Academy of Achievement Logo
Achiever Gallery
   + [ The Arts ]
  Public Service
  Science & Exploration
  My Role Model
  Recommended Books
  Academy Careers
Keys to Success
Achievement Podcasts
About the Academy
For Teachers

Search the site

Academy Careers


If you like James Cameron's story, you might also like:
Robert Ballard,
Francis Ford Coppola,
Ron Howard,
Peter Jackson,
George Lucas and
Robert Zemeckis

James Cameron also appears in the video:
Media and Social Responsibility

Teachers can find prepared lesson plans featuring James Cameron in the Achievement Curriculum section:
Media & The Arts

Related Links:
Amazing Cameron

Share This Page
  (Maximum 150 characters, 150 left)

James Cameron
James Cameron
Profile of James Cameron Biography of James Cameron Interview with James Cameron James Cameron Photo Gallery

James Cameron Interview (page: 4 / 8)

Master Filmmaker

Print James Cameron Interview Print Interview

  James Cameron

How did you parents feel about what you've chosen professionally?

James Cameron: I would say that my father was completely unsupportive in any way, shape or form, and was really sort of just sharpening his knives waiting for me to fail so that he could say, "Ah-ha, I was right. You should have gone into engineering." And it was always this sort of attitude of, "Well, you know, one of these days you'll get a real job and this film thing, you know, will pass as a fad." So there was zero support there. And I actually think that it made me angry enough that I had to succeed. I think if I had a soft, rosy, supportive kind of "It's good if you do it, but if it doesn't work out..." sort of thing that it would have been different. But it kind of made me mad, and I had to prove that I was right, that this was the right thing to be doing and I think it made me mad enough to get good, you know.

[ Key to Success ] Courage

James Cameron Interview Photo
My mother, of course, at an earlier time, was very supportive of the arts, and the visual aspect of it. So there was an interesting dynamic there that probably served me in the long run although it was hard to see it at the time.

Was it difficult not having the support of your father?

James Cameron: It was certainly difficult financially, but you learn to survive. You learn to prioritize, and you learn that if you're going to do something, you have to do it all the way and you just have to put it before all other things.

When you started out as a filmmaker, did you have something in mind you wanted to achieve?

James Cameron: I didn't really have anything to say. I had a lot of images crowding into my mind visually. I had read tons of science fiction. I was fascinated by other worlds, other environments. For me, it was fantasy, but it was not fantasy in the sense of pure escapism. Isaac Asimov used to say, "Science fiction readers are people who escape from reality into worlds of pollution, nuclear war, overpopulation." It's a way of modeling the present through the future.

Growing up in the '60s, coming to my kind of intellectual awakening in high school at a time when the world was in complete chaos, between the war in Vietnam and Civil Rights and all of the upheavals, all the social upheavals, you know, free love, you know, everything that was happening in the late '60s. It gave one an interesting perspective being a science fiction fan and looking at a world that was coming apart and thinking in very apocalyptic terms about that world. And I've never lost that sort of -- almost a fascination with apocalyptic themes. Titanic is just another manifestation of that, because for me that film was just a microcosm for the way the world ends. However it ends we don't know, but if it ends by the human hand it'll end in the way the Titanic ended, which is through some casual simple carelessness. So you know, being a child of the '60s in that way, I think, very much influenced the way I looked at what could be done with film.

[ Key to Success ] Vision

James Cameron Interview Photo
It was also a very interesting time in film making, in the history of film making, because it was the time when the paradigm of studio film production was completely deconstructed and the independent films emerged.

All of a sudden the filmmaking world was turned on its head. A film called Easy Rider came out that was made for $40,000 and made more money than any other film of that year, including all of the big studio films. So the big smokestack industry of Hollywood was suddenly threatened from within by these auteurs, these punks, the young George Lucases and Martin Scorseses.

It was a fascinating time, and that's when I came into my awareness of what film could be. So I was definitely informed by that but I didn't really have anything to say yet. I had a lot of images and ideas but I hadn't found my themes. It took another few years for that to happen.

How did you get from the realization that this is what you wanted to do, to actually getting the opportunity to do it as a professional?

James Cameron: You never really "get" an opportunity. You take an opportunity. You know, in the film making business no one ever gives you anything. Nobody ever taps you on the shoulder and say, "You know, I've really admired the way you talk and the way you draw, and I think you'd make a good director." It doesn't happen that way. You have to constantly be pulling on somebody's sleeve saying, "Hey, I want to direct. I want to direct. I want to direct." And you have to be willing to make sacrifices to do that. The mistake a lot of people, I think, make in Hollywood is that they think, "Well, I'll get to the top of my field as a whatever, editor, production designer, writer, and then I'll just move laterally into directing and I'll be more respected and I'll have more power." It doesn't work that way, because you drop right to the bottom of the pack as a director.

[ Key to Success ] Perseverance

You have to work your way up again.

The way I did it was I came in through production design, which is good because you're thinking visually and you're very aware of the director's problems in trying to tell a story and how the environment is, you know, a manifestation of the narrative in some way. And you know, I sort of proved myself as a production designer in the scrappy, stay-all-night-for-15-days-in-a-row kind of independent film making that was done at Roger Corman's place. This was in the early '80s. And when they see that you have the creativity and the stamina, and that you basically understand film making, it's not a ridiculous leap in that environment to say, "I now want to try my hand. I want to direct."

[ Key to Success ] Preparation

I just basically went up to Roger one day and said, "I'd like to direct second unit on this." The film that we were making at the time, which was a low budget science fiction horror picture. And he gave me a camera and a couple, two or three people, and we started a little second unit, and the second unit basically became this steam roller that wound up shooting about a third of the picture because they were falling way behind on first unit. So they'd give me the actors and say, "Well, do scene 28 and scene 42." And all of a sudden I was working with actors, and that was terrifying because I hadn't really thought that part through yet. You know, that in order to direct, you have to work with actors. It's not just about sets and visual effects. So it was simultaneously a shock and a joyful discovery because I found that all actors really want is some sense of what a writer can bring to the moment, some sense of a narrative purpose. "What am I doing? What am I trying to do here? What's the scene about?" And it's really pretty much that simple. So that was the next epiphany if you will, which is: this part of it is fun too.

The part I didn't expect to be fun, the part I didn't expect to be good at, turned out to be in a way the most fascinating part. I wouldn't say I was good at it right away.

It took me a long time to realize that you have to have a bit of an interlanguage with actors. You have to give them something that they can act with. You can't tell them a lot of abstract information about how their character is going to pay off in this big narrative ellipse that happens in scene 89. That doesn't help them. You know, they're in a room. They have to create an emotional truth in a moment and, you know, they have to be able to create that very quickly. So they need real tangible stuff and that's a learned art, I think. But coming from writing, and understanding what they're feeling and what they're thinking, what the character is feeling and thinking, and having thought about it a lot for months in advance is the way that I get enough respect from the actors that they trust what I'm saying. They trust what I'm giving them to do.

[ Key to Success ] Preparation

James Cameron Interview, Page: 1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   

This page last revised on Apr 06, 2012 14:43 EDT