looks exactly like ALIENS OF THE DEEP... Live!
QUINT: I was on the set of SPY KIDS 3-D and Rodriguez had a set-up there where you can see the 3-D live... to the point where he had a display that you could watch in between takes and see the crew setting up the next scene... in 3-D... as it was happening!
JAMES CAMERON: That's a version of our cameras, yeah. Did he use goggles or did he use the monitor for the 3-D imaging?
QUINT: I had to wear a pair of polarized glasses to see it...
JAMES CAMERON: Yeah, yeah. Well, Robert is actually a 3-D pioneer... Now, hopefully, before he does another 3-D movie or when he does his next 3-D movie he'll do it for digital release and not the anaglyph, 'cause I hate the anaglyph. I think it's a real set-back because it gives people headaches. If you're over 10 years old you can't watch it.
QUINT: Yeah, the polarized on the set was amazing, but the red and blue in the theater...
JAMES CAMERON: Yeah, that's what I'm talking about. It's gotta be polarized. But the new digital 3-D with polarization, with digital projectors, is phenomenal.
QUINT: I saw the digital 3-D projection with CHICKEN LITTLE.
JAMES CAMERON: CHICKEN LITTLE had perfect projection. The movie was retrofitted to 3-D, so I think of it as 2 3/4-D. It wasn't quite... not because they weren't doing good stereo... By the way, I'll call it stereo instead of 3-D because 3-D has been co-opted by the CG world. Stereoscopicy, stereographics, stereo. CHICKEN LITTLE had perfect stereo, but the movie was not conceived as a 3-D film, so it didn't kind of have that "Umph!"
QUINT: At this very moment on this very day... where do you feel pulled the most strongly? To keep advancing technology? To keep exploring? To tell a feature story? Or is it sort of a combination of all that?
JAMES CAMERON: I think the time is right, right now, for me to go back to narrative filmmaking, which is what I'm doing. The reason is I've spent the last 5 years, first of all, having some great adventures, really kind of learning the documentary trade and building up a documentary company which can now function on its own to a certain extent, so I'm now allowed to do it.
But also I get to take all the tools that we've built over the last 3 years, in terms of digital filmmaking, HD, stereo, fiber optics... all the tools that we've built for ourselves for these documentary shows I now bring to the feature. So, I'm really anxious to take everything I've learned in the stereo world and apply it to a feature and that's what we're doing right now.
I can't think of anything that I see on a screen these days without thinking how much better it'd look in 3-D! If I see a movie I really like... Like, I'm watching KING KONG I think, "Man! That'd be great in 3-D!" Everything's better in 3-D! Everything! A scene in the snow with two people talking... in 3-D... It's amazing! You're in the snow! You feel the snow.
QUINT: In CHICKEN LITTLE, the 3-D that I tended to like the most was the simple stuff... like a shot of Chicken Little in the back seat and his dad in the front seat and just really seeing that depth... It wasn't, like, COMIN' AT YA! 3-D...
JAMES CAMERON: Yeah! You're in the car. You're in the car with those guys. It shouldn't be about COMIN' AT YA! 3-D, it shouldn't be about getting poked in the eye all the time. That's the abusive 3-D that I think filmmakers had to go through to get to the stage where we are right now where we think of it instead of something coming out at you all the time, it's a window into a reality. You're sharing that reality or you're able to look into that reality.
QUINT: I'm resigned to the fact that you're going to keep a lid on PROJECT 880...
JAMES CAMERON: Good. That saves us time.
QUINT: But I'm curious why the secrecy...
JAMES CAMERON: Why the secrecy? Um... People tend to dissect movies without seeing them and to me that spoils the magic. Now, having said that, we'll tell everybody what we're doing eventually.
QUINT: Do you have any idea when?
JAMES CAMERON: I'm thinking March.
QUINT: Yeah? Very soon, then.
JAMES CAMERON: Pretty soon, pretty soon. We've been working on this film for 6 months. (laughs) I'm kinda surprised no one knows what we're doing!
QUINT: Can we go over a couple projects real quick? I'd like to bring up something that doesn't get really get brought up much, a film you were working on with Guillermo Del Toro called COFFIN...
JAMES CAMERON: Yeah... Well, COFFIN is not... Look, here's where we are. I've changed the nature of my company. I'm now not developing movies for other directors. I've got 4 films teed up right now that are either in a good treatment or a good shooting draft form for me to do over the next 5 years. I'm teed up. I'm in for longer than 5 years, so I don't need a development staff right now. I just need a little core team, like my documentary team, except on the feature side to just go out and nail these films, one after another. That's going to be the game plan. So, we changed the company and a lot of people left the company as a result.
What I've said is there are only a couple of projects that I will continue to be involved with that we did develop and COFFIN is one of them. The reason for that is because Guillermo del Toro is one of my best friends and we've never really worked together. I mean, we always feel like we're working together because he gets all involved in my stuff, I get all involved with his stuff, but not in an official capacity.
So, COFFIN is definitely not dead and Guillermo says he still wants to make it. He's just finishing up his Spanish film right now.
QUINT: Yeah, PAN'S LABYRINTH. It looks great, I can't wait to see it.
JAMES CAMERON: Yeah, it's a pretty cool film. I've seen it.
QUINT: I remember before Paul W.S. Anderson did ALIEN VS PREDATOR it came out that you kind of made an offer to do another ALIEN film with Ridley Scott...
JAMES CAMERON: Yeah. Ridley and I talked about doing another ALIEN film and I said to 20th Century Fox that I would develop a 5th ALIEN film. I started working on a story, I was working with another writer and Fox came back to me and said, "We've got this really good script for ALIEN VS PREDATOR and I got pretty upset. I said, "You do that you're going to kill the validity of the franchise in my mind." Because to me, that was FRANKENSTEIN MEETS WEREWOLF. It was Universal just taking their assets and starting to play them off against each other.
QUINT: Milking it, totally.
JAMES CAMERON: Milking it. So, I stopped work. Then I saw ALIEN VS PREDATOR and it was actually pretty good. (laughs) I think of the 5 ALIEN films, I'd rate it 3rd.
JAMES CAMERON: I actually liked it. I actually liked it a lot.
QUINT: You know, I hate it when movies don't abide by the continuity of their series...
JAMES CAMERON: When they make up their own rules.
QUINT: Exactly. They did that a lot with the alien incubation time, where from egg to chestbuster it happened...
JAMES CAMERON: In minutes, yeah...
QUINT: That kind of stuff really pissed me off with the movie...
JAMES CAMERON: Well, it starts to become a video game. It's like, "Okay, that can be in him and that can show up over here..." It becomes more metaphorical or more comic book. I don't mean comic book in a negative way, I just mean that it's working at a kind of mythic, metaphoric level as opposed to really trying to immerse you in reality.
I mean, I felt when I was making ALIENS I think the same thing Ridley was doing with ALIEN, which is... "I'm going to make you think this is real." Even though it is completely ridiculous deep space adventure. We were going to make you feel like it's real. It's a question of does the film take itself seriously or not.
KRAKEN: So you still thinking about doing something with it?
JAMES CAMERON: No.
KRAKEN: If we promised you our first babies would you think about doing anything with it?
JAMES CAMERON: (laughs) Well, the other thing I've learned is that when you deal with a studio and it's their asset... it's their asset. And I should have learned that lesson with PLANET OF THE APES because I had a great... great idea with PLANET OF THE APES, but it was Fox's asset. Even though I was supposedly developing it we didn't see eye to eye and they sort of picked up their marbles and that was that. They turned out, I think, possibly the most egregious film that they could have on that subject because they miscast the director. It's the only Tim Burton film that I don't like.
QUINT: Yeah and it's just frustrating because you can see stuff in there that's great, like Tim Roth's performance, but the movie just falls flat.
JAMES CAMERON: He's stunning!
QUINT: What's your favorite dirty joke?
JAMES CAMERON: (laughs)
QUINT: I got one from Clooney so I'm hoping to dig one out of you... And I know you've been around sailors, so I know you have some!
JAMES CAMERON: Favorite dirty joke? Aw, man. I don't know if I want to go there. Clooney doesn't have any kids! (laughs) I think I'm gonna pass on that one!
And there you have it, squirts. COFFIN is still alive, we'll know what PROJECT 880 is next month (still think it's AVATAR), we'll never see his ALIEN movie and his slate is full of features all lined up and ready for 5 years or more of continual projects.
After the interview we talked briefly about ENTOURAGE. For those who don't keep up with the HBO show... first of all, shame on you. It's great. Second of all, Cameron plays himself on the show, directing Vincent Chase and Mandy Moore in an AQUAMAN film. He said he doesn't know the fate of the film in Season 3, only that he might pop up one more time on the show at the big premiere. Pretty sweet, huh?
Hope you folks enjoyed the interview. Thanks to Kraken for taking those pics (and pressing the ALIEN question), thanks to Carol Marshall for arranging the interview and thanks to Mr. Cameron for taking the time to chat with me. I still have only just begun telling you folks about the cool shit I've seen on this trip out here. Keep an eye out later today/tonight for something really cool. 'Til then, this is Quint bidding you a fond farewell and adieu.