In film history, there have been only five films that have broken the billion-dollar mark. James Cameron has directed two of them. So what's his secret? The über-director talks to Oprah.com about the similarities between Avatar and Titanic, his upcoming career plans and what might be in store for an Avatar sequel.
Rachel Bertsche: What's your favorite movie of all time?
James Cameron: The Wizard of Oz. I love it from when I was a kid, and it just so holds up. I shared it with my kids recently, my youngest kids, and, you know, it was made in 1939 and it still holds up today. There aren't any other older films that I'm really that excited about.
RB: You mentioned on The Oprah Show that you might be planning a sequel to Avatar. Any inside information on what that story might be?
JC: Well, we're not actively planning one. We always said we would do one as we went along making the movie. Every time there was some idea that we came up with that we loved but just couldn't shoehorn into the movie, I said 'Well, we'll put it in the sequel.' So now we probably have more stuff to go in the sequel than we did in the first film. But it's notional; I haven't written the script yet. I have a general idea of the storyline, and I know who lives and who dies and all that sort of thing, but I don't want to give it away just yet. These movies take awhile to make; there'll be a lot of time for speculation to swirl.
RB: And this one took, what, 10 years?
JC: Well, it took four and a half years to make, from the time we started it to the time we delivered it. But it was conceived 10 years earlier than that, so over a 15-year period—it's been in my head since before Titanic.
RB: Speaking of Titanic, you have these two billion-dollar movies that on the surface seem really different. What are the commonalities that made them both such huge blockbusters?
JC: You know, that's a really good question, and it's one I'm surprised I haven't been asked because I've been asking it of myself. Obviously, these two movies are working the same way, in kind of a global consciousness. So what do they really have in common? I think it's the depth of emotion. I mean there may be aspects of the storytelling—that you're going on a journey and you're in the shoes of someone that you care about. In the first case, it was Rose because you go on her journey and then you meet Jack. In this film, you go on Jake's journey and then you meet Neytiri—you don't meet Neytiri until half an hour into the film. I think it's the depth of the emotion and a sense of the reality of the experience, like this is really happening somehow. And also, for a film to work on that scale, in terms of revenue worldwide—I was talking about this yesterday with my co-producer Jon Landau—it has to work for people of all ages. It has to be for kids [and] it has to be for teenagers, and usually that's two totally separate things. When you make a movie for kids, the teenagers stay away; when you make a movie for teenagers, it's too rough for the kids. Something that's for teenagers doesn't usually work for 20- and 30-somethings, and older people don't even go to the movies. Whereas with both of these films you have an 8-year-old that could go to the movies with his grandparents, so the age thing is important. The other thing is that it has to play equally to men and women. I think that's also tricky, because as a group—not as individuals; individuals are all different—women like different things then men do. And so to give both genders something that they can feel strongly about is also tricky, but you have to do it. And it has to play in different culture and language groups. Titanic obviously did that, and Avatar does that. So it has those things in common even though the stories are very different.
RB: I was in high school when Titanic came out, and I remember so clearly sitting in English class and my friends telling me she'd seen it three times already and I have to go see it.
JC: That's the other thing, you have to have great word of mouth, and I think the thing that really propelled Titanic to its success and is propelling Avatar to its success is what I call the sharing phenomenon. People see the film, they can't describe the experiences they've had, but they want to broker that experience for someone else. They want to be the gatekeeper of that experience for someone else. So they'll convince someone else to go, and then they'll accompany them to go. So it's the sharing where they're actually taking someone to the movies, and we all feel that when you discover something and you want to share it with your friends. So I think that this film is working out in that sense.
RB: That's exactly what happened over my Christmas break. People had just seen it in IMAX 3-D and they all said: "This was life-changing. I can't even explain."
JC: That actually worried me at first! Everyone was coming up to me and saying: "I'm speechless. I can't even talk about what I've just seen," and I said: "How am I going to have word of mouth if you're speechless? Use your words!" As I say to my 3-year-old, "Use your words, honey."
RB: It's interesting because originally Titanic seemed like it would skew female, and Avatar seemed like it would skew male...
JC: Yeah, it's true, but then they both wound up right in the middle and were sort of 50/50.
RB: Do you have anything else coming up? Obviously you have some award shows in your future...
JC: Well, you know we've been nominated for a number of different things, either me directly with the Golden Globes and so on, or our technical people like for the cinematography and editing and that sort of thing, so I'll be wearing my tux quiet a bit over the next six weeks. And that feels very reminiscent of Titanic as well. It was such a ride that I really felt that I was surfing this really big wave, and I thought, "Enjoy it, cause it's never going to happen again." Now it feels like it's happening again, and I have such a different perspective on it. It's like: "Okay, I don't really need to worry about the outcome. I should just enjoy it and celebrate the people who worked so hard on the movie—the artists, the director of photography, the composer." And so I celebrate it with them—let them bask in it.
RB: Do you have any plans professionally? Or maybe take some vacation time?
JC: Well, I've been working straight through for four and a half years, so I have some major makeup time to deal with for the kids and with my wife, Suzy, and I've been promising trips and I now have to cash in all those chips.
Printed from Oprah.com on Thursday, December 12, 2013
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