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James Cameron Refused to Let Studio Trim ‘Avatar’ Set Piece Because It Had No Plot Value

Sometimes a set piece doesn't need a purpose beyond the director wanting to see it.

AVATAR, Sam Worthington, 2009. TM & Copyright ©20th Century Fox. All rights reserved/Courtesy Everett Collection


©20thCentFox/Courtesy Everett Collection

James Cameron is the latest addition to the MasterClass family, and /Film has a great rundown of highlights from the “Avatar” and “Titanic” director’s three-hour-and-20-minute filmmaking course (there are 15 videos total in Cameron’s MasterClass program). During a course on crafting the perfect movie set piece (“a film within a film,” the director says), Cameron reveals there was some studio pushback against the Mountain Banshee aerial sequence in “Avatar” because it did not serve a purpose on the main storyline. The scene in question finds protagonist Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) learning to ride the eponymous winged creature and taking the Banshee out for a ride.

“There are a lot of rules and advisories about why you put things in movies, and that they should all serve a purpose,” Cameron says in the MasterClass. “Except, they don’t. Sometimes it should just be something you want to see as a filmmaker…and sometimes the only way to see it is to show it.”

The bottom is line is that Cameron just wanted to show Jake riding a Banshee and give the audience the visceral experience of what flying a Mountain Banshee is like, regardless if it had anything to do with the main “Avatar” plot. As /Film reports: “The flying set-piece sequence goes on for a lengthy amount of time, and Cameron says someone urged him to cut it down because they felt it didn’t add anything to the plot. But Cameron countered that he didn’t care — he wanted to see it, and it stayed in the movie.”

“If I want to see it, there are lots of people who are going to want to see it,” Cameron says. “And they want to see it for itself, not because of a purpose. The purpose is to be present; to be in that world.”

Moviegoers will get plenty of opportunities to be in Cameron’s “Avatar” world as several sequels are lined up, starting with the release of “Avatar 2” on December 16, 2022. Cameron gave an interview earlier this year in which he revealed he nearly fired his “Avatar 2” writers’ room at first.

“I put together a group of writers and said, ‘I don’t want to hear anybody’s new ideas or anyone’s pitches until we have spent some time figuring out what worked on the first film, what connected, and why it worked,’” Cameron said. “They kept wanting to talk about the new stories. I said, ‘We aren’t doing that yet.’ Eventually I had to threaten to fire them all because they were doing what writers do, which is to try and create new stories. I said, ‘We need to understand what the connection was and protect it, protect that ember and that flame.’”

Head over to /Film’s website for more highlights from Cameron’s MasterClass course.

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