James Cameron is one of the most successful directors currently working. His films have grossed more than medium size countries. He’s been hailed as a visionary and a luminary. He recently sat down to chat about some of this movies and some of the movies that he didn’t actually get to make.
“I pay attention to (the upcoming Terminator sequels) 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, 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.”
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.
On the writing process:
We tried an experiment. We set ourselves a challenge of writing three films at the same time. I knew I could certainly write any one of them but to write three in some reasonable amount of time – we wanted to shoot them together so we couldn’t start one until all three scripts were done and approved. So I knew I was going to have to ‘parallel process’ which meant I would have to work with other writers. And the best experience I had working with other writers was in television when I did Dark Angel. The television room is a highly collaborative and fun experience. So we put together a team, three teams actually — one for each script. The teams consist of me and another writer on each one of those three films. Each (writer) would have their own script that they’re responsible for. But what we did that was unique beforehand was we sat in a writing room for five-months eight-hours-a-day and we worked out every beat of the story across all three films so it all connects as one three film saga. I didn’t tell (the writers) which sequel was going to be theirs to write until the very last day. So everybody was equally invested story-wise in all three films. So the guy that got the third movie, which is the middle film of this new trilogy, he now knows what preceded and what follows out of what he’s writing at any given moment. We all consider that to be a really exciting, creative and groundbreaking experiment in screenwriting. It worked as a process to get our minds around this epic and all these new creatures and environments and characters.