James Cameron Explains How They Wrote the Three 'Avatar' Sequels
Bring on the sci-fi, James Cameron. Last night at the Hero Complex Film Festival in Los Angeles, James Cameron made an appearance for a Q&A following screenings of The Terminator and T2. He covered a number of projects and details, but one of the most interesting topics he discussed is the writing process on the Avatar sequels. We already know Cameron is currently working on three back-to-back Avatar sequels, hitting theaters starting late 2016, one every year until 2018. All three stories will connect in some way, but aside from that, we still don't know where things will go. Putting together three scripts is daunting, but even moreso when the stories need to flow together, so Cameron explains how they tackled this monumental task.
Here is James Cameron's full excerpt via SlashFilm transcribing his Q&A at the Hero Complex Film Festival:
We tried an experiment. We set ourselves a challenge of writing three films at the same time. And 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, fun experience.
So we put together three teams, one for each script. The teams consist of me and another writer on each one of the three [films]. So I’m across all the films and then each one of them would have their own individual script they were responsible for. But what we did that was unique was we sat in the 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, sort of, three film saga. And I didn’t tell them which one was going to be there’s individually to write until the last day. So everyone was equally invested, story wise, in all three films.
So, for example, the guy that got movie three, which is middle one of this new trilogy, he now knows exactly 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. I don’t know if that necessarily yields great scripts but it certainly worked for us as a process to get our minds around this kind of epic with all these new creatures, environments and characters and all that.
Cause the first thing I did was sat for a year and wrote 1500 pages of notes of the world and the cultures and the different clans and different animals and different biomes and so on. And had a lot of loose thematic stuff that ran through that but I didn’t a concrete story. I wanted to approach it more like, "Guys we’re going to adapt a novel or series of novels." Because I felt that kind of detail, even if movies can’t ever be that detailed – it can be visually detailed, it can’t be that detailed in terms of character and culture. But you always get this tip of the iceberg kind of thing. You sense it’s there off camera or in the past of the moment that you’re seeing. So I felt that was the way to do it.
So there you go. Thanks again to SlashFilm and Collider for the transcripts. I hate to be the fanboy jumping up and down here, but this sounds awesome. Yes, many are going to call Cameron out for saying that writing three scripts together like television writers is "a really exciting, creative and groundbreaking experiment", but on this scale, it is. With millions and millions of dollars invested, years of development, everything has to come together and work out and it's probably even better that they've started working together since Day One. I would love to hear about who else he had on his "teams" of writers, but it sounds like we'll have to wait and dig for that later. For now, while Cameron isn't revealing plot details, I'm glad he's divulging more.
The three Avatar sequels have already been compared to The Godfather trilogy, and Cameron has hinted before: "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." As a sci-fi geek, this all sounds amazing, and I cannot wait to get our first glimpse, hopefully coming soon.