James Francis Cameron (born August 16, 1954) is a Canadian film director, producer and screenwriter. He has written and directed films as disparate as Aliens and Titanic. To date, his directorial efforts have grossed approximately US$1.1 billion domestically, unadjusted for inflation. After a string of landmark feature films, Cameron turned his focus to documentary filmmaking and the co-development of the digital 3-D Fusion Camera System.
Cameron was born in Kapuskasing, Ontario, Canada, the son of Shirley, an artist and nurse, and Phillip Cameron, an electrical engineer. He grew up in Chippawa, Ontario (now part of the city of Niagara Falls) and attended Stamford Collegiate in Niagara Falls, and his family moved to Fullerton, California in 1971. While he studied physics and English at California State University, Fullerton, Cameron used every opportunity to visit the film archive of USC. To the surprise of many people, although Cameron had a large educational background in the natural sciences, he chose a philosophy major from The University of Toronto in 1973. Cameron says of his time there that he was, "completely self taught in special effects. I'd go down to the USC library and pull any theses that graduate students had written about optical printing, or front screen projection, or dye transfers, anything that related to film technology…if they'd let me photocopy it, I would. If not, I'd make notes."
After dropping out, he worked several jobs such as truck driving and wrote when he had time. After seeing the film Star Wars in 1977, Cameron quit his job as a truck driver to enter the film industry. When Cameron read Syd Field's book Screenplay, it occurred to him that integrating science and art were possible and he wrote a ten minute science fiction script with two friends, entitled Xenogenesis. They raised money and rented a camera, lenses, the film stocks, studio and shot it in 35 mm. To understand how to operate the camera, they dismantled it and spent the first half-day of the shoot trying to figure out how to get it running.
As Cameron continued educating himself in techniques, he started as a miniature model maker at Roger Corman Studios. Making fast, low-budget productions enabled Cameron to pick up the pace efficiently and effectively, soon becoming an art director in the sci-fi movie Battle Beyond the Stars (1980), and he did special effects work design and direction on John Carpenter's Escape from New York (1981). He consulted on the design of Android (1982), and acted as production designer on Galaxy of Terror (1981).
Cameron was hired as the special effects director for the sequel of Piranha, entitled Piranha II: The Spawning in 1981. However, the director left the project and Cameron was hired by Italian producer Assonitis to take over, giving him his first directorial job. He worked with producer Roger Corman. The interior scenes were filmed in Rome, Italy while the underwater diving sequences were shot at Grand Cayman Island.
The movie was to be produced on Jamaica, but when Cameron arrived at the studio, he discovered his crew was comprised primarily of Italians who spoke no English and the project was under financed. Under duress, Cameron says he had a nightmare about an invisible robot hit man sent from the future to kill him, giving him the idea for The Terminator, which would later catapult his filming career.
James Cameron Major films
The Terminator (1984)
After completing a screenplay for The Terminator, Cameron decided to sell it so that he could direct the movie. However, the production companies he contacted, while expressing interest in the project, were unwilling to let a first-time director make the movie. Finally, Cameron found a company called Hemdale Pictures, which was willing to let him direct. His soon-to-be-wife, Gale Anne Hurd, who had started her own production company, Pacific Western Productions, had previously worked with Cameron in Roger Corman's company and agreed to buy Cameron's screenplay for one dollar, on the condition that Cameron direct the film. Hurd was signed on as producer, and Cameron finally got his first break as director. Orion Pictures distributed the film.
Initially, for the role of the Terminator, Cameron wanted someone who wasn't exceptionally muscular, and who could "blend into" a normal crowd. Lance Henriksen, who had starred in Piranha II: The Spawning, was considered for the titular role, but when Arnold Schwarzenegger and Cameron first met over lunch to discuss Schwarzenegger playing the role of Kyle Reese, both came to the conclusion that the cyborg villain would be the more compelling role for the Austrian bodybuilder; Henriksen got the smaller part of LAPD detective Hal Vukovich and the role of Kyle Reese went to Michael Biehn. In addition, Linda Hamilton first appeared in this film in her iconic role of Sarah Connor, and later married Cameron.
The Terminator was a box office hit, breaking expectations by Orion Pictures executives that the film would be regarded as no more than a sci-fi film, and only last a week in theaters. The film was low-budget ($6.5 million), but it earned over $78 million worldwide.
Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985)
During the early 1980s, Cameron wrote three screenplays simultaneously: The Terminator, Aliens, and the first draft of Rambo: First Blood Part II. While Cameron continued with The Terminator and with Aliens, Sylvester Stallone eventually took over the script of Rambo: First Blood Part II, creating a final draft which differed radically from Cameron's initial version. Cameron was credited for his screenplay in the film's final credits.
Cameron next began the sequel to Alien, the 1979 film by Ridley Scott. Cameron named the sequel Aliens, and again cast Sigourney Weaver in the iconic role of Ellen Ripley. According to Cameron, the crew on Aliens was hostile to him, regarding him as a poor substitute for Ridley Scott. Cameron sought to show them The Terminator but the majority of the crew refused and remained skeptical of his direction throughout production. Despite this and other off screen problems (such as clashing with an uncooperative camera man and having to replace one of the lead actors - Michael Biehn of Terminator took James Remar's place as Corporal Hicks), Aliens became a box office success, and received Academy Award nominations for Best Actress in a Leading Role for Weaver, Best Art Direction, Best Film Editing, Best Original Score,Best Sound, and won awards for Best Sound Effects Editing and Best Visual Effects. In addition, the film and its lead actress made the cover of Time Magazine as a result of its breakthrough feminist themes about women in combat. Following the phenomenal success of the film, Cameron now had more freedom to make whatever project he wanted.
The Abyss (1989)
Cameron's next project stemmed from an idea that had come up during a high school biology class. The story of oil-rig workers who discover otherworldly underwater creatures became the basis of Cameron's screenplay for The Abyss, which cast Ed Harris, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio and Michael Biehn. Initially budgeted at $41 million U.S. (though the production ran considerably overbudget), it was considered to be one of the most expensive films of its time, and required cutting-edge effects technology. Because much of the film takes place underwater and the technology wasn't advanced enough to digitally create an underwater environment, Cameron chose to shoot much of the movie "reel-for-real", at depths of up to 40 feet (12 m). For creation of the sets, the containment building of an unfinished nuclear power plant was converted, and two huge tanks were used. The main tank was filled with 7,500,000 US gallons (28,400,000 L) of water, and the second with 2,500,000 US gallons (9,500,000 L). The cast and crew resided there for much of the shooting.
The Abyss opened on August 9, 1989 with $9.3 million in 2nd place at the boxoffice behind Parenthood. It ultimately earned $54.5 million domestically, $35.5 million in foreign markets and a mostly lukewarm response from critics. Cameron later released a special edition version of the film in spring of 1993, restoring deleted scenes, including the film's climax as it had been originally conceived. The film was nominated for four Academy Awards: Best Visual Effects, Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, and Best Sound. It won for Best Visual Effects. After the release of The Abyss, Cameron founded his own production company called Lightstorm Entertainment, which produced all of his subsequent films.
Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
After the success of The Terminator, there had always been talks about a sequel to continue the story of Sarah Connor and her struggle against machines from the future. Although Cameron had come up with a core idea for the sequel, and Schwarzenegger expressed interest in continuing the story, there were still problems regarding who had the rights to the story, as well as the logistics of the special effects needed to make the sequel. Finally, in mid-1990, Mario Kassar of Carolco Pictures secured the rights to the sequel, allowing Cameron to greenlight production of the film, now called Terminator 2: Judgment Day.
For the film, Linda Hamilton reprised her iconic role of Sarah Connor. In addition, Arnold Schwarzenegger also returned in his role as The Terminator, but this time as a protector. Unlike the T-800, who is made of a metal endoskeleton, the new villain of the sequel, called the T-1000, was a more advanced Terminator made of liquid metal, and with polymorphic abilities. The T-1000 would also be much less bulky than the T-800. For the role, Cameron cast Robert Patrick, a sharp contrast to Schwarzenegger. Cameron explained, "I wanted someone who was extremely fast and agile. If the T-800 is a human Panzer tank, then the T-1000 is a Porsche."
Cameron had originally wanted to incorporate this advanced-model Terminator into the first film, but the special effects at the time were not advanced enough. The ground-breaking effects used in The Abyss to digitally depict the water tentacle convinced Cameron that his liquid metal villain was now possible.
TriStar Pictures agreed to distribute the film, but under a locked release date only about one year after the start of shooting. The movie, co-written by Cameron and his longtime friend, William Wisher, Jr., had to go from screenplay to finished film in just that amount of time. Like Cameron's previous film, it was one of the most expensive films of its era, with a budget of about $100 million. The biggest challenge of the movie was the special effects used in creating the T-1000. Nevertheless, the film was finished on time, and released to theaters on July 3, 1991.
Terminator 2, or T2, as it was abbreviated, broke box-office records (including the opening weekend record for an R-rated film), earning over $200 million domestically, and over $300 million overseas, and became the highest-grossing film of that year. It won four Academy Awards: Best Makeup,Best Sound, Best Sound Effects Editing, and Best Visual Effects. It was also nominated for Best Cinematography and Best Film Editing, but lost both Awards to JFK
James Cameron announced a third Terminator film many times during the 1990s, but without coming out with any finished scripts. Kassar and Vajna purchased the rights to the Terminator franchise from a bankruptcy sale of Carolco's assets. Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines was eventually made and released in July 2003 without Cameron's involvement. Jonathan Mostow directed the film and Schwarzenegger returned as the Terminator.
Director James Cameron reunited with the main cast of Terminator 2 to film T2 3-D: Battle Across Time, an attraction at Universal Studios Florida, Universal Studios Hollywood and Universal Studios Japan. It was released in 1996 and was a mini-sequel to Terminator 2: Judgment Day. The show is in two parts: a pre-show where a spokesperson talks about Cyberdyne and the main feature which has performers interacting with a 3-D movie.
True Lies (1994)
Before the release of T2, Schwarzenegger came to Cameron with the idea of making a remake of the French comedy La totale!. Titled True Lies, with filming begun after T2's release, the story revolves around a secret-agent spy who leads a double life as a married man, whose wife believes he is a computer salesman. Schwarzenegger was cast as the secret spy, named Harry Tasker, whose mission in the movie is to investigate and stop a plan by Arab terrorists to use nuclear weapons against the United States. Jamie Lee Curtis played Schwarzenegger's onscreen wife, with Tom Arnold cast as the secret agent's sidekick.
Cameron's Lightstorm Entertainment signed on with Twentieth Century Fox for production of True Lies. Made on a budget of $115 million and released in 1994, the film earned $146 million in North America, and $232 million abroad. The film received an Academy Award nomination for Best Visual Effects
Cameron expressed interest in the famous sinking of the ship Titanic. He decided to script and film his next project based on this event. The picture revolved around a fictional romance story between two young lovers from different social classes who meet onboard the ship's maiden, and final, voyage. Before production began, he took dives to the bottom of the Atlantic and shot actual footage of the ship underwater, which he inserted into the final film.
For the film Titanic, Cameron cast Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, and Billy Zane. Cameron's budget for the film reached about $200 million, and it became the most expensive movie ever made. Before its release, the film was widely ridiculed for its expense and protracted production schedule.
Released to theaters on December 19, 1997, Titanic opened with $28 million on its first weekend. The film's grosses escalated in the next several weeks. Titanic was one of very few modern, big-budget movies to gross more in their second weekend than their first. Its gross increased from $28.6 million to $35.4 million from week 1 to week 2, an increase of 23.8%, unheard of for a wide release, and a testament to the appeal of the movie. This was especially noteworthy, considering that the film's running time of more than three hours limited the number of showings each theater could schedule. It held the #1 spot on the box-office charts for months, eventually grossing a total of over $600 million domestically and more than $1.8 billion worldwide. Titanic became the highest grossing film of all time. (Adjusting for inflation, the film brought in the sixth-highest domestic (U.S. only) gross of all time.) The CG visuals surrounding the sinking and destruction of the ship were considered spectacular. Despite criticism during production of the film, it received a record-tying 14 Oscar nominations (tied with All About Eve) at the 1998 Academy Awards. It won 11 Oscars (also record-tying with Ben-Hur and later The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King), including Best Picture, Editing, Sound, Special Effects, Music and Score, and the Best Director award for Cameron. Upon receiving the award, Cameron exclaimed "I'm the king of the world!", in reference to the main character's line from the film.
Spider-Man and Dark Angel (TV series)
Cameron had initially next planned to do a film of the comic book character Spider-Man, a project developed by Menahem Golan of Cannon Films. Disputes arose focusing on Golan's role in the Carolco project.
A screenplay dating back to 1989 exists with Cameron's name appended to it, indicating erroneously he worked with a series of writers on the project (John Brancato, Barry [sic: Barney] Cohen, Joseph Goldmari [sic: "Joseph Goldman", Menahem Golan's pen name] and Ted Newsom), but the script was identical to one presented to Columbia Pictures by Golan in 1988, where the project had been in development (Cameron never worked with these writers at all).
Subsequent to the delivery of this script to Carolco, Cameron presented a 45-page Spider-Man screen story to Carolco, which bore substantive similarities to a number of earlier screenplay drafts, particularly one written by Ethan Wiley (writer of House and writer/director of House 2).
When Carolco went into bankruptcy, all previous "Spider-Man" scripts were acquired by MGM-UA, including the "Cameron material", i.e., both the multi-author screenplay and the later treatment credited solely to Cameron. MGM in turn sold the material to Columbia Pictures in exchange for Columbia dropping their plans to do an alternative James Bond series based on the Kevin McClory Bond material.
Columbia hired David Koepp to adapt Cameron's treatment into a screenplay, and Koepp's first draft is taken often word-for-word from Cameron's story, though later drafts were heavily rewritten by Koepp himself, Scott Rosenberg, Alvin Sargent (husband of producer Laura Ziskin), and (allegedly) Ivan Raimi, brother of director Sam Raimi.
Columbia preferred to credit David Koepp solely, and none of the scripts before or after his were ever examined by the Writers Guild of America, East to determine proper credit attribution. Cameron and other writers objected, but Columbia and the WGA prevailed. In its release in 2002, Spider-Man had its screenplay credited solely to Koepp.
Unable to make Spider-Man, Cameron moved to television and created the story of Max Guevara, a new superheroine. Dark Angel was influenced by cyberpunk, biopunk, current superhero genres, and third-wave feminism:
After the Sarah Connors and Ellen Ripleys of the eighties, the nineties weren't so kind to the superwoman format --Xena: Warrior Princess excepted. But it's a new millennium now, and while Charlie's Angels and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon are kicking up a storm on movie screens, it's been down to James Cameron to bring empowered female warriors back to television screens. And tellingly, Cameron has done it by mixing the sober feminism of his The Terminator and Aliens characters with the sexed-up Girl Power of a Britney Spears concert. The result is Dark Angel, a weekly action series that's burning up the ratings on America's Fox Network and has recently premiered in the UK.
Co-produced with Charles H. Eglee, Dark Angel starred Jessica Alba as Max Guevara, a genetically enhanced transgenic super-soldier created by the super-secretive Manticore organization. It also starred Michael Weatherly as Logan Cale, and noted actor John Savage (of The Deer Hunter) as Colonel Donald Michael Lydecker; the second season finale also guest starred Amy Dumas. While a success in its first season, low ratings in the second led to its cancellation. Cameron himself directed the series finale, a two-hour episode wrapping up many of the series' loose ends.
Avatar and Battle Angel (2009)
In June 2005, director Cameron was announced to be working on a project tentatively titled "Project 880" (now known to be Avatar) in parallel with another project, Battle Angel. Both movies were to be shot in 3D. By December, Cameron stated that he wanted to film Battle Angel first, followed by Avatar. However in February 2006, he switched goals for the two film projects and decided to film Avatar first. He mentioned that if both films are successful, he would be interested in seeing a trilogy being made for both.
Cameron at the 2009 San Diego Comic-Con International to promote Avatar
Avatar, previously known as Project 880, has an estimated budget of over $200 million, is a 3D film currently set for a December 18, 2009 release, and will mark his first feature film since 1997's Titanic. It will be composed almost entirely of computer-generated animation, using a more advanced version of the "performance capture" technique used by director Robert Zemeckis in The Polar Express. James Cameron wrote an 80 page scriptment for Avatar in 1995 and announced in 1996 that he would make the film after completing Titanic. In December 2006, Cameron explained that the delay in producing the film since the 1990s had been to wait until the technology necessary to create his project was advanced enough. The director is planning to create photo-realistic computer-generated characters through motion capture animation technology using his new virtual camera system. The film was originally scheduled to be released in May 2009 but was pushed back to December 2009 to allow more time for post production on the complex CGI and to give more time for theatres worldwide to install 3D projectors
James Cameron will also be writing, producing and directing Battle Angel, a live-action adaptation of the first three volumes of the manga series. Alita will be a CG character performed by an actress. Like Avatar, the film will be a mix of CG and live action. Filming will be made with the new digital 3D system Cameron has developed for Avatar. In January 2005, Cameron mentioned that the delay in making this film initially had been to wait until a sufficient number of theatres had installed 3D projectors. Pre-production on this film has been occurring since at least 2004-05. As with Avatar, the movie will be marketed and distributed by 20th Century Fox worldwide. Cameron is aiming for a PG-13 rating. Laeta Kalogridis wrote the original script but Cameron is re-writing the script.