"The convincing creation of new worlds, imaginary but plausible science, and the psychology and movement of the inhabitants of futuristic or unfamiliar worlds is perhaps the most challenging of all tasks that a filmmaker can undertake. James Cameron, with his genius in this area, can truly be described as a writer-director with a vision" - Roger Corman
James Cameron was born in the small town of Kapuskasing in Ontario, Canada on August 16 1954. His father Phillip Cameron was an electrical engineer, and his mother Shirley Cameron was an artist. Cameron had several siblings, one of them, Mike would later become a great asset to Cameron when making his films.
James Cameron has often been described as one of those nerdy kids, a loner who didn't really fit in. Cameron's great interest when he was young was how to make things work, explore new things. He and his brother Mike were quite the scientists of the little town. Through his mother Cameron was also inspired to paint, something he was very gifted at.
When Cameron was 15 years old he initially found out what he wanted to do with his life. It happened one night when he went to the movies. The movie he saw was Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. Cameron was of course mesmerized by the film, he wanted badly to find out how the movie makers had achieved the effects which were displayed on screen. He almost went crazy figuring out how anyone could have made this spectacular movie.
Cameron got a hold of an old 16mm camera and he instantly started shooting his own star epics. He toyed with models, camera angles and he lay awake in bed at night and envisioned how his star battles and beautiful landscapes would appear on film.
Cameron had set his hopes high. He wanted to make movies. At the time he was only interested in the special effects and technical know-how of a movie production. He didn't know anything about cinema history and he still had many limitations in using the camera right. Furthermore Cameron was frustrated knowing that he lived miles and miles away from Hollywood - the place for his dreams to be realised.
Cameron got a lucky break in 1971 when his father informed him that the whole family would be moving from Chippewa, Ontario (due to Phillip Cameron's working opportunities they had moved there from Kapuskasing) to Orange County, California. Cameron's father had been offered a job he wouldn't like to turn down. Cameron was only thrilled by the idea of living only few miles away from Hollywood so he was not the one to object against the "relocation" of the family.
As so many others Cameron was struck with disappointment when he realised that starting a career in movies isn't that easy. He had a great desire to get his foot in the door and maybe attend film school, but the limitations were huge and his family couldn't afford to pay for his tuition. Cameron had to face the facts and he enrolled to study physics at Fullerton College, he later switched to English litterature when his math skills became inadequate.
Time went by. Cameron had dropped out of college and had married a young waitress named Susan Williams. Cameron earned his living by working as a truck driver but he still hadn't quit on his dreams of becoming a movie maker. One day in 1977 Cameron went to the movies to watch this new film, a new sci-fi adventure and Cameron would like to know what all the fuss was about. "I went from being a bum who liked to smoke dope and hang out by the river drinking beer and race around in a fast junk-heap cars to this completely obsessed maniac" - James Cameron on his transformation
When Cameron had seen this movie, which was of course Star Wars, he was bewildered. He felt lousy actually, he felt that Star Wars was the movie he had always wanted to make. He decided that the time to fully pursue his dreams had come. Cameron spent nights and days in the library reading every movie related piece of writing he could find. He read everything from screenplays to "how do you do this and that with special effects". He even bought lenses, movie equipment and much more, he took it home and took it apart to find out how every little mechanism worked. He became totally obsessed. Oblivious of everything else in his life. This profound interest in movies and the making of these would eventually be the downfall of his first marriage.
Cameron got involved with his first real movie-making process in 1979. His friend William Wisher, an aspiring screenwriter with whom Cameron later on would co-write T2 - Judgment Day, had gotten a lucky break when he was hired by some dentists in Tustin, California who wanted to invest their money in movies as a tax shelter. Wisher asked Cameron if he wanted to help him. The two sat down and came up with many different story lines but eventually decided to go with a sci-fi related story. They wrote a screenplay which would require numerous special effects but the youngsters didn't consider that problem at the time. The project became so time consuming that Cameron had to quit his truck driving job. The project, however, never made it beyond the stage of a screenplay but nevertheless it was an educational experience for Cameron who learned a great deal about writing a screenplay and plotting a movie.
Cameron was now without a job and decided to fully invest his time in movie making. He applied for a job at New World Pictures, Roger Corman's company. Corman was always looking for young, talented and eager movie makers "wanna-bes" and in this category Cameron fit in perfectly. He initially applied for a job as a special effects camera man, however there was no need for such at the studio at the moment. Instead he was offered a job as a miniature builder on Battle Beyond the Stars. Wanting to work with movies Cameron had to accept. Though Cameron had very little know-how his ideas were many and often good ideas for how to make the special effects in the movie better. Corman was impressed with this young miniature builder who wanted to be in every aspect of the movie. After Cameron successfully had been innovative and carried out his ideas he was promoted to head of the visual department on the movie. He got his own office and now people were depending on him to deliver the goods.
Cameron worked on several films at New World, and he had several different job titles such as production designer and 2nd unit director. He quickly moved up the ladder and he was becoming quite unpopular with the rest of the studio crew because he was so boldly and overly ambitious. Other films that Cameron worked on at New World include among others Galaxy of Terror and John Carpenter's Escape from New York.
Roger Corman had distribution rights all over the world and when an italian producer Ovidio G. Assonitis contacted Corman because he needed a director for the sequel to Jo Dante's 1978 Piranha he was to start shooting, Corman immediately thought of Cameron. Using a first time director had many advantages and Assonitis agreed to sign on Cameron to the project. Cameron was of course very pleased to be offered a chance to direct a real motion picture but his dreams would soon be shattered once again.
Cameron took the screenplay for Piranha 2 - the Spawning and gave it a quick polish to make it his own, though he had no experience in screenwriting he felt the script needed to be polished. When Cameron arrived at the set of Piranha 2 - the Spawning in Jamaica in February 1981 he was very disappointed. Hardly any of the film crew spoke english, the production was terribly under-budgeted, and the special effects creatures produced for the film were so disappointing that Cameron produced his own himself. Throughout the shooting of the film Cameron became more and more displeased. Assonitis wasn't being very cooperative and wouldn't let Cameron view any dailies. Cameron's only comfort was the friendship he was making with Lance Henriksen who starred in the film.
When principal photography was completed Cameron had gotten his first real try-out as a director, it had been a very hard time with a lot of anger and long working nights, he knew that the movie wouldn't be great but then again he was very frustrated that he wouldn't have any say in how the movie was going to be edited. Assonitis simply wouldn't let him. Then one night he decided to break in to the editing room in Rome and started editing. He returned night after night until the movie had been edited in such a way that Cameron could call it his own. Assonitis of course found out and threatened Cameron with a lawsuit but nothing ever came of that. It was during his stay in Rome when Cameron was ill and suffered from a depression he had a dream of a machine coming from the future with only one purpose, to kill him. This dream would later emerge into the screenplay that would become The Terminator.
Piranha 2 - the Spawning is a lousy movie that received even worse reviews. Cameron knew this but he had gotten hands-on experience and a look at how cruel the process of making movies can be.
Cameron returned to the states to pursue his movie career once again. His haunting dream that night in Rome slowly evolved into the screenplay The Terminator. Cameron wrote it strictly for commercial purposes, to show off to people interested in working with him etc. Cameron had a very hard time finding funding for the project so he took it to one of his old colleagues at New World, Gale Anne Hurd. She had worked four years with Roger Corman until she had left to start her own production company Pacific Western Productions. Cameron and Hurd sat down and polished the screenplay to The Terminator and then decided to shop it around. Cameron had sold the screenplay to Hurd for the mere sum of 1 dollar on the condition that he would direct the movie. Everywhere they went people were like, "Well, we wanna do it, but we want some high profile director on it." Cameron and Hurd knew they had a hit on their hands. Finally the script was shown to John Daly at Hemdale Pictures. Daly was very impressed with the visions and eagerness of the young director and he decided that Hemdale would back the movie.
Cameron had to kill some time before theTerminator could go into production and since it had rumoured around Hollywood that this talented writer had writen a very good screenplay Cameron was offered writing jobs. He was offered two jobs the same day, not knowing which one he would let down he took them both. One of them was the screenplay called Alien 2 which would later be Aliens. The producers of Alien wanted to make a sequel to the 1979 hit Ridley Scott's Alien. Cameron wrote a more action oriented screenplay with a lot of tech stuff and soldiers on mission in outer space. He didn't know at the time he would be offered to direct the movie himself. The other screenplay was also a follow-up, it was Rambo: First Blood part 2. Cameron wrote quite an interesting screenplay which featured more depth than the first Rambo movie had had. He also wrote in a sidekick to Rambo in order to make the screenplay more character driven. However Sylvester Stallone, as he always does, rewrote the screenplay to fit his needs. Most of what Cameron had written was left out including the sidekick. When Cameron went to see the movie he felt odd. His only comfort was the fact that the crowd cheered at the those action sequences he recognized as his own.
"There were times during that shoot that I really thought to myself that he was completely fucking crazy" - Arnold Schwarzenegger referring to Cameron on the set of The Terminator
The Terminator was about to go into production, Arnold Schwarzenegger was of course cast as the terminator, a part originally intended for Lance Henriksen, but he appeared as a cop in the movie. Originally Schwarzenegger was also trying out for the part as Reese but thought the terminator to be more intriguing. Linda Hamilton was cast as Sarah Conner, a character loosely based on Cameron's first wife Susan, and finally Michael Biehn was cast as Reese. The cast and crew were instantly impressed with Cameron, his commitment to the project, his willingness to demonstrate stunts and his no-compromise attitude. The movie was completed on schedule and on budget and to everyone's satisfaction.
Cameron was disappointed when Orion, who had later opted in to share the costs with Hemdale on the movie, wouldn't promote in other way than a sci-fi movie of the week. They expected it to last a week or two and didn't think highly of the film. However they were wrong. The Terminator did very well at the box office and made it on several of the top 10 lists in 1984. Cameron had helmed his first hit. Hollywood had opened his door to him and his foot was in.
When Cameron started working on The Terminator the Aliens screenplay wasn't finished yet. Since David Giler and Walter Hill (the producers of Aliens) liked what they saw from the pages they had received from Cameron they decided to wait for him to complete the screenplay. After the success of The Terminator Hill and Giler suggested Cameron that he should direct the Aliens movie himself. Cameron thought a long time about it and finally agreed on the condition that Hurd would be brought on as a producer. Cameron and Hurd had gotten romanticly involved during the making of The Terminator and they now decided to make it official. They were married just before the production of Aliens commenced.
Cameron went to Pinewood Studios in England to shoot Aliens with a lot of the same cast and crew he had used on The Terminator. Sigourney Weaver was of course cast once again as Ripley, Michael Biehn as the marine soldier Hicks. Lance Henriksen also joined playing Bishop, a cyborg. And Bill Paxton who had briefly appeared in The Terminator also starred as one of the marines. Stan Winston created the aliens that were to be used in the movie. He used the original designs of H.R. Giger but improved them quite a bit. Stan Winston had also been responsible for creating the Terminator effects.
Aliens was completed in 1986, on schedule and on budget ($18 million. The film became a huge success, it made $80 million and really established Cameron and Hurd as an A-list partnership. Aliens went on to receive 7 Academy Award nominations, including ones for best actress for Weaver and music for James Horner. It won four of the seven awards. Cameron was also awarded Nato/Showest director of the year award in 1986.
Cameron now had the opportunity to do whatever he wanted. He had several of his own projects laying around, including one revolving around the last days before the millenium (Strange Days). He, however, decided to realize a story that was initially born one boring biology class when Cameron was 17, he had written a short story named The Abyss and now it was time to make it into a huge blockbuster movie.
"I remember being hugely impressed by Jim Cameron when I met him. This man was completely focused and could describe and defend all of his ideas with clarity and enthusiasm. Before it was over I'd want to kill him at least a dozen times" - Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio on James Cameron
Twentieth Century Fox who had signed a deal with Cameron was going to produce the movie. The screenplay had problems written all over it. Cameron had written such an outstanding screenplay taking place at the bottom of the sea concerning man's first encounter with aliens. People were saying that this movie would be impossible to shoot. However Fox confided in Cameron and give him the go-ahead. Hurd was once again producing.
Again joining Cameron was Michael Biehn, but apart from him the cast was relatively unknown. It included Ed Harris and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio in the lead roles. Cameron's brother Mike was brought in to develop the very advanced equipment they'd to use during the underwater shooting. The brothers earned 5 patents in the process of making this film.
It didn't take long for problems to occur on the set. Because of the underwater shooting this movie was so demanding on the actors that they felt like quitting every single day. It was also on this movie that Cameron would establish himself as a real tough guy to work with. He would snap at the crew if they got the tiniest thing wrong, and there were even rumours circulating that Cameron wouldn't let anyone go to the bathroom during takes. The problems were starting to wear off on Cameron and Hurd's relationship, during the production of the film they became seperated but kept it a secret fearing that the studio would intervene if they knew of the tension on the set. In the end Hurd was only there when strictly needed and the two were divorced after principal photography was completed.
The Abyss features ground breaking effects, including that of the underwater alien. For the first time you see the morphing-effect which would later be used more extensively in T2- Judgment Day. It also features beautiful underwater shots and locations. You can tell by looking at the images in the film how tough this was to shoot and it will go down in cinematic history as the hardest movie ever shot.
The Abyss was released in August 1989 to mixed reviews and a disappointing box office result. Cameron had made two versions of the movie, the theatrical one is the shorter one for obvious reasons. Cameron later restored the alternate version and released it in a special edition in 1996.
Ever since the first Terminator movie had been completed rumours had been circulating around a sequel. Schwarzengger had often spoken to Cameron about his desire to make another Terminator movie but nothing had ever come of it. William Wisher and Cameron had often met, discussed and toyed around with ideas but it wasn't until late in 1989 that the two really sat down and started writing a sequel to the 1984 smash hit.
Meanwhile Cameron had gotten remarried to the tall, beautiful director Kathryn Bigelow and he went on to produce and co-write her surfer movie Point Break in 1991. The two would later collaborate on Strange Days in 1995.
The casting was a huge issue on T2 - Judgment Day. Schwarzenegger agreed to star and so did Hamilton without ever seeing the script. Robert Patrick was cast as the "bad" terminator whoose mission is to kill John Connor. Patrick was very small in comparison to Schwarzenegger but the very remarkable special effects, the morphing, made him nearly invincible. Mali Finn, casting director on the film, discovered Edward Furlong in a boys' club in LA. He tried out for the part and even though he had no experience Cameron felt there was something about him. He took a major chance and cast Furlong as John Connor.
Considering this was a Cameron movie the principal photography on T2 was completed with very few issues. Of course there were problems concerning Cameron's temper and Hamilton's inability to work with Schwarzengger, but the filming was completed on time. The post production of T2 was the tricky part. Industrial Light and Magic who had worked with Cameron on The Abyss were to make the morphing effects of the T-1000. The movie pretty much depended on these effects to work. And the result is amazing. ILM has created groundbreaking effects which has become standard use nowadays, but at that time it was quite remarkable.
T2 opened July 3, 1991 to mainly good reviews. The budget of the movie had exceeded $100 million which was unprecedented. The movie grossed $514,8 million worldwide and Cameron in collaboration with Schwarznegger had created another hit. T2 was nominated for six Academy Awards of which it won four, best effects, best sound editing, best sound and best makeup.
In the mean time Cameron and Bigelow had been divorced and Cameron had become romanticly involved with Linda Hamilton during the production of T2, the two of them gave birth to a girl named Josephine Archer Cameron in 1993.
Arnold Schwarzengger was actually the reason that Cameron got involved with his next projects. It was one of those days in late 1989 when Cameron and Schwarzenegger were hanging out as buddies riding on their motorcycles in the mountains that Schwarzenegger told Cameron of this french comedy called La Totale. It told the story of a secret agent who was saving the world but at the same time wasn't able to save his own home, failing both as husband and father. Cameron and Schwarzenegger agreed that after the T2 the time to recreate La Totale had come, the movie was given the more descriptive title True Lies.
Quickly realising that the special effects needed to turn La Totale into True Lies, a blockbuster movie, were many Cameron decided, along with Stan Winston and Scott Ross, to found Digital Domain. The initial task of Digital Domain was just to create the effects for True Lies but it has now developed into a major special effects company like ILM, producing not only for movies but for video games etc. Hundreds of people work there today.
Cameron didn't want to give up on his old ideas, including the story for Strange Days. However, he quickly realised that he was running out of time. The story had to take place before the millenium. He hired Jay Cocks to write a screenplay based on his very detailed scriptment. Kathryn Bigelow was brought on as director, and it resulted in a quite good film, starring Ralph Fiennes and Juliette Lewis among others. It bombed totally at the box office though.
Arnold Schwarzenegger was cast as Harry Tasker, the secret agent who seems to have everything under control. Opposite him Cameron cast Jamie Lee Curtis as Harry's wife. Bill Paxton, and old friend, Tom Arnold and Art Malik also appeared in the film. True Lies became very costly for Universal Pictures and Fox. The budget exceeded that of T2, It was rumoured to be as much as $120 million. The screenplay also involved using the navy's jets for several days, flying them around downtown Miami and blowing up a vacant office building. However the officials at the studio were certain that Cameron together with Schwarzenegger would mean nothing but another hit.
When True Lies was finally released in 1994 it got disappointing reviews and did poorly at the box office considering the kind of budget it had had. The movie grossed $364,3 million worldwide, the figures were still reasonable but disappointing. Many people argued againts the depiction of the middle east terrorists. Several muslims living in the US demanded that the movie had to be banned. Cameron was of course disappointed, but he was pleased that his newly founded company Digitial Domain had been able to deliver the goods. Cameron received the Nato/Showest producer of the year award that year.
Cameron had for a long time been interested in making a movie about the ill-fated ocean liner Titanic. He had written a screenplay that featured a fictitious love story which also evolved around the sinking of the ship. When Cameron pitched his idea to the studios involved, Fox and Paramount, he warned them that movie would be expensive, around $120 million and at least three hours long. Cameron was finally given the go-ahead in February 1995 and filming was to start in Halifax, Nova Scotia in July 1996. The film was to feature real footage from the real Titanic and a story set in the present concerning modern-day grave robbers who were searching the Titanic for a diamond.
In the intervening time Cameron returned to his most popular franchise ever, the Terminator series. He would direct T2 - 3D Battle Across Time, an amusement park attraction for Universal Studios. The cast of T2 was brought in, Stan Winston hopped on board, and the team created one of the most spectacular rides ever. Anyone who has experienced T2 - 3D agrees.
Casting Titanic Cameron decided to go with young but known actors for the leading parts. Initially Tom Cruise was considered for the movie but the lead part went to Leonardo DiCaprio. Kate Winslet was also cast alongside DiCaprio. Winslet was rather young and untried with the great Hollywood machinery. Her experience would be an unforgettable one. Bill Paxton starred as Brock Lovett, the adventurer set out to find the heart of the ocean. Other supporting cast include, Billy Zane, Kathy Bates, Francis Fisher, Bernard Hill and Suzy Amis (who would later make a great difference in Cameron's life).
Problems became evident early on in the shooting of Titanic. The crew was supposed to spend 10 days shooting in Nova Scotia but ended up staying there for 40 days. At the last day due to food poisoning or whatever it was the entire crew and cast were sent to the hospitals. There were some who speculated that sabotage of the food was one of the reasons for the entire crew getting ill.
After the shot in Nova Scotia Cameron relocated to Baja, California where a major studio had been built just for the production of the titanic. The studio had a huge outdoor pool in which a nearly full sized model of the Titanic constructed on hydraulic lifts lay.
Principal photography took a lot longer than expected. In the end it took nearly 9 months just to film Titanic. During the process studio executives were becoming worried. The budget was sky-high already and rumours of Cameron humiliating and tormenting his crew had surfaced in LA. The studio finally decided to intervene and demanded that Cameron cut several of his planned scenes. Cameron was very frustrated but knowing how studio executives can be he saw no other option than to invest his own fee plus percentage points into the movie, so that it could be realized the way he wanted. After the success of Titanic he was compensated for this.
"I'm the king of the world!!" - James Cameron upon receiving his Oscar for best directing. (and goddammit he was!!! :o)!)
But Titanic was finally able to sail and it was released December 19 1997, six months later than it was originally intendend. But they had to push to release date, the movie simply wasn't finished. The movie became a great success, today it still holds the box office record. It finally settled at a cost of $200 million but ended up grossing $1835 million - the highest grossing movie off all time. It wasn't just the audience who liked the movie, critics loved it and Titanic went on to winning numerous awards in 1998. They included 14 Academy Award nominations of which it won 11, the highest number of all time. They were, best movie(Cameron), best director(Cameron), best editing(Cameron), best original score, best original song, best art-direction, best costume design, best cinematography, best sound effects editing, best visual effects and best sound. Titanic was also presented with numerous other awards, and other awards specifically to Cameron were the Broadcast Film Critics Association, best director, Golden Globes for best picture and director, Golden Sattelite for best picture, directing and editing, Producers Guild of America award, Japanese Academy Award for best foreign film, Directors Guild of America award, Eddie film editing, MTV movie award for best film and numerous others.
After having enjoyed the success for months and exhausted after those long months of long working days on Titanic Cameron decided to relax with his family who still consisted of Hamilton and their daughter Josephine. Hamilton and Cameron had been married July 26, 1997, rumours say that was the only day-off Cameron had in 1997. However it turned out that Cameron had had an affair with Suzy Amis who starred in Titanic. Cameron and Hamilton were divorced in December 1998. Cameron is now remarried with Amis. They were married June 4, 2000 and had a daughter, Carol April 4, 2001.
In the aftermath of the Titanic people were starting to speculate on what Cameron would do next. Everyone of course expected a high profile blockbuster like the one he had just delivered. There were rumours about Spiderman which Cameron had written a script for. But the movie was caught in copyright issues and they didn't resolve to Cameron's advantage. Another possible movie was Avatar, a sci-fi movie that would feature computer generated characters but the cost was still to big. Cameron decided on leaving the big scene of Hollywood for a while and he launched a tv-show called Dark Angel. It featured Jessica Alba, a girl who had been a part of a military project that went wrong. She was living in a future LA looking for answers from her past. She was a strong independent woman, an element that has always been very profound in Cameron's films, Sarah Connor in T2, Sigourney Weaver in Aliens, Mastrantonio in The Abyss and Kate Winslet in Titanic to name a few.
Along with Charles H. Eglee, who would be responsible for running the show on an everyday basis, Cameron began producing the television shows for fox. Cameron wrote some of the first episodes and directed one himself. The show aired October 2000 on Fox but only made it two seasons before it was finally taken off the air May 2002.
Cameron had a hard time letting go of the powerful experience he had when he was shooting Titanic. The images of the Titanic that lay there on the bottom of the sea was something to explore further than it had been possible on the production of Titanic. So, in the summer of 2001 Cameron, his brother Mike, Bill Paxton and several others went back to the site of the Titanic, and they started filming Ghost of The Abyss - a documentary of the Titanic as it sits on the bottom of the sea today. They used high tech equipment to get the shots they wanted. They even remote-controlled ROVs deep into the wreck of the Titanic obtaining some of the most horrific but majestic images of the grand ship ever. Cameron intended Ghost of the Abyss to be an IMAX feature only to be shown in selected theatres in 3D, so naturally it took some time post produce Ghost of the Abyss.
Meanwhile Cameron produced Steven Soderbergh's Solaris which opened in 2002, starring George Clooney among others. Steven Soderbergh was actually very surprised of the amount of creative freedom he was getting from Cameron. Cameron was hardly at the set at all and let Soderbergh make his own decisions regarding the movie.
Cameron also led an expedition in May 2002 to the Bismarck. Bismarck was a german battleship which was sunk by the british in 1941. The expedition resulted in a two hour documentary which aired December 2002 on the Discovery Channel.
April 11, 2003 marked the day that Ghost of The Abyss opened. Though this kind of film usually doesn't get a great deal of attention this one did. Partly because it had Cameron's name on it but also because it is a spectacular journey to the bottom of the sea. The movie is intended to be viewed in a 3D theatre but it works just as well in your regular theatre.
It has been almost six years since Cameron has released a full scale motion picture. Lately he has confirmed that his next project will definitely be a huge blockbuster movie. Rumours say that True Lies 2 could be a possibility but Cameron has declined from that feeling that comedy/action concerning a secret agent fighting terrorists isn't as compelling in a post 9/11 - world. Cameron has also shown interest in returning to the alien franchise, but nothing's for sure yet.
Rumours say that any day now we will receive news on Cameron's next project...