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James Cameron Explains How They Wrote the Three 'Avatar' Sequels

by
June 1, 2014
Source: SlashFilm

James Cameron / Avatar

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.

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  • DAVIDPD
    So it's almost like the first one was a prologue to the meat of the series, which will be this trilogy.
    • MattPeloquin
      Cameron is the king of sequels so this should be something really special.
      • Jon Odishaw
        It will be hard for it to be more plain than the first one. I'm sure it will be just as visually appealing as the first one though.
  • http://www.sonicmayhem.com Sascha Dikiciyan
    I will admit it, I did not like a single thing about Avatar. Some neat 3D fx for its time but it was and still feels so forgettable at least to me. I'd rather have him work on something else.
    • OfficialJab
      I never sat down and really watched it, but I 'saw' it several times when I was working at blockbuster and it was playing. It struck me as a movie that I'd like to be in as an open world video game - I wanted to see the whole planet they were on because it looked spectacular, but I wasn't interested in what the characters were doing there.
    • rick
      It's strange how it's the biggest movie in history. Like, there isn't any massive fanbase like there is for Star Wars, Star Trek, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, etc., etc. There are no conventions or spinoffs or expanded universe. If you look at how much the movie made, you'd expect all of that stuff. It seems as if everyone saw it, but nobody said a word about it.
  • Krishna Shenoi
    But did James Cameron explain *why* they wrote three 'Avatar' sequels?
    • Outlaw
      Because James Cameron.
    • Chris Groves
      $2.7 Billion dollars at the box office and stuff like sweeping the Saturn Awards and winning Oscars/Golden Globes MIGHT have had something to do with it.
  • Jon Odishaw
    James Cameron doesn't do what James Cameron does for James Cameron. James Cameron does what James Cameron does because James Cameron IS James Cameron.
    • digifruitella
      shut the fuck up already
      • Jon Odishaw
        I literally did two hours before you even said that. Also I take it you don't watch South Park.
  • Chris Groves
    In a world dominated by blockbusters that are sequels, remakes, adaptations, reboots, spin-offs, crossovers, etc etc...the amount of blockbuster(Truly huge spectacle, not 'mid-tier' or somewhat large) films not based on pre-existing brands is few and far between. Original IPs in massive blockbuster film-making is a rare thing in the new millennium. I honestly think it comes down to Hancock, Avatar, Inception, and Pacific Rim, and the upcoming Jupiter Ascending and Interstellar. I'm sure there are a few more(some might want to include things like 2012), but you get my point. And nowadays, no genre or type of film is truly original. Every film belongs to SOME kind of pre-existing genre, but to be an 'original IP' is quite a rarity among huge films. Avatar and Inception are EASILY the best I can think of. Seeing both for the first time were truly mind-blowing experiences. Inception very much from a narrative perspective(car chases and heists are pretty common fare, but not from the angle of invading levels of dream space). Avatar from a visual perspective. This movie is a true visual masterpiece, every shot is just superb. It is an old story told through an all new lens, and I loved it. I also loved the throwback to the 'classic' adventure story. It reminds me very much of Jurassic Park and King Kong(the original KK was a heavy influence on JP). So I am all for a trilogy. I believe Cameron works best with collaborators. Plus to this degree it is impressive. There were specific screen-writers announced for each film. Josh Friedman - Avatar 2 Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver - Avatar 3 Shane Salerno - Avatar 4 But I think it is awesome that instead of doing it with specific people handling specific scripts, a team of all 4 writers(Plus Cameron, making 5) working for 5 months on the overall trilogy as a whole...that is an insanely encouraging thought. That there were so many minds pitching in is very encouraging in regards to the narrative strength of the trilogy overall.
  • jay
    Regardless of your opinion on the first avatar (i really enjoyed it, personally),this is a really exciting development n the film industry. as has been mentioned before, original movies ("original" being used loosely, virtually nothing is original in film or storytelling by now) not based on other material are few and far between in hollywood, and to see an original project being tackled on this scale gives me hope for hollywood. The only thing i can think of that compares to something like this is peter jackson shooting all 3 LOTR simultaneously, and those were based on relatively old material. Complex narrative is not camerons forte, but visually compelling and technologically cutting edge concepts are. Im excited to see where he takes this trilogy, and am really reassured to see that hes writing all 3 at once, and not just making them up as he goes along. im hoping he can expand his universe and create a world that develops a life of its own, not unlike lucas with star wars.
  • SkyNet300
    Well I'm hopeful about this franchise. Cameron always rocks when it comes to part two's.
    • Chris Groves
      Fun fact, Aliens and Terminator 2 are both considered superior to the original by many fans. Both were released 7 years after their preceding films. Avatar 2 is set to be released 7 years after Avatar.
      • shane willett
        Alien 1 vs Aliens (2) it's like mustard and ketchup,. both are condiments but are entirely different. Some people hate Kecthup say it's to sweet, is a condiment for kids, only goes well on a few things... so let's say Ketchup represents " Action" , where you take mustard, it's a refine taste, can be sweet or spicy, however you rarely see kids enjoying it, its a specific taste and can go with a lot of foods and snacks... and lets say Mustard represents "Horror" both are condiments( SciFi) but both have there own unique taste... I hate kecthup, it's on almost everything , it's never made right, always to sweet and rarely satisfies me hunger for a good condiment ... Mustard is superior ...
        • Bo
          Well, Shane...lol at your choice of metaphors so thanks for the giggle. I'm afraid your glee from having chosen these condiments as your metaphors has interferred with your point making...has clouded your views and opinions from being as clear as they could be as your attachment to the metaphors is more obvious. Am I being redundant?...yea, probably, eh? None the less, I disagree with your opinion that the first Avatar was horrible. However, I must mention that your not liking it doesn't mean it was horrible. I'm a pretty smart and clever guy myself and I simply do not enjoy horrible movies. So Avatar wasn't horrible; it was intelligent and even brillant filmmaking. I get it that people didn't like it and even compared it to Dances With Woves. That still makes me laugh and it's a point well taken story-wise...so...you don't like french fries with ketchup? Wow!
  • Rick Bman
    So... he actually hired writers this time? That's a plus, maybe they'll actually do something original with all that money.
  • shane willett
    wow, talk about jumping the gun... 3 new Avatar movies, the first was horrible..
  • Bo
    Look, Cameron is in charge here. No matter how many writers he says he had on it he clearly made it clear he was always in the room. Not one line, not one word, will be in this 3 film script without Cameron having gone over it, changed it or not, then approved it. He probably just did not want to sit and write it all from scratch. He said that, actually. It all sounds pretty interesting to me. He's without doubt one of the only real visionary filmmakers working today and has been since the get-go. He simply does things film-wise that know one has done before.It really doesn't mean squat if you think his films are ketchup or mustard...the metaphors aren't as clever as the guy below who came up with them thinks...these films will most probably be huge, huge money makers all around the planet and I'd grab a piece of it if one could invest in them. One can't as that's already well taken care of...bummer...lol..
    • Mike Zarquon
      Well, the other writers are working for James Cameron and he has the final word on all three scripts. He is the director and producer too.Good to see that he has given other writers some work on his project. George Lucas should have done that before making making episodes I,II, and III. Sometimes it is necessary to get more input, and fresh minds, as script writers to help with a large film project.

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