James Cameron's Reddit AMA Bits: 'Avatar', 'True Lies' Sequels & More
Ask James Cameron Anything. What would you ask, and would he reply? Time to find out. On Saturday, April 12th, filmmaker James Cameron participated in a Reddit AMA, answering quite a few questions from fans. Some of the good, some of them bad, with plenty of fascinating and surprisingly in-depth replies. Unlike some AMA participants, he actually gave a few lengthy, well-written answers to nerdy questions. He covers his thoughts on Prometheus, Terminator and Gravity, to future technology, to Avatar & True Lies sequels, to Arnold, to HFR & 3D, and much more. We've curated a number of worth-reading answers.
View the full Reddit AMA here, with all of the questions and answers. Below are some of his best quotes about movies and other fascinating Cameron revelations. To start, what movie influenced him the most?
Well, I can point directly to the film that had the biggest early influence on me, 2001: A Space Odyssey. Even though it's not necessarily my favorite film right now, it has a very special place for me developmentally, because when I saw it, I went from someone who enjoyed watching movies to wanting to make movies myself. So I started to experiment with creating that imagery.
[Answering about Harry Potter or Star Wars?:] For me personally, Star Wars. It had a lot of meaning in my life. The way I view the world, even if I were starting them together, I would like Star Wars better because I like hard science fiction more than I like fantasy. Which is not to say I don't enjoy watching Harry Potter.
On being asked to make Alien 3 and thoughts on the rest of the Alien franchise at Fox:
We never talked about Alien 3. I don't remember the timing exactly, but I might have been making the Abyss at that time, also for Fox. What came up was the idea of doing Alien 5, and at one point I pitched that I would write it and produce it, and Ridley would direct it, and we had lunch talking about this, and we were in violent agreement, then nothing happened. What happened was Fox went ahead with Aliens Vs Predator, and I said "I really don't recommend that, you'll ruin the franchise, it's like Universal doing Dracula versus the Werewolf," and then I lost interest in doing an Alien film. But Prometheus is seen as the A-level alien, as opposed to rather, the derivative. I don't think I have anything to offer on the Prometheus sequels, that's Ridley's, I think I'll stick to the Avatar universe.
On why exactly he decided to delay Battle Angel and make more Avatar movies next?
My intention when I made Avatar was to do Battle Angel next. However, the positive feedback for Avatar and the support of the message of Avatar, encouraged me to do more of those films.
For me, the success [of Avatar] was a factor because I was encouraged by the fact that an environmental film, or a film about nature, could be successful. It's certainly not just about money. I'm considering success to mean the measure of the ability of the film to communicate. Every director wants their film to communicate. The biggest factor, however, is the drive to continue developing the world-- more characters, more creatures with unfettered creativity.
In reply to a question about "the Alien Queen and the T-800 Terminator" fighting - who wins?
Is the T-800 armed or not armed?
An Armed T-800 with a plasma rifle will clean house, all it has to do is shoot the Alien Queen, and have it bleed on the Na'vi. I would think that all three of them unarmed. Queen beats Na'vi. Queen beats T-800, because the T-800 would tear the arm off a queen, which would dissolve the mantel and shut down the cyborg.
Now a Na'vi riding a leonopteryx, or a Na'vi riding a thanataur, that would be a different story.
On future technology and high-frame rates like 48FPS and also the future of 3D:
48 fps to me is not a format, it's a tool, like music it's good to use sparingly and in the right spot. I believe all movies should be made in 3D, forever, but the projection needs to be better, and brighter. I want people to see in the movie theaters what I am seeing in my perfectly calibrated screening room, and people aren't seeing that. Larger formats. I'd love to see screens get bigger. In terms of storytelling, I'd like to see Hollywood embrace the caliber of writing in feature films that we're currently seeing in the series on television - more emphasis on character, and less on explosions and pyrotechnics. And I'm talking the big tentpole movies, I think they're obnoxiously loud and fast.
On the possibility of ever seeing him make True Lies 2 (with Tom Arnold):
We abandoned True Lies 2 after 9/11, because we didn't think a comedy about fundamentalist terrorists was so funny anymore. And then we never picked it up again.
Answering both: what inspires him while working on set; what good books does he recommend?
I think that what inspires me when I'm on set is working with people I enjoy working with, whether it's the actors, or the visual artists, or even the engineers and technical people, I enjoy the feeling of a group solving problems together and feeling a sense of accomplishment together. That's why to me the expeditions aren't that different from the feature film projects.
I just read a number of good books on similar subjects. One is called Just Food, and it looks at a lot of the myths around food and sustainability. Another is called the Sixth Extinction, which looks at the one we're in right now. There have been five major extinctions in paleo-history, and we're in the middle of the one we're causing. The book I would recommend to everybody is The China Study, which shows definitively that we can not only survive but thrive without meat or dairy, which I see as the key to solving the climate crisis.
His thoughts on Ridley Scott's Prometheus:
Interesting. I thought it was an interesting film. I thought it was thought provoking and beautifully, visually mounted, but at the end of the day it didn't add up logically. But I enjoyed it, and I'm glad it was made. I liked it better than the previous two Alien sequels.
And it was done in native 3D and I'm a big fan of Native 3D done by directors who embrace it as an art form, like Ridley, Scorsese, Ang Lee.
On Arnold Schwarzenegger appearing in any of the Avatar sequels and their current status:
As of right now, he and I have not discussed it, and I don't see a role as the scripts are coming together that would be appropriate for him, so I would say probably not.
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. And we should be finished with all three scripts within the next, I would say, six weeks.
There's always pressure, whether it's a new film or whether it's a sequel, to entertain and amaze an audience. I've felt that pressure my entire career, so there's nothing new there. The biggest pressure I feel right now is cutting out things I love to get the film down to a length that is affordable. There hasn't been a problem finding new and wonderful things to include in the movie.
His thoughts on the later Terminator franchise movies:
Well, I have to be objective, or as objective as possible about that. I'm not big fans of the films, I think that the big ideas of the first movies - I didn't make the second film until I had an idea as big as the first film, and it had to do with the moral complexity of the story, and asking the audience by the end of the film to cry for a Terminator. I don't think that the 3rd or 4th film lived up to that potential. Sarah Connor Chronicles I never really watched much of it, so I never gave it a chance I get to get hooked, like you have to with a TV series. I'm hopeful that the new films, which are being made right now as a reboot, but still involving Arnold, will be good. From what I've seen from afar, it looks like they will be quite good.
On whether or not he had a slasher movie concept in mind while make Aliens:
I think I was following in the footsteps of the first film ALIEN, which was the classic "10 little indians" model where you start out with X number of beloved characters, and have one that prevails. In ALIENS, three characters prevail at the end. So I would say ALIENS is more about family bonds, even though it's a pseudo-family in the film, and cooperation against an enemy.
On the question: "Are there any timelines where Skynet wins? If yes. How is this achieved?"
Well, if one believes in a multiverse of an infinite number of parallel universes, or even a large number of them, then there have to be a few where Skynet wins. But you know, I don't know how it's done exactly. And if I did I wouldn't say.
On his most recent favorite movies including Alfonso Cuaron's Gravity:
This year, 2014, I haven't seen that much that inspired me yet. My favorite film of last year, hands down, was Gravity, and I was hoping it would win best picture, but certainly happy that my friend Alfonso Cuaron won best director. I did think that this new Captain America was an interesting film for its genre, in that it tackled this idea of digital surveillance and the kind of dark side of our hyperconnected society.
On whether or not the Oculus Rift and virtual reality have a future in movies or not?
I personally would be very interested to find a way to incorporate VR and a narrative filmmaking experience. So a narrative directed experience that has individuated pathways where you have choices that you make in real-time, I think that would be a lot of fun. I think it would be very technically daunting and expensive, to do it as the same quality level as a typical feature, but it would be fun to experiment with. It sounds like a lot of fun. I don't think it would take over the feature film market though. I'm very familiar with VR, but I haven't seen the specific Oculus Rift device. I'm interested in it, I'm meant to see it sometime in the next month or so, but I've been familiar with VR since its inception. In fact, virtual reality is a way of describing the way we work on Avatar, we work in a virtual workspace all day long. We use a "virtual camera" which is how I create all the shots that are CG in the film, a window into a virtual reality that completely surrounds me.
Finally, on the future of filmmaking technology that he's still waiting to see catch up:
I'd like to see sensor technology, image capture sensor technology, increase so that we could do some fun things like higher resolution, larger format, adding more XY camera movement on after the image has been taken, as part of the editorial process. There are some things I'd like to do that technology doesn't allow me to do right now but i think the technology will happen in a few years.
For the rest, head to Reddit or find only his answers right here. Thanks to SlashFilm for the tip. It's a bit unfortunate to hear that we probably won't ever see a True Lies sequel (I'm still one of those who loves the original and wants more) but then again, I think we all expected that anyway. Right? I find it particularly fascinating the way he explains that Avatar's success as an environmental movie was what kept him so focused on making the sequels, and that he won't be getting Arnold, but will literally be shooting three all at once, with a story and characters that span all three. I'm not really surprised, but nonetheless fascinated, by his inspiration from 2001, which could explain his love for the spectacle of cinema. Good answers, Cameron.
As always, Reddit delivers some of the most truthful and revealing answers we'll ever get. Your thoughts?