Though filmmakers like Steven Spielberg and George Lucas are widely considered some of the most popular directors of all time, James Cameron has the distinct honor of directing the two highest grossing films ever made in addition to helming films in two other incredibly successful (and ongoing) franchises. Fans had to wait over a decade for the follow-up to Cameron’s mega-hit Titanic, the performance-capture-heavy Avatar, and we’re currently in another waiting stage as we prepare for the long-promised Avatar sequels.
Cameron is deep in pre-production on Avatar 2, 3, and 4 right now with production set to get underway on all three films simultaneously later this year, but he recently took some time out of his schedule to participate in a fascinating and characteristically candid Reddit AMA in support of his upcoming Showtime docu-series Years of Living Dangerously. In the lengthy AMA, the director discussed the status of the Avatar sequels, his initial plan for Alien 5, his thoughts on Prometheus and the Terminator reboot, the status of Battle Angel, what he thought about Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and even his South Park “appearance”. We’ve compiled some of the more interesting highlights after the jump.
Of course everyone is probably most curious about the Avatar sequels, and during the Reddit AMA James Cameron offered a status update on the films:
The second, third and fourth films all go into production simultaneously. They’re essentially all in preproduction now, because we are designing creatures, settings, and characters that span all three films. And we should be finished with all three scripts within the next, I would say, six weeks.
20th Century Fox has already announced 2016, 2017, and 2018 release dates for the follow-ups, so it finally looks like the Avatar sequels are coming to fruition.
Cameron was also asked why he decided to make more Avatar sequels instead of moving onto something else, like the long-promised Battle Angel, and he replied by saying he was mostly motivated by how audiences responded to the eco-friendly message of the film:
My intention when I made Avatar was to do Battle Angel next. However, the positive feedback for Avatar and the support of the message of Avatar, encouraged me to do more of those films.
For me, the success was a factor because I was encouraged by the fact that an environmental film, or a film about nature, could be successful. It’s certainly not just about money. I’m considering success to mean the measure of the ability of the film to communicate. Every director wants their film to communicate. The biggest factor, however, is the drive to continue developing the world– more characters, more creatures with unfettered creativity.
When we were making Avatar, when we started it, we naturally assumed it would be somewhat successful because it had the elements people like, you know, fantastic environments and good characters and a love story. But then as we got deeper into the production, and it became one of the highest costing films of all time, there was genuine concern that it would never break even, that it would never make money. And we had a very difficult post production, because the film was too long and I wound up editing the film for over a year, and we took out about 45 minutes of film. And I think at the moment we released the film, we still believed it was too long. Once it came out, it was clear the film for most viewers was too short, they wanted more of that world.
Interesting. I thought it was an interesting film. I thought it was thought provoking and beautifully, visually mounted, but at the end of the day it didn’t add up logically. But I enjoyed it, and I’m glad it was made. I liked it better than the previous two Alien sequels.
The filmmaker confirmed that he did indeed discuss collaborating with Ridley Scott on a proposed Alien 5, but it dematerialized after Fox moved forward with Aliens vs. Predators:
[Fox and I] never talked about Alien 3. I don’t remember the timing exactly, but I might have been making The Abyss at that time, also for Fox. What came up was the idea of doing Alien 5, and at one point I pitched that I would write it and produce it, and Ridley would direct it, and we had lunch talking about this, and we were in violent agreement, then nothing happened. What happened was Fox went ahead with Aliens vs. Predator, and I said “I really don’t recommend that, you’ll ruin the franchise, it’s like Universal doing Dracula versus the Werewolf,” and then I lost interest in doing an Alien film. But Prometheus is seen as the A-level Alien, as opposed to rather, the derivative. I don’t think I have anything to offer on the Prometheus sequels, that’s Ridley’s, I think I’ll stick to the Avatar universe.
Though Cameron entered a fully realized Alien universe to helm Aliens, the Terminator franchise was his baby. With Thor: The Dark World director Alan Taylor gearing up to begin production on the new reboot Terminator: Genesis, Cameron was asked about his thoughts on the new film and the franchise as a whole:
Well, I have to be objective, or as objective as possible about that. I’m not big fans of the films, I think that the big ideas of the first movies – I didn’t make the second film until I had an idea as big as the first film, and it had to do with the moral complexity of the story, and asking the audience by the end of the film to cry for a Terminator. I don’t think that the 3rd or 4th film lived up to that potential. Sarah Connor Chronicles I never really watched much of it, so I never gave it a chance I get to get hooked, like you have to with a TV series. I’m hopeful that the new films, which are being made right now as a reboot, but still involving Arnold [Schwarzenegger], will be good. From what I’ve seen from afar, it looks like they will be quite good.
Cameron also offered his thoughts on recent films, expectedly pegging Gravity as his favorite pic of 2013 but also singling out Captain America: The Winter Soldier as a recent film he enjoyed:
This year, 2014, I haven’t seen that much that inspired me yet. My favorite film of last year, hands down, was Gravity, and I was hoping it would win best picture, but certainly happy that my friend Alfonso Cuaron won best director. I did think that this new Captain America was an interesting film for its genre, in that it tackled this idea of digital surveillance and the kind of dark side of our hyperconnected society.
Cameron is certainly in tune with recent advances in technology, and he offered his thoughts on the future of the movies and what he’d like to see done differently in the presentation of film:
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!
Mythbusters did an episode about this and proved that two people could have floated on the door in such a way that both could have survived, but it involved using both of their floatation vests rigged under the door in such a way that they wouldn’t detach. What they neglected to incorporate was the amount of time that they would have had to spend submerged in 28 degree water to attach them that way. Also, Jack is a 19 year old guy processing a problem in real time, in water, at night, and already hypothermic, so that’s a lot to ask of him.
Cameron even addressed his “appearance” on South Park:
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.
Head over to Reddit to read the full AMA, which includes more of Cameron’s fascinating thoughts on climate change, veganism, and his Entourage cameos.