Filmmaker James Cameron crossed the $2 billion mark for a second time in 2009: his “Avatar” behemoth also went on to be become the highest grossing film of all time (right behind his “Titanic,” the second highest grossing film of all time, but to be fair it was only around $1.8 billion when it first came out and grew upon re-release). So you might think he’s lost a little momentum with his upcoming “Avatar” sequels, but it’s more likely that Cameron has nothing to prove these days and would rather get it right rather than rush into production (novel thinking in Hollywood these days).
The reason Cameron has taken so long? Well, he wanted to shoot all three “Avatar” films back to back to back. And so, getting three screenplays to where they need to be is not something one does overnight. How did he do it? During this weekend’s L.A. Times Hero Complex conversation with Cameron, the director revealed the answer. First of all, he wrote 1,500 pages of notes and then hired four writers to suss it all out: Josh Friedman (“Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles”), Rick Jaffa (“Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” “Jurassic World“), Amanda Silver (“Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” “Jurassic World”) and Shane Salerno (“Armageddon,” “Savages”).
“We tried an experiment,” Cameron said (via Slashfilm). “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.”
Cameron said they put together three teams for each script, but insisted everyone help out in the main mapping of the story before anyone starting writing a script. “What we did that was unique: 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.”
Cameron said he approached it all as if they were adapting a series of novels from his copious notes. “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.”
Note, not that it means anything other than speculation, but more than a few writers have posited on Twitter that Disney announcing their Gareth Edwards-directed “Star Wars” spin-off movie for December 2016 (it’s rumored to be the Boba Fett movie) means Disney knows that Cameron’s not likely going to be ready for a release on the same month, and won’t face competition from Fox. But who knows? Again, that’s pretty broad speculation, on the same time, those two movies going toe-to-toe in a Christmas time frame of probably only a few weeks apart would be kind of nuts.
Cameron also talked about the creation of “The Terminator,” the movie that launched his career. “I was a sad, dark, isolated human being,” Cameron said about this period in his life before it was made quite candidly to Hero Complex. “There was innocence to it in a funny way. I was the anonymous, angry wannabe filmmaker, and I think there’s some courage to say whatever comes into your head…. I was a free voice in the wilderness. Most people hate that period of their life, and then you spend the rest of your career trying to get back there.”
The first “Avatar” sequel is supposed to shoot this fall. “Avatar 2” is expected to reach theaters in December 2016, followed by “Avatar 3” in 2017 and “Avatar 4” in 2018.