Harry talks to James Cameron, Cracks PROJECT 880, the BATTLE ANGEL trilogy & Cameron's live shoot on Mars!!!
Hey folks, Harry here…. Just had an hour long conversation with James Cameron. In fact, I was asleep when he called. Usually I ignore the cel phone when asleep, but I was expecting a call from my girlfriend.
I answer the phone in garbled sleep voice. The other voice says, “Is Harry Knowles there?” I retort with a sleepy, slightly annoyed… “You got em!”
“Hi Harry, this is James Cameron.”
PANIC! Quint has my recording equipment for the cel phone. My computer is turned off to take notes. 0-60 had to be done in an eye blink. You see – I was expecting this phone call about 2 weeks ago. It all began with Quint in Santa Barbara when he met James Cameron. He deferred to ask about PROJECT 880, because he had heard other reporters getting the door slammed in their faces in regards to it. Well, edited out of that transcript was Cameron telling Quint that he would call me to tell me exclusively what Project 880 was and unload all the nitty gritty details were. He’d shoot 100% straight with me.
Obviously I was anxious. And when the day of his expected call came and passed, I wistfully saw it as another one that… got away.
As a result, all the equipment I had ready to record this historic conversation was gone. It was resting at Quint’s Sea Shack ready to interview the director of V FOR VENDETTA. AICN must get off it’s ass and get equipment to all it’s lead writers for exactly this reason.
Ok – so what’d he say?
PROJECT 880 is AVATAR, or as he put it, “a retooled version of AVATAR” We talked about the scriptment that got out and he said while he was annoyed that it got out, he realized it was really no different than adapting a novel, and that certainly adapting that scriptment, which was incredibly dense as it was, had been a great challenge in and of itself.
Now he still doesn’t know if it is going to be BATTLE ANGEL ALITA or AVATAR that comes next. You see deep within the N.S.A. like security of LIGHTSTORM, Jim has been constructing a Virtual Production Studio completely unlike anything anyone has ever seen before. Within that space are two separate teams concurrently prepping and getting ready to shoot back to back essentially over a 3 year span, BATTLE ANGEL ALITA and AVATAR.
Because of the films’ mutual lack of a BIG STAR in the lead role, his start up on filming isn’t having to be locked down. So both projects can be prepped right up to the last minute before he calls it as to which is getting made.
Why the back and forth? It isn’t because he’s trying to drive us crazy, it’s because he is so in love with both projects that he can’t just emotionally choose one over the other. What has to be decided is which project is the greater commercial introduction to the technology that he’s going to be unleashing upon us. You see. This isn’t just a “next film” to Jim, it’s about evolving cinema as we’ve come to know it. When you’re speaking to him, you’d find yourself not speaking to a crackpot, but to the most lucid evangelical techno-fetishist in the world, who just happens to be a filmmaking god. How can I say that?
Well, one of the side projects that he’s doing is working in conjunction with the MALIN SPACE SCIENCE SERVICES group… those are the guys that developed the M.O.C. Global Surveyor that’s been mapping Mars for the last couple of years. That’s completely changed everyone’s belief of what MARS is. Well, the next big NASA mission is going to have a Live Video Stereo Motion Image device that Cameron has been developing with M.S.S.S. to bring us back live 3D video images in full motion from the surface of Mars… all tied to the back of one of those nuclear powered Rovers that’ll be exploring, if all goes well, for years. See… Evangelical Techno-Fetishist.
I asked if we could expect any of the Cameron Company Regulars to be in BATTLE ANGEL ALITA or AVATAR. His response was, “I really hope so. Listen, I definitely have my favorites. If I’ve chosen to work with an actor once, it’s probably with a good reason, but if I’ve worked with an actor a couple of times, I’ve stayed friends with them.”
Now – BATTLE ANGEL ALITA is seen as the next “franchise” from Cameron. He sees it as a “3 film cycle.” I asked about whether or not he’s seen “Alita” yet, and he confirmed that on both ALITA and AVATAR he’s seen working models that he’s quite satisfied with.
With that we began talking about 3D. The camera he is going to be shooting with is called THE FUSION CAMERA, which is scheduled to shoot a U2 Concert in the next couple of days. I love that he knows where his camera is going. Anyway. Jim’s planning on shooting 3D not so much as the stab you in the eye, throw a flaming spear at you type of thing, but as, what he calls, “A More Lucid Window,” through which to observe the worlds that he’s going to unleash upon us.
When I began talking about the questionable Home Entertainment application in terms of immediate revenue return, like the 2D market today… especially with this film being seen widely in the superior stereoscopic format. Cameron said that all the at home viewing technology is developed and is sitting waiting for content. Before the technology giants like SONY come out with the perfect 3D at home screening units – they need to have at least 30-40 major popular titles to package to offer in an initial offering to the public. That’s where the retro-fitting of 2D films to Stereo Optics is coming in. 3D STAR WARS, INDIANA JONES, etc. I asked him which of his films would get that treatment and at this time he’s really concentrating on T2 and TITANIC. When I asked about ALIENS, he kinda went a little sheepish on me. It seems that he cringes a bit when he watches ALIENS, as the grain of the film bothers him and it was really pushing what could be done with models and costumes and he doesn’t really care to pull a George Lucas and “fix it”, because that is the best that film could be given the tools at the time, and he feels that after all this new fangled technology is out there – that in 30 years time, people will look at those films with a degree of fondness and appreciation for what they represent. And would take into granted their limitations of technology, the same way we do when looking at WIZARD OF OZ or GONE WITH THE WIND or TEN COMMANDMENTS.
Lastly, he wanted people to understand something in regards of the Digital projectors that would be being placed in theaters around the world. These projectors have the capacity to screen things at up to speeds like 120 to 140 fps. The entire industry is going to be shifting to higher frame rates, probably somewhere above 40fps where suddenly the strobing you see or can detect on those big massive battle scenes in films like TROY, which instantly make you disconnect. Those will go away. And on AVATAR and BATTLE ANGEL ALITA it is absolutely necessary to have those higher frame rates, one for the sheer projection of the Stereo images, but also the sort of images he’s planning on putting out there are just the type that at 24 fps, would start to kind of break-up and become unintelligible.
The very last thing I asked was in regards to him having a finish line in his head by which point he’ll know for a fact whether it will be BATTLE ANGEL ALITA or AVATAR – and he said it would be a couple of months and that he’d give me a call to keep me in the loop. It seems that Jim has been very respectful of the legwork that we’ve been doing to track what he’s been up to. And feels he should keep us in the loop.
OK – so the 5 Cameron films he’s going to hit us with look to be AVATAR, BATTLE ANGEL ALITA 1,2,3 and DIVE… which will be a drama shot in and projected with the latest digital 3D technology. Of my hour on the phone with Jim, I can say this. He is giddy, jocular, dead serious and scarily on target. He’s going to be bringing various key filmmakers to his shoot to show them what he’s doing in terms of these films. Basically, he’s the recruitment monkey to try and get the other guys in long pants to set up and play with the toys he’s been helping to innovate. In fact while on the phone with me, he began to inquire about John Carter of Mars and wants to talk to Favreau about the technology he’s using and it’s applications for BARSOOM. It’s this type of evangelical, “I’ve seen the future,” type of self-assured moxie that I love about Cameron.
Did I tell you he was planning on going to the International Space Station and shooting a documentary where he does a spacewalk and the whole 9 yards. Jim is a fascinating fellow to “shoot the shit with” and it looks like we’re going to be doing this again from time to time. Only next time, I hope it is with a bit of warning… and with my equipment bedside and ready. After all… an interview about the future of cinema shouldn’t be left to the waking mind… or maybe, it’s best that it came to mind half in and out of a dream. After all, that is exactly what he’s trying to do. Place a lucid window into the dreams he wishes to share with all of us.