Titanic Director, James Cameron, Speaks

Q.   So, what was the toughest shot?
A.   They all seemed tough. Some were more dangerous
than others, some were more logistically complex,
some were more expensive in terms of the digital
finish. It was all hard. 

Q.   Hey, it was a joke question. For any
other movie, I'd expect a specific answer. 
But for this thing...

A.   There would be hundreds of contenders. On any
given day, I probably would have said, "The one
we're doing right now." Certainly, anything to do
with the sinking of the whole forward portion of the
ship. We had 200 running feet of the superstructure
of the Titanic, three stories high not including
the funnels, and we're lowering that 40 feet down
into seawater with 200 people on it. And we're
doing it repeatedly and safely. 

Q.   But you did have a few mishaps.

A.   We had three injuries, and in two of those cases
the person was back on the job the next day. I
don't feel great about that. For me, it's like a
religion, the religion of safety on the set. All
of my sets have always been safe. I've always done
these incredibly complex movies: violent
shoot-outs, buildings exploding, tractor-trailers
flipping--and never had anybody get hurt. 

Q.   Then there was PCP-laced seafood
chowder, which poisoned you and about 85
people on the Nova Scotia location.

A.   It was the most bizarre experience I've ever had
on a film set, to see all of those people hit with
something at the same time. We thought it was
paralytic shellfish poisoning, and we were all
going to die. The first time I felt the symptoms,
I forced myself to throw up and got a lot of it
out of my system. I was down before everybody else and
sort of helping out. 

Q.   They never figured out who did it, but there
was speculation it was some disgruntled crew member.

A.   My theory is it was a bullshit, internecine thing between 
two people who had nothing to do with the production, and we just
got caught in the crossfire. 

Q.   Still, it's easy to see why people would
jump to that conclusion. You're not exactly known for 
being the most agreeable guy to work for.
A.   Well, there's no mathematical formula for how to
do this. [Sometimes] I have to turn my hat around
and become the cantankerous artist and say,
"Because I think this is how it's supposed to be, goddammit." 

Q.   So, you agree you can be a pretty
obsessive type when you're working?

A.   For me, the more detail I can get, the more
reality. The more of a world I can create in my
head, the better. I mean, I got plans of the ship
and I pored through old photos and drawings. I
could imagine I was walking down a corridor and
know what was to the right and the left through
any door. I was able to take it to that level. 

Q.   How did you go from driving trucks to
making movies?

A.   I just came home one day and told my first wife 
I'd quit my job and was going to become a filmmaker. Now
she was the only one with a job, so I put stuff on
her Visa card, so I could, like, build sets and rent cameras. 

Q.   I presume she threw you out soon after that.

A.   Pretty much. But I paid her back! I was good for it. 

Q.   To conclude our discussion of perceived character flaws, 
what about the intelligence of spending $200 million on
a movie about an overpriced, unsinkable ship that sank?

A.   Well, hopefully, it's not like Waterworld. [Laughs.] 
Everybody sort of equates the two, but we went out of our 
way not to make the same mistakes they did. We didn't 
shoot out on the open ocean; we didn't put ourselves at 
the mercy of the elements. I mean, I know you don't mess with
Mother Nature. We looked at every scenario in the world 
about how to realize these images, from going to Australia to using
the shipyards in Gdansk, Poland, and having sets built in England.
But the scenario that made the most sense, that gave us the most
control, was to build our own studio in Rosarito. 

Q.   Even then, you couldn't finish the film in time for a July
release, which many people seemed to think was commercially crucial.

A.   We could've come out last summer, and it would've
been not as good a film--it's that simple. Terminator 2 was kind 
of a rush job, but it didn't hurt the film, because it was an 
action film. It's easy to cut action. You can cut it quickly, and I
have a real instinct for it. Cutting performance is much more complex
and subtle. You have to live with it. Also, cutting a three-hour 
movie takes proportionally longer than cutting a two-hour
movie, for obvious reasons. 

Q.   What was it like when Japanese teenyboppers mobbed Titanic's world
premiere at the Tokyo Film Festival in November?

A.   It was a riot--it was Beatlemania. People could have been killed
there, it was that scary. Linda and I got crushed in the crowd because 
they thought Leo was with us. Three thousand people crushed in around 
our car; we could not breathe. It was terrifying. But it was good, too! 

Q.   When you've finished promoting Titanic, what will you do to

A.   I still owe Linda about half a honeymoon--maybe two thirds, 
depending on how the negotiations go. We're just planning on doing
some traveling for the next six months or so. Do some diving. Gotta 
do some diving. There are a whole lot of shipwrecks I haven't explored yet. 

Q.   There's been a lot of conflict over control of the sequel rights 
to the Terminator films. Where do you stand on the situation?

A.   I've actively decided not to do another Terminator. There's a 
certain pride of authorship, of having created something. But you 
don't have to be a slave to your own creation. These movies are
hard and complex and they take a lot of time, and I don't want to go 
back to territory I feel finished with creatively. 

Q.   What do you think Titanic's effect on epic moviemaking will be?

A.   Even if Titanic is a hit, I don't think studios are going to 
be real anxious to go out and make another epic movie until somebody
else as crazy as me comes along to try it. The thing is, back when a 
lot of big epics that we still know and love were made, big budgets
were celebrated. Cast of thousands and all that. They bragged on it, 
but now it's become a pejorative. In a way, it speaks to the sameness 
of filmmaking. You can do an epic film, but it's got to be Batman
& Robin. You've got to be able to do toys and theme-park attractions 
and all the other stuff to help pay for it. There's a certain type of
filmmaking that's now barred from being the most spectacular: in other 
words, epic movies for grown-ups. That's a thing of the past. And it's 
going to continue to be a thing of the past just because Titanic got 
pilloried for trying to do that. Regardless of how successful this film 
is, nobody wants to go through that again. 

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