Famed filmmaker James Cameron recently took his gloves off while speaking with The New York Times about complications with 20th Century Fox executives during the making of Avatar. The way Cameron tells it, Fox issued him a handful of notes about the flying sequences in Avatar. After looking at their critiques, Cameron got up from his proverbial throne and clapped back at the studio by serving them up a slice of reality pie. In so many words, Cameron reminded the executives that he’s responsible for Titanic, a film that helped pay for most of 20th Century Fox’s movie lot.
“I think I felt, at the time, that we clashed over certain things,” Cameron explained. “For example, the studio felt that the film should be shorter and that there was too much flying around on the ikran — what the humans call the banshees. Well, it turns out that’s what the audience loved the most, in terms of our exit polling and data gathering. And that’s a place where I just drew a line in the sand and said, ‘You know what? I made ‘Titanic.’ This building that we’re meeting in right now, this new half-billion dollar complex on your lot? ‘Titanic’ paid for that, so I get to do this.’”
“And afterward, they thanked me,” Cameron added. “I feel that my job is to protect their investment, often against their own judgment. But as long as I protect their investment, all is forgiven.”
In addition to making over $2 billion at the worldwide box office, one could argue that the flying sequences feature some of Avatar’s most exhilarating moments. There are video games and theme park attractions based on those scenes. Who doesn’t want to soar through the air on the back of a majestic Ikran?
“It’s such an intense process when you’re editing a film and you have to fight for every frame that stays in,” Cameron elaborated. “I felt pretty good about the creative decisions that were made back then. We spent a lot of time and energy improving our process in the decade-plus since. But there’s certainly nothing cringeworthy. I can see tiny places where we’ve improved facial-performance work. But it doesn’t take you out. I think it’s still competitive with everything that’s out there these days.”
Hearing that 20th Century Fox had the stones to question its golden goose makes me smile. Executives are used to people licking their boots, not wanting to rattle the cage. Then Cameron comes along and is like, “Nah, man. I’m part of the reason you have that bed of money to sleep on every night. Know your place and let my cat people fly, dammit.” He didn’t say that, but I bet he wanted to.
Do you think Cameron made the right call by telling 20th Century Fox where they can stick their notes? Let us know in the comments.