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 decompress? 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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