June 1, 2014


The brash excessiveness of Terminator 2: Judgment Day coupled with the low-budget moxie of it’s predecessor The Terminator make the series one of the great one-two punches in action/horror hybrid cinema.  This in addition to the various underlying thematics of both pictures – the malleability of identity, fatalism versus free will, man versus machine – has helped the series endure over time, growing in acclaim with each passing year.  We’re in the thick of the summer movie season now – and Terminator 2: Judgment Day is still the blueprint for what-to-do when making a big budget tent-pole film; whereas The Terminator remains a hallmark of independent filmmaking, proof of just how much is possible on a relatively shoe-string budget with a little nerve and creativity.

The Hero Complex Film Festival celebrated these two movies with a double feature last night, followed by an interview with the man behind them: filmmaker James Cameron. During the post-screening Q&A, Cameron reminisced on coming up with the Terminator concept, casting Arnold Schwarzenegger in the title role and the iconography of the Sarah Connor character. In addition, Cameron gave his thoughts on the upcoming Terminator sequel/reboot (Terminator: Genesis) and how he wanted to do a Spider-Man movie.  For all these highlights and more, hit the jump. For Cameron’s revealing thoughts on the writing process behind his soon-to-be-in-production Avatar trilogy, click here.

Highlights from the James Cameron Hero Complex Film Festival Q&A

James-Cameron-the-terminatorJames Cameron on what was going on in his life when he came up with The Terminator:

Cameron:  It was a completely different time and the film probably reflects that to some extent. I thought of it as an urban noir film – kind of gritty, we’re going to shoot it all with available lights and so on. I would go out at night to all these 24-hour diners and sit and write. I had no money. My mom would cut out of the newspaper these coupons that would let you get two burgers for the price of one at McDonalds. That actually helped. It made a difference. I was financing my zero billion dollar career at that point by painting one sheets for these direct to video movies that we’re so sleazy nobody’s even heard of the titles.

But I think I would make fifteen hundred dollars for a painting that would take me a day or two and then I could coast for about a month and just go and write. It was actually easy to write [The Terminator] because I didn’t have to self-isolate like I do now from multitasking with other businesses and other family obligations. Because I was already isolated – basically just a sad dark isolated human being… There was an innocence to it in a funny way. I was the anonymous angry wannabe filmmaker. I think there’s actually some kind of strength and courage that comes from that. To say whatever comes into your head and it gets harder and harder to do that as you go along. You get encumbered by expectations and business relationships and all that stuff. I was like a free voice in the wilderness at that point. The funny thing is most people hate that period of their life when they’re just trying to break in as an artist and then you spend the rest of your career wishing you were back in that situation.

Cameron on casting Arnold Schwarzenegger:

terminator-2-arnold-schwarzeneggerCameron:  It was interesting. I was fairly new to the casting process so I literally would just go through this big thick SAG book. It’s just a book of headshots of actors. I was flipping through it and I remember stopping and circling Arnold as a really interesting face. I thought iconically he could be a really interesting Terminator. Then I went on and never really did anything about it and then his name came up a couple months later. He was put forward to play Kyle Reese – who was ultimately played by Michael Biehn. It’s a very verbal character. Reese basically explains the entire future world and everything. Twenty pages of expository dialogue — so when I went to meet with Arnold, it was to basically derail that. I thought [casting Arnold as Reese] was a really dumb idea. He’s not right for that character.

I remember saying to my roommate the screenwriter Bill Wisher, ‘Do I owe you any money because I’ve got to go have lunch with Arnold and pick a fight.’ My intention was to blow this up over creative differences just so it didn’t gain traction with the guys funding the film. What I found was Arnold was incredibly charismatic and focused and smart. I really enjoyed the lunch and while I was sitting there, I began thinking he would make an incredible Terminator. I thought let’s hang a left turn here and explore that idea. So I went back to John Daly who was the executive producer and was putting in half the money for the picture and I said ‘He’s completely wrong for Reese but he would make an incredible Terminator.’ I thought I was going to get thrown out of John’s office; but John walked over to the phone, dialed Arnold’s agent and started to pitch the idea. I never heard Arnold’s agent’s side of the conversation but John Daly’s side went something like this ‘Yes… Yes… I know… He doesn’t have much dialogue but he is the title character… I know he’s not on screen much… But he’s the title character.’ And that went on for twenty minutes. The agent turned us down. Then Arnold fired him. And the next day we had a deal.

Cameron on the iconography of the Sarah Connor character:

Linda-Hamilton-Sarah-Connor-The-TerminatorCameron:  I think I knew what I was doing with her. I wanted to create a kind of ‘everywoman’. Everybody always talks about the ‘everyman’ but I wanted to create an ‘everywoman’. Somebody who feels insignificant, that their life doesn’t have any meaning or greater purpose and then she gets tapped by this great duty and burden and she has to step up. We see her change a great deal in the film. You’ll notice that all of her support structures get peeled away. Her roommate, who’s obviously a close friend. The roommate’s boyfriend, who the big strapping guy that might have protected her. Then she meets her protector when she’s very isolated and falls in love with him and then he gets taken away at the end and she’s left on her own. Even her ability to run gets taken away and she’s crawling so it comes down to this extremely primal thing and she has to step up or she’s going to die and history will change. I like the idea that this epic story could be told in these small-scale terms. I knew what I wanted to do with the character but then finding the right actress to play her was difficult. I got incredibly lucky with Linda [Hamilton]. When you look at the two-film arc, I could never have anticipated what she was capable of when we cast her in the first one. We weren’t thinking in terms of a sequel. But the fact that she would be so willful and determined and athletic and to be able to create that transformation is quite astonishing. It works on a narrative level perfectly because she becomes an externalization of her own anguish.

On the budget difference between The Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgment Day:

terminator-2-posterCameron:  The Terminator was really my first complete directing gig and obviously we were very proud  – we meaning me and my producer Gale Anne Hurd — we were very proud of our roots in the Corman guerilla low budget filmmaking world. We were proud of doing more for less. We thought that was our competitive edge as filmmakers. We made a six and half million dollars film that even in it’s time looked like it might be twice that or more. The visual effects were done dirt-cheap and we used every trick in the book. We knew all the classic tricks and we made up a few of our own. I think all the effects of the film combined – models and prosthetics and make up and all that — were all done for about a million dollars. So that’s pretty low budget considering how ambitious the film is. With Terminator 2, I had made a couple films, which had gotten progressively larger. I made The Abyss – and The Abyss was said to be the most expensive film of all time, which it wasn’t. But it was quickly followed by Terminator 2 — which I think was. We went from a six-and-a-half-million dollar movie to a hundred million dollar film…

By the time we had got to Terminator 2, there were a lot more possibilities with CG. Everyone takes CG for granted now but at that particular slice of history, The Abyss, which was released in 1989, had the first soft service CG character ever done for a movie. And even then it was composited using optical frames. Terminator 2 had one of the first digital composites ever done in a movie and it had the first CG character that was a major part of the movie. Obviously that was the T1000. The success of the film hinged on that CG — so we were really in unchartered territory at that point. That was really a milestone in CG. Except we take it so for granted now. I think the CG holds up. You can do it better now but it’s not an embarrassment. The thing that I think you should watch for is that of all the effects associated with the T1000, only a third of them are actually done with CG, two thirds are done using practical prosthetic effects and animatronic effects created by Stan Winston’s guys. Sometimes when his head pops open and things like that — effects that we called Splash Head and Pizza Face and Cleave Man and things like that — those were all sculpted and clay modeled and operated by hydraulics and things like that. So even though it was a 100 million dollar budget, there was still a lot of ingenuity in leveraging the very expensive and experimental CG effects in the film.

Cameron’s thoughts on the upcoming new Terminator film(s):

terminator-genesis-james-cameronCameron:  I pay attention to [the upcoming Terminator film] but I’m not terribly concerned about it one-way or the other. I’ve 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 I’ve gone beyond it. I really wasn’t that interested. I felt like I’d 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 else’s 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 don’t I just create my own new thing that I’ll 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 can’t get too emotionally involved. Now having said that — when Megan Ellison bought the rights [to The Terminator], she asked me if I wanted to be involved. I said ‘Look – I don’t 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 – he’s a friend of mine and we’ve 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 I’m not trying to take credit for the film that they’re making but that was my goal for being loosely attached to the film. 

James-Cameron-Spider-Man-movieCameron on whether he ever thought about directing any superhero films himself:

Cameron:  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 weren’t 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 didn’t 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, it’s not like I’m looking around for the next comic book character.

Click here for all our previous James Cameron articles.

  • Pingback: AVATAR Sequels: James Cameron Explains the Writing Process()

  • Royale With Cheese

    Damn, that would have been a Spider-Man film to see.

    • Pk

      Agreed. His version of Spider-Man is something I really want to see instead of the drivel we have to put up with now

      • Ozweego

        Did I miss something up there…where does it describe what his version of Spider-man would have been???


        The treatment is easily avialable in that big warehouse called the web.

      • Royale With Cheese

        I don’t care if Cameron’s version called for Spider-Man swinging from the rooftops delivering pizzas for the first 45 minutes of the film, It would still be an improvement over the embarrassment that is The Amazing Spider-Man 2. The only person happy with that script was Emma Stone because she wouldn’t have to do anymore of these terrible films.

      • yrulaughing418

        Raimi’s Spider-Man having organic web shooters, instead of mechanical shooters, was Cameron’s idea.

        Not sure I really want to see his version.

        It might have been good but it would have heavily deviated from the comics and perhaps lost the core of what makes Spidey Spidey.

      • Faptain America

        I always preferred the organic web shooters. There’s so much more Spider-Man can do that way, and the story too. Organic web doesn’t “run out”. The web shooter doesn’t short out like in the recent film etc. etc.
        In the Osborn-Parker fight in Raimi’s Spider-man 3 wouldn’t it have been great to see Parker spritz out a small length of web and try to strangle Osborn with it? Mechanical web shooter, though comic-true, doesn’t quite pack that punch.

      • WockerDaw

        Uhhh, I don’t really think that Spidey is the strangling type.

      • Faptain America

        But he was dark Spidey at the time. He nearly killed Harry with the bomb, no? Just something I thought might be fun to see.

      • Mitchell Taco Nash

        When he gets depressed he can web himself a noose…

      • kw

        ….but that’s Spider-Man. He doesn’t have organic web shooters. And having to deal with them running out, or malfunctioning is part of the uphill battle he deals with. Why don’t we give him other powers he doesn’t actually have, like flying, or energy blasts? Spider-Man could do much more that way.

      • WockerDaw

        Whether the web shooters are mechanical or organic really doesn’t matter all that much in terms of what makes Spidey Spidey.

      • yrulaughing418

        It matters in terms of whether or not being Spider-Man is a weird metaphor for puberty

      • RedMercury

        Actually, the “organic” web-shooters came from Spiderman 2099…

      • Chad

        Actually, Spider-Man 2099 came out in 1992. Cameron’s treatment was 1991.

    • Johnny_Mook

      Third time a charm?

    • the king of comedy

      Even tough a James Cameron`s Spiderman movie would have been interesting, I think Raimi did an amazing job and found the right balance beetwen comic book silliness and a character driven storyline of such a character, much of the succes of current super heroes movies is due to the success of spiderman.

  • ike

    Look up Cameron’s treatment for Spider-Man sometime. It was pretty awful.

    • Sweet Pea

      I liked it. Thought he had a much better understanding of Peter Parker and what makes his character than the current ASM team…

      • scheebles

        Spider-Man webbing MJ up on top of a bridge and banging her while telling her not to look at his face is pretty awkward…

      • Mitchell Taco Nash

        Would his penis have organically webbed her vagina?…

        Probably the only instance of having webs in your cooch and it NOT meaning you haven’t gotten any.

  • aceshigh

    Guy’s a stone-cold genius, no doubt about it.

  • NakkuuneN

    Camerons movies has always a great STORY.

    • The Flobbit

      Avatar is laughing in your face right now.

      • http://www.JustPressPlay.net Lex Walker

        Hey now, Avatar had a great story, I mean, it would have to be considering the story was tested and fine-tuned by about 4 or 5 movies before Avatar used it.

      • Sweet Pea

        Agreed. Avatar was a great movie, with a nice story. Cameron knows what the people wants and how to deliver it in the best possible way…

      • The Flobbit

        Is that a backhanded insult? It was absolutely nothing new, except for the visual effects. I have never felt the urge to see that movie again. Come to think of it, I can’t remember a single line of dialogue from the film.

        It was simple and it worked. That’s all.

      • WAldenIV

        “I see you.”

        Holy, cheese, Batman!

      • the king of comedy

        It`s not as bad as some people make it out to be, but it`s not amazing either, the most frusrating part of avatar is that he really had a chance to make one of the best sci fi movies ever made, but instead we got just some fun movie with good visuals interesting use of 3d and filled with cliches,

      • Grendal Sven

        My GF loves that damn movie, watches it every time it comes on.

        And she wonders why I play GW2 so much.

  • Pingback: Had a weird thought about the Terminator films. - Page 3()

  • http://mattedscreen.blogspot.com/ TheMattedScreen

    The man may need a tad bit of help with dialogue every now and then, but damn – the dude knows story and structure.

    • Jesse!

      no doubt, Titanic was downright painful to listen to at times. There’s only so much that even actors like Winslet and Dicaprio can do with bad dialogue.

  • Lance

    Sigh… i was supposed to be at this last night. But I’m glad ti have this writeup!

  • God’s Diamond

    Was more interested in seeing him do battle angel than more avatar. 3d has been waning but he reignited the trend and his new avatar movies might keep it going. Unobtainium sucks but at least Sigourney weaver balances it out

  • 80sRobot

    I got to give him respect for his answer about the Terminator franchise. And I find that inspirational, too: There are many times in your life when you have to let something go and move on.

  • 80sRobot

    I wonder if he’s had any recent thoughts about the Alien franchise. Imagine if Avatar didn’t exist for him and he was the one to write and direct a sequel to Prometheus.

  • Arnold

    So Cameron is basically the George Lucas of upcoming Terminator?

  • http://www.youtube.com/friedricetv friedricetv.com

    This guy is a legend “true to the Terminator character and the idea of Arnold – he’s a friend of mine” that comment rocks! To look after his friend and make sure they do his friend justice!

  • matt murdock

    T2, the Terminator, True Lies, ALIENS, Titanic(too syrupy for my taste), and even the Abyss which was visually stunning back in ’89 but was kind of slow from a story standpoint, are films that have made this man a legendary director and storyteller. T2 and ALIENS are two of my all time favorite films.

    • the king of comedy

      I find Terminator better than T2, it`s more character driven and a perfect mix of action and horror, even with the low budget you can feel the atmosphere and everything that`s at stake, T2 is one of the best action movies ever made and a lot of fun and Aliens is amazing, Titanic and Avatar are movies that made history and have their acomplishments but they`re not Cameron`s best movies he should be remembered for the terminator movies and Aliens

      • Rorshach Sridhar

        Terminator is horror? LOL.

      • Rorshach Sridhar

        Terminator is horror? LOL.

  • Pingback: Hay posibilidades de que tengamos "Terminator 2" en 3D | Entrada Numerada()

  • Pingback: James Cameron parla di Terminator: Genesis e spiega il suo coinvolgimento | Il blog di ScreenWeek.it()

  • Pingback: James Cameron parla di Terminator: Genesis e spiega il suo coinvolgimento | Notizya.it()

  • Steven Fox

    I have read Cameron`s script and seen some of the storyboard, believe me it`s bad.
    It`s worse than Raimi`s movies.

    After all Cameron has not made a good movie since True Lies and Titanic! He should hire real writers, because those scribbles that he calls scripts can be compared to a 5th grader`s homerwork!

    I would never forgive Cameron for the clichefest that was Avatar and how the script was so dumbed down that even people who don’t understand the language could get it, in fact the entire dialogue was useless!

  • Pingback: James Cameron parla di Terminator: Genesis e spiega il suo coinvolgimento | cine-mania aggregatorcine-mania aggregator()

  • Pingback: Terminator: Genesis is Now Officially Titled Terminator Genisys()

  • Pingback: James Cameron Was Asked to Direct and Write the 5th Terminator Movie? | TheTerminatorFans.com()