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James Cameron's Interview

Nearly a year after his movie “Avatar” broke box-office records and opened up a floodgate of big-budget 3-D features, James Cameron is still very much immersed in his budding science-fiction franchise and the medium of 3-D filmmaking. On Nov. 16 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment will release a special extended collector’s edition of “Avatar” on DVD and Blu-ray, including a longer cut of the film and nearly an hour of deleted scenes, among other bonus features.

But Mr. Cameron would not be the director who once declared himself the king of the world if his ambitions ended there.

He is also preparing a 3-D release of his 1997 blockbuster “Titanic” – now merely the second highest-grossing film of all time, after “Avatar” — to be released in 2012, while he weighs his choices for his next directing gig. His checklist includes a possible “Avatar” sequel and a 3-D film about the Egyptian monarch Cleopatra that might star Angelina Jolie. At the same time Mr. Cameron has been keeping a careful eye on the increasing use of 3-D in Hollywood, and is hardly shy about discussing who he thinks is doing right and who’s doing it wrong.

Mr. Cameron spoke recently to ArtsBeat about “Avatar”s past and present, as well as his future plans. These are excerpts from that conversation.

Question: Have you reached that saturation point where you’ve gotten sick of talking about “Avatar”?

James Cameron: That was about eight months ago. [laughs] I’m way past that. I’m numb at this point.

Question: Well, I appreciate your faking your way through this, then.

James Cameron: It’s not that. It’s turned into a kind of never-ending saga, really, because of the various iterations of the film. First the success, then the awards, then all the environmental work that was the fallout of the messaging of the movie, and then the DVD release. Then the theatrical re-release and now the special edition. I just want to be able to close the files so we don’t have to go back into them again. I had my team for the theatrical re-released version, and just said, “Guys, let’s just go for broke –- let’s just do everything that we could imagine fans would ever want to see.”

Question: There is even more material in this latest DVD release that hasn’t been seen previously. Where does it keep coming from?

James Cameron: There are different grades of finished. Part of the concept here, which was a little bit radical, was, let’s do a theatrical re-release and we’ll do it in Imax and digital 3-D, and we’ll finish the effects up to a release standard. And why not finish those effects to go into an even longer cut of the film in the collector’s edition? That accounts for about 16 minutes of material. Beyond that, we have an additional 47 minutes of scenes that were taken out at various stages along the cutting process while the film was first being fitted together like a jigsaw puzzle. The film was made twice — at least the CG scenes were — to finish them up to our internal level of completion, which we called template. Then we give it to Weta Digital [the New Zealand visual-effects company], and Weta Digital would finish it to the photo-real level that was for release. So we have 47 minutes of stuff that’s finished up to a template level, and it’s watchable, you get it, but you can really see that it’s not done.

Question: There are certain directors who often say their films are not done when they’re released, and they want to rework them. Has that been true in your experience as well?

James Cameron: It’s never really been that. We did a special edition of “Aliens” that I just felt made a more complete viewing of the film. Like, if you really wanted to be scared to death for longer. And then with “The Abyss,” it really was a different movie in its director’s cut. That’s the only one where I really feel a sense of vindication as a filmmaker, where I felt like I was getting my day in court. With “Avatar,” it’s more horses for courses. When we did the theatrical re-release, that was for people who really wanted the big-screen experience and were fans of the movie and wanted to come back and immerse themselves in it. When you get the collector’s edition, it’s more of an alternate-reality experience of the “Avatar” story, and I think that’s permissible. I think the new technologies allow that, and it’s fun to have that relationship with a fan base, where you can literally give them alternative ways of viewing the film.

Question: What would be an example of that?

James Cameron: For example, here’s a thing that popped into my head when we were in the middle of this process. I’m a parent. I get into a lot of trouble with my wife when I let the kids watch “Avatar.” For the next two weeks, they’re running around saying, [swear word] and [swear word]. So I said, why don’t we take all of the network ADR [re-recorded dialogue] that we did, where you cover every line for some network version that’ll air 10 years later, and why don’t we put that in and do a family-friendly audio track and advertise it on the box? As a parent I would love that. If I was looking at a boxed set in a store, and it said, “Family-friendly audio –- all objectionable language has been removed,” I’d be like, great, now I can watch this movie with my kids, without having to flinch every time somebody swears.

Question: Do you think the success of “Avatar” set off an arms race among the Hollywood studios to release as many 3-D movies as possible?

James Cameron: I think it accelerated a move toward 3-D that was already in progress. There were a number of 3-D films that were being very successful over a period of three years or so, but “Avatar” was the moment that the wave crested, if you will. After that it was undeniable that 3-D was going to be lucrative and it was here to stay, and it wasn’t a gimmick and all those things. And I think there was a rush, a gold rush, and some mistakes were made and some bad 3-D reached the marketplace. And then there was a little pushback from the audience, that we don’t want to pay extra for something that’s not a great experience. And I think that the studios have been somewhat chastened by that, and they’re now attempting to do 3-D at a higher quality.

Question: So you think they’ve learned from these experiences?

James Cameron: We’re seeing now that the studios are swinging away from the hasty conversions. Of course, Warner Brothers just got smacked by not being able to get “Harry Potter” done in time. I’d been on record for years that you can’t do conversion as part of a post-production process on a big movie, because no one is willing to insert the two or three or four months necessary to doing it well. They’ve got the cost of the interest clock running on a $150 million negative. That’s $5, $10 million right there, the interest costs of delaying a release. And of course, they don’t even factor it in when they push the button and green-light a movie. It’s already based on a release date they think they can make, based on everything they know. You can’t suddenly open up that post schedule by four months, to do 3-D right. So finally somebody got burned, which is Warners, and they’d already partially got burned on “Clash of the Titans.” So now the word is out there that the conversion companies have been low-balling their bids to get a foothold in the market, because they’re all start-ups.

Question: Meaning that these companies are underestimating how much time and how much money it will really take to do the job?

James Cameron: I think they’re doing two things: they were low-balling the bid and they were delivering shabby 3-D, because they had no choice, because it had to be done as a throughput thing. When you’re buying 3-D by the yard, $50,000 a minute or $70,000 a minute, it’s not really being done correctly, where it’s really an artistic process. I talked to Louis Leterrier, who did “Clash of the Titans,” and he was in England mixing the movie while they were doing the 3-D here. So the filmmaker wasn’t even involved in the process. It was just being applied like a layer, purely for profit motive. There was no artistry to it whatsoever. Now everybody’s realizing that’s not the right way to do it. They’re having to get on that learning curve. I think that’s O.K. These are almost, in a way, predictable oscillations of an emerging market.

Question: So what do you think of George Lucas’s plans to re-release all of his live-action “Star Wars” movies in 3-D?

James Cameron: I’ve been encouraging him to do that for years. He and I went to ShoWest in 2005 and he showed a little bit of converted “Star Wars” and I showed some of my 3-D stuff, and we said, 3-D is coming. We wanted to get exhibitors excited about 3-D so they’d put it in the number of screens that we needed. George has been talking about this for a long time and it’s finally coming to fruition, and I think that’s the true and correct use of the conversion technology, is for movies that are already done and are already beloved films. I want to do it with “Titanic,” maybe I’ll go back to “T2,” I don’t know. Steven [Spielberg] could do it on some of his films that we’d all, I’m sure, love to see in 3-D. But it has to be done right, and it has to be done with the blessing and the supervision of the filmmaker.

Question: You don’t think he was in any way motivated by what you’d accomplished with “Avatar,” to at least keep pace with that technology?

James Cameron: He did hang back for a while. I think he was waiting for there to be a wide enough install base, both in movie theaters and now we’re looking at the roll-out of 3-D television. I think he’s timed it wisely to a point where he can do the theatrical re-release and then roll right into a 3-D DVD re-release. You don’t want to create a glut of your own product. He had only just, a couple of years ago, finished his whole epic cycle of six films. “Titanic” has been out of theaters for, what, 12 years now? We’re going to bring it out in 3-D as a theatrical re-release on the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic in 2012. It’s an arbitrary length of time but it’s a specific date –- it’s a specific date that means something to people. There will be a lot of talk about the Titanic disaster in the news, and the nonfiction TV sector at that time.

Question: Where are you now in preparing a 3-D version of “Titanic”?

James Cameron: We’re in the early stages of that process. We’ve been moving very slowly to make sure that we do it right, and we’ve basically gone to every single vendor who does 3-D conversion, that’s a credible vendor, and there were seven that we have received tests from. We’ve analyzed the tests, in a couple of cases we sent them back and told them to remake parts of it, because it was unacceptable, and now we’re baking off the different vendors against each other and we’re going to choose the top two or three vendors and we’re going to split the show up between them. That’s our game plan. So we maximize the quality. Everybody’s busy now because there’s a lot of conversion work.

Question: Given that the technology is there, and the distribution system is coming into place, is it likely that all the studios will start looking at the library titles they’ve got and see which films they can re-release in 3-D? Won’t this be the colorization debate all over again?

James Cameron: I think that’s a business strategy that everybody that’s got a library is going to be looking at. But I think it’s never going to reach the level of colorization. Because colorization was always a little bit of a bastard technology. The price point was low enough that you could start converting libraries, but people never really accepted the quality.

There’s a danger that conversion could go down that path. Fortunately in this 3-D renaissance that we’re in right now, people are demanding quality. And they’re paying for it: they’re paying a premium. As long as it has to be the highest quality, the highest and best use of your filmgoing time, then you can’t just do that and do these bulk conversions.

The thing about 3-D conversion is, if you don’t have actual data from the moment of photography, then it really boils down to a human, in the loop, sitting and watching a screen saying, “O.K., that guy is closer than that guy, this table is in front of that chair,” and there’s no other way to do. There’s no magic-wand software solution for this. It’s people looking at screens, making creative decisions. The thing that we found with our seven vendors on the “Titanic” test, which was only a minute long, they had six shots to do and all seven of the vendors came back with a different idea of where they thought things were, spatially. So it’s all very subjective, which is why it’s best if the filmmaker stays in the process. In my case, I was there when I shot it [laughs]. I know where everything was. I’ve got a strong sense of what it should look like.

Question: Won’t there be people who will argue that these films shouldn’t be converted to 3-D simply because it isn’t what their filmmakers originally intended?

James Cameron: I think the beauty of it is that purists can always be purists. And people who don’t care can watch it in 3-D. The problem right now is there’s so much pressure on existing product being converted. There aren’t enough new titles. The second we start broadcasting sports and episodic television, and all that in 3-D, that’s going to satisfy the demand that’s going to drive the sets. And then I think, sure, studios will look back at their libraries, but they’ll pick the best titles, to spend that kind of money on. If it costs you $15 million to convert a movie reasonably well, more to do it perfectly, you’re not going to do that with every film. You’re going to do it with only a handful of films that you believe you can reap that amount of additional from, downstream.

Question: I’m glad to see you have faith in the movie studios about some things.

James Cameron: I don’t really have faith. I have faith in their greed. And if they feel that they’re damaging their own market, I think that will inhibit them from doing things that are too egregiously stupid.

Question: There’s a lot of curiosity about what your next movie will be. Is an “Avatar” sequel a fait accompli?

James Cameron: I wouldn’t say it’s inevitable because we still haven’t worked out our deal with 20th Century Fox. So we’re still in an ongoing negotiation on that. Because it’s a big piece of business, and I’m trying to map it out as a game plan that stretches forward 10 years. And they don’t like to think that long term. We’ll get it worked out, probably. I would assign a high probability to that. Whether that’s my next film or not remains to be seen.

Question: There’s been some discussion in the industry trade publications that you’re contemplating a 3-D Cleopatra film that would star Angelina Jolie. Where do you stand with that?

James Cameron: There’s a Cleopatra project in work, meaning that it’s been in development at Sony. And it’s a subject that’s always fascinated me. So yeah, I’ve been talking to them about it but no decisions have been made. But it sounds hot, doesn’t it? I mean, Angelina Jolie and Cleopatra? To me, that’s like a slam dunk. Whether I wind up doing it or not, I think it’s going to be a great project.

Question: I don’t mean to discourage you, but someone probably once said the same thing about Elizabeth Taylor and Cleopatra.

James Cameron: [laughs] Yeah, but you know, there were a lot of people betting against us on “Titanic” as well. That kind of stuff isn’t particularly daunting to me. The idea of 10-foot-tall blue people that were 100 percent CG, it was Smurf Planet, plenty of reasons why “Avatar” wasn’t going to work either.


James Cameron Will Shoot ‘Avatar 2 and 3′ Back-To-Back

Screen Rant‘s Roth Cornet attended a Discussion/Q & A session with James Cameron and Avatar producer Jon Landau last night and learned a bit more about the plans for both Avatar 2 and a threequel, which we’ll dub Avatar 3 for now.

Cameron confirmed the rumor that Avatar 2 & 3 will be shot back-to-back and admitted that he has not yet decided whether or not to tackle those sequels next or take on another project first.

While reports were in last month that Cameron is developing a True Lies TV show, the Oscar-winning filmmaker revealed at the Q & A panel that he is not actually involved with the project. Cameron has expressed his interest in helming a live-action, big-budget adaptation of the anime/manga series Battle Angel in the past, but the timeline for that project remains very much up in the air. A 3D conversion of Titanic is currently being overseen by Cameron, but the director’s schedule is otherwise unsettled for the time being.


Cameron will shoot Avatar 2 and 3 back-to-back.

We found out last month that Cameron is working with Australian engineers to develop a “deep sea vessel” that will allow him to shoot footage of the Mariana Trench in 3D, but the filmmaker claims that the project is unrelated to Avatar 2. Cameron revealed his plans to explore the oceans of Pandora in the Avatar sequels earlier this year and he certainly seems to doing (if only indirectly) research for the films already – does that mean that Avatar 2 could arrive in 2013 after all?

Read on for Cameron’s official statement about the Avatar sequels:

“Our plan right now is to do ['Avatar 2 & 3'] as a single large production and release them a year apart. In order to do that, we have to refine our technical processes beyond the end of where we were finishing ['Avatar'] a year ago. We need to future-proof ourselves out five or six years to the end of the third film.”

A number of franchises have featured sequels that were shot back-to-back, but the results have generally been mixed – especially when it comes to big-budget fare like The Matrix or Pirates of the Caribbean movies. Cameron and his production crew already have the necessary technology to begin work on Avatar 2 & 3, which should both be less expensive ventures than the original Avatar – not to mention that Cameron seems to have a solid plan for where he will take the franchise next, in terms of both plot and setting.

The Extended Collector’s Edition of Avatar arrives on DVD and Blu-ray this November and most fans are eagerly anticipating a return trip to Pandora. While the general public’s interest in 3D has waned a bit since Avatar obliterated box office records last winter/earlier this year, both Avatar 2 and Avatar 3 should, if nothing else, be visually impressive enough to convince moviegoers to pay the 3D surcharge to check them out on in theaters.


Earth Scene Clip

thumb|340pxHey guys - its not much, but here is a taste of what is coming in the AVATAR Extended Collector's Edition three disc set on November 16.

We have seen bits and pieces of future Earth crop up here and there, but this is the first time we have anywhere near the 45 second run time of this partial scene that was aired at the SPIKE 2010 Scream awards. That is director James Cameron and producer Jon Landau introducing the clip.

Click here for more details as to what to expect in the disc release.

I don't know how long this will be up on YouTube, but have a look.


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