James Cameron on Reddit: Three ‘Avatar’ Sequels Almost Written, ‘Years of Living Dangerously,’ Guilty Pleasures, Oculus Rift

James Cameron on Reddit: Three 'Avatar' Sequels Almost Written, 'Years of Living Dangerously,' Guilty Pleasures, Oculus Rift

James Cameron has been a vegetarian for two years and explains exactly how the search teams in the Indian Ocean will find the submerged crash site for Flight MH370 –if the pings they’ve located are in fact from the crashed jet’s black box. Find the full unedited Reddit Ask Me Anything (AMA) session here, or read choice highlights below. Not surprisingly, Cameron’s fans are ardent and smart. And they still love The Guv!

And yes, we now know that the 59-year-old filmmaker/explorer is writing and prepping all three “Avatar” sequels at once before he starts shooting–they should be finished in the next six weeks, he writes. He also likes singing Wagner’s “The Waltz of the Valkyries” in the shower, considers the original “Resident Evil” a Guilty Pleasure, and loved South Park’s “Raise the Bar” episode (song lyrics below). And we’ve learned that both Neil DeGrasse Tyson (“Cosmos”) and amishbob can claim that they caused Cameron to make changes in his movies.

Introduction

Hi Reddit! Jim Cameron here to answer your questions. I am a director, writer, and producer responsible for films such as Avatar, Titanic, Terminators 1 and 2, and Aliens. In addition, I am a deep-sea explorer and dedicated environmentalist. Most recently, I executive produced Years of Living Dangerously, which premieres this Sunday, April 13, at 10 p.m. ET on Showtime. Victoria from reddit will be assisting me. Feel free to ask me about the show, climate change, or anything else.

If you want those Avatar sequels, you better let me go back to writing. As much fun as we’re having, I gotta get back to my day job. Thanks everybody, it’s been fun talking to you and seeing what’s on your mind. And if you have any other questions on climate change or what to do, please go here.

Most memorable moment on set, ever?

I think that there was a moment of magic– pure magic–, of coming together with the lens, when we shot the kiss at the bow of the ship during Titanic. The way the sun set, we were all inspired to run to get the shot and we had seconds to do it. There was no rehearsal, we didn’t have time, but the actors did beautifully. We did two takes, one that was out of focus and one that was half out of focus, and the one that was used was the one that was half out of focus. And it was beautiful.

From what I heard, George Lucas sent you this drawing when “Titanic” became the highest grossing film of all time. Do you still have it?

Yes– George took out a full page color ad in one of the trades, Variety or Hollywood Reporter, I can’t remember which, and it was an extremely gracious gesture. I sent him a thank you note after.

Do you still talk to DiCaprio? It seems to me that you catapulted his career to where it is today.

I think Leonardo, when I cast him in Titanic, he was well on his way. I think I helped him skip a rung or two on the ladder maybe, but he certainly would have gotten there on his own because he’s one of the most talented actors of his generation. Do I still talk to him? Yes, occasionally. We’re friendly but we’re not close friends.

How did it feel when Neil DeGrasse Tyson pointed out that your sky in “Titanic” was wrong?

I wasn’t particularly embarrassed because I think that’s an unbelievably specific nitpick and if that caused him to not enjoy the film, he may need to reevaluate his priorities. That said, because I’m such a perfectionist, I challenged him to provide me with the correct star fields and incorporated them into the future rereleases of the film. So, if you watch the film now, the stars are correct. 

What is your response when an actor like Sir Ian McKellen says, “this is not why I became an actor” in reaction to acting in front of a green screen without any other actors?

Well, different actors have a different tolerance for green screen work. usually theater trained actors have the confidence to work alone, or work in the absence of props and scenery and so on, because they are used to sort of black box theater and/or one person shows, and they know that part of an actor’s power and the magic is their ability to create when nothing’s there. Other actors simply just don’t like it. So it’s always good, if you’re making a green screen heavy film, to talk to the actors before you cast them about that issue. Because you don’t want to have to be buying someone’s talent, certainly actors are well-paid, but you also want them to want to be doing that.

Mr. Cameron, what do you like about filmmaking the most?

I personally love the close work with the actors when we’re trying to break a scene, when we’re trying to figure out the heart of a scene. I may have written it a year earlier, but the real creative work is that day, when you’re going to shoot that scene. I love that we find that magic that was not obvious on the page.

Being the director of a long list of award winning films, what is it that motivates/inspires you every day when you’re on set? Any good book recommendations?

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.

What do you feel is going to be the next innovation in film? Do you have any thoughts on the Oculus Rift and it’s use in film making? Thanks!

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.

You have made some of the most successful and best films of the last 30 years, or ever for that matter. Where do you want to see the feature film industry go? That could include, but is not limited to, the stories being told, digital vs film, 24 vs 48 fps, reboots, IMAX, you name it. 

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. Not that I don’t like loud fast scenes, I just don’t like whole movies that are that way!

Did you laugh at South Park’s depiction of you? I’ve always wanted to know what the celebrities involved in that show think of it.

It’s funny. It’s like they were actually on the expedition, except I didn’t actually make the crew sing a song about me.

No budget too steep, no sea too deep. Who’s that?! It’s him, JAMES CAMERON!

I think that’s from South Park! It literally is, it’s the song from the South Park episode where they parodied my dive to the Mariana Trench.

His name is James, James Cameron

The bravest pioneer

No budget too steep, no sea too deep

Who’s that?

It’s him, James Cameron

James, James Cameron explorer of the sea

With a dying thirst to be the first

Could it be? Yeah that’s him!

James Cameron

Source: Season 16 Episode 9: Raising the Bar

How did you feel about what “Prometheus” contributes to the “Alien” story ark? And which is your favorite movie?

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.

A few years ago, I directed a Nintendo DS game based heavily off your ALIENS film, and one of the features that we focused on (which really resonated with fans) was letting you play as 20 different marines, carefully building up each of their personalities (rewriting the full game script for each), then permanently killing them if you ran out of health. I felt that at its heart, your 1986 film was essentially more of a ‘slasher film’ than a sci-fi or action one: you spent the first half creating characters we the audience love, then the second half killing them off one-by-one. My question is: Did you consciously have this sort of ‘slasher film’ mindset as you made the film?

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. So it doesn’t exactly follow the slasher model.

Why the shift from Battle Angel to producing more Avatar films? Is it the overwhelming success Avatar generated or the drive to develop the world Avatar exists in more? How much more do we not know about their world/universe?

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 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.

Any news regarding the Battle Angel adaptation? You tweeted before about casting Jessica Alba for a role.

I never tweeted casting Jessica Alba for Battle Angel. She was our star of Dark Angel, so there might be some confusion there since we’ve never gotten to the casting stage for Battle Angel. Currently the project is on hold until I finish the currently planned Avatar sequels, which will be a number of years.

When will you make a True Lies 2??

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.

Hello James. 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.

Good Guy James Cameron: doesn’t tell Skynet how to obliterate our species.

One could argue that the machines have already won. All you have to do is look around at how many people are face-down texting 100% of the time, everywhere they are, and it’s hard to imagine the machines haven’t won.

Do you still have nightmares about terminators?

No, I’ve never had nightmares about Terminators after I made the film. I had nightmares that inspired the film. But I always feel that making the film is the catharsis that stops the nightmares, if you will. For example, I used to always have nightmares about giant waves, tsunamis essentially. And when I made the Abyss, which had a giant wave scene in it, those stopped.

Mr. Cameron, would you like to collaborate with Arnold Schwarzenegger again?

I think he still gets to be called Governor? I think he’s still officially addressed as Governor? Well Arnold and I are good friends, and we look for opportunities to work together and to support each other’s causes, and I think that’s one of the reasons he got involved in “Years of Living Dangerously.” Because one, I asked him, and two, as a leader, he made huge strides in clean energy himself, so he’s a believer. The title was a riff based off of a 1980’s movie starring Sigourney Weaver, called “The Year of Living Dangerously,” which I believe was based on a novel.

What did you honestly think of “T3,” “T4,” Sarah Connor chronicles and all the other non Cameron “Terminator” works? Also, does it scare you that Arnold has a tank now? 

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.

You gotta remember, for Arnold, a tank is a recreational vehicle, I wouldn’t read too much into it. He just wants the biggest thing he can get to drive. He was the first boy on his block to have a Humvee.

Will /u/GovSchwarzenegger be appearing in any of the Avatar sequels? When does it go into production? After the massive success of Avatar do you feel a lot of pressure to make the sequel even better?

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.

I am beyond excited to be able to step foot into Pandora. Any details you could share with us about the park expansion at Animal Kingdom in Walt Disney World? Even the tiniest detail would be awesome! 

Well, Disney are doing a first-rate job designing it. It’s going to be completely spectacular. It will be like being on Pandora. You will see real floating mountains. It’s going to be a very magical experience just to be there and walk around. And the two rides will be absolute state of the art. But I don’t how much they want to say about what those rides specifically will be, so I probably shouldn’t say anymore than that. But from what I’ve seen so far, it will be amazing. I will be sad it’s in Florida, because I won’t be able to go a lot to it.

What do you like to do to help get your creative juices flowing?

Well, I’ll work out or do yoga. Sometimes I’ll read or watch something that is in the same area code to the project I’m working on. If I’m in the midst of a project, I’ll go back and read what I wrote the day before. I also have an extensive file of images- photographs and art- that I like to consult.

I’ve been wondering where the idea to ALWAYS have a character yell “Go, go go!” in your movies came from. Did it start as a conscious thing or did you notice it later and just continue on?

Oh, it must just be the way I talk! In fact i just wrote a scene yesterday where a character says “Go Go Go!” The page is open on my computer right now. First of all, people do that in the military. The reason for it, especially over radio comm, is that people can inadvertently stop a transmission, so if something is really important, you say it three times. Which is why when I do my deep dives, I would always say “Release, release, release” so there was no doubt in case the communications got stepped on by another transmission or interference. I’m going to go change that scene now. Nobody wants to be predictable.

1. Have you ever had a moment on a film when you’ve just sat back and gone “This cannot be done, it is too much for me I might have to quit on this project” 2. In concerns to climate change I am one of those people who as soon as you mention it I turn off and tend not to listen, what facts can you give me to change my attitude. (I’m only 16 years old so you could say I’m not mature enough)

I would say yes, that moment exists on every one of my films. I don’t think about quitting, but I always think there might be a high probability that I will die trying. So far we’ve always figured it out, but Avatar felt the most hopeless. We were 3 years into a 4 year project before we saw the first usable shot.

In terms of the turn off factor of climate change, I understand it. So what’s going to change a 16 year old’s mind about climate change? The purpose of our show was to change people’s minds about climate change as something that’s happening right now and hurting people right now. Not in some foreign country, but right here, right now. When I was 16, people were protesting the Vietnam war because people were dying. If you think of it that way you’re going to become engaged, because it’s something that’s happening right now and to people like you.

What is the best advice ever given to you?

As a film director, the best advice I ever got was from Roger Corman. He said “film directing is hard work, sit down as much as possible.” The funny thing is, I never followed it! I always come in on first day of production, and there’s a producer chair with my name on it, and I say “take it away! It won’t be used.” And then about 3/4 of the way through a long shoot, I relent, I start following Roger’s advice towards the end of a production.

What has been your favorite film this year?

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.

Which of your movies is your own personal favorite?

Well, I have 5 kids and I would never answer the question if someone asked me which one was my favorite. The same with my movies. Each film is a journey, you learn so much from it, and it’s a reflection of a different period in your life, a different snapshot of who you were at this time. The one I’m working on is always my favorite. Right now it’s Avatar 2, Avatar 3, and Avatar 4.

More on science/exploration/environment below:

Given your experience with submersibles, do you have any insight into the challenges of finding flight MS370?

Well, I know how it will be done. If these pings that they’re receiving are confirmed as being from the flight recorders, then they’ll triangulate the acoustic data that they have so far, and they’ll generate what’s called a search box. I don’t know how big that will be, but it might be 25-30 miles on a side, it might be a very large piece of ocean. Then there are a suite of tools that can operate at the kind of depth we’re talking about, I believe between 4000-5000 meters. My ultra-deep submersible would not be required at those levels, that’s half of the level it’s designed for.

The next step would be to use an AUV, an autonomous underwater vehicle, and have it run at 400 or 500 feet above the bottom and do a sonar profile of the bottom, it does that by running a search pattern, kind of like mowing the lawn. That takes days or weeks to do. Then you analyze any signatures that are anomalous, that don’t look like flat bottom, and you say are those rocks, is that geology or does that look like the piece of an aircraft? And then once you have those targets, you know where they are on the bottom, then you go back, either with that type of vehicle or an ROV (a remotely operated vehicle) that would be hanging down from a ship on a cable. And you’d take a look essentially with a videocamera. And then you’d be able to identify whether that target was in fact the aircraft you are looking for. So that’s how it would be done. But it all hinges on whether or not those pings are actually from the black box, and not from something else, like a scientific instrument that’s drifted off course or whatever.

What was the biggest challenge you faced when you traveled down the Mariana Trench? Since when were you planning to do it and why?

Well, there were a number of challenges leading up to the dive in terms of creating a new submersible from scratch that involved many new technologies, and anybody who has ever built a complex new technological system from scratch knows what I’m talking about. But the biggest challenge on the day of the dive itself was the sea state, we had a 2 and a half meter sea, so talking close to 8-10 foot waves. That was bigger than we were supposed to launch in. And during the launch process, one of our key safety systems got broken on the submersible. And I elected to dive anyway. Then it turned out not to be necessary, it was a backup system, and the dive went fairly well after that.

Your ears don’t pop, because the submersible is designed to withstand the pressure. What you feel is the cold, and the confinement. Now your MIND is very aware of the pressure, because if the submersible were to fail, you’d cease to exist in a microsecond. I call it “being chummed into a meat cloud.” Needless to say, that didn’t happen, unless we’re in one of those parallel universes we were talking about before.

On that dive, we discovered a number of new species, they were very small, including a new sea cucumber, it was very small, I referred to one of them as a “little sea pig” because they look like little pink piglets. They’re about as big as your thumb, or maybe smaller. Technically, they’re called Holothurian. And we also discovered a large number of new bacterial species that live in the bottom sediment down there. But the impression is of a very desolate landscape, like the moon. You have to look very closely to find life down there.

Is there any chance that well be seeing pictures or footage from this trip? I’ve been extremely curious.

Yes. We shot the whole expedition and I shot the the dives in the 3D. There’s a 3D film called Deepsea Challenge that is from National Geographic that will be released theatrically.

Can you tell us the story of the coolest deep-sea creature you’ve ever encountered? Not necessarily the biggest, but the one you thought was the most amazing?

I was diving a site called Lost City, which is an enormous hydrothermal structure, and I saw a creature which we believe to be a new species, it hadn’t been seen before, which was a seven foot diameter jellyfish, very diaphanous, very thin and elegant and otherworldly. And this was at a depth of 850 meters. I photographed it for 20 minutes in 3-D high definition, and it’s in a film that we put out called Aliens of the Deep.

It looks to be related to a species that is known in the Pacific called Deepstaria Enigmata but we didn’t capture ours, so we can’t claim a new species without a specimen. He looked happy, we didn’t want to grab him and tear him to the surface. We just called it the “space bagel” because it was kind of donut shaped.

Where did you love of nature begin?

Well, it must have begun in early childhood, because most of my childhood memories involve being outside, in the woods, hiking in summer, winter and spring. Collecting bugs and butterflies and snakes, there wasn’t anything that crawled, swam or flew in our little area of Canada that I didn’t want to grab and study. I also spent a lot of time with my microscope studying little creatures in the ponds and streams as well.

I’m really excited to see “Years of Living Dangerously,” I think the format will get a lot of people to learn more about climate change that might not have otherwise. My questions are: What is the best thing we can do to help combat climate change? 

Dorian, this may surprise you, because it surprised me when I found out, but the single biggest thing that an individual can do to combat climate change is to stop eating animals. Because of the huge, huge carbon footprint of animal agriculture. I was shocked to find out that animal agriculture directly or indirectly accounts for 14.5% of all greenhouse gas emissions, compared to all transportation – every ship, car, truck, plane on the planet only accounts for 13%. Less than animal agriculture. So most people think that buying a Prius is the answer, and it’s certainly not wrong, but it’s not the biggest agent of climate change.

Does this mean that you yourself have stopped eating animals? If so, how long ago did you decide to do that?

It’s been almost two years. It’ll be two years on May 4th since I had a single molecule of anything that came from an animal. This includes meat, eggs, dairy, cheese, fish, etc. I feel great. I feel like I’ve set the clock back 15 years.

What would be the best thing after becoming vegetarians? Because I just can’t realistically see myself making that switch.

The next best thing, I would say, is to vote responsibly. We really need better leaders, and we need to demand of our leaders the things that they need to be doing, like creating a tax on carbon.

What prompted you to purchase a winery in the beautiful Comox Valley? (my hometown)

Well, it’s actually next door to an 80 acre sustainable organic produce farm, which is what I was primarily interested in, and then I thought that if i wanted to enter the relatively small regional market there for organic produce, it would be good to have the winery as well, because you deal with all the local restaurants and foodies and so on, it’s not as simple as just going to the farmer’s market. Plus it was literally next door, and it was an award-winning boutique winery, and it seemed like those two businesses would compliment each other. It’s a beautiful place and I’m happy to be returning to my Canadian roots by having a home and a farm business there!

When his “War of the Worlds” came out, Steven Spielberg stated that his own personal view was still that aliens would more likely resemble the benevolent ones of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” and “E.T.” Do you think humanity’s first contact with aliens would be closer to “Aliens” or “The Abyss”?

I believe that human history and the history of evolution on this planet indicates that our first contact with alien species might not be as benign as Steven thinks. The history on our planet is whenever a superior technology society encounters a society with lesser technology, the superior technology supplants the lesser society. There has never been an exception. So if the aliens come to us, it probably won’t go well for us. A thousand years from now, if we’re the ones going to where the aliens are (like the story told in Avatar) it won’t go so well for the aliens.

What’s your favorite thing to do in your off time?

Just hanging out with the family, with the kids, that’s my #1 thing. And my sort of private time thing I like to do the most is scuba dive or free dive.

Mr. Cameron please describe how your experience was at the bottom of the ocean? Do you think it would be possible to construct a community/society down there at some far point in the future? 

I think it’s possible, but I can’t think of a situation in which it would be necessary or economically feasible. But it’s certainly possible with human technology right now. I’ve even heard of a proposal from a company in Norway that would develop a deep-sea habitat that would operate under the deep sea ice to maintain oil production infrastructure, not dissimilar to what we show in the Abyss, but I don’t know if they’re actually going to do it. But living deep underwater in a closed system is almost as hard as living in the moon or on Mars.

Is there any part of the world that you want to explore that you have not already?

Personally, there are places under the antarctic ice that I’d like to look at, there’s some interesting biomes there. In terms of cities, there are many cities that I would love to see. I haven’t spent as much time in Asia and the Middle East as I would like to. Europa, would love to see Europa, or Titan. I would settle for Mars.

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