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James Cameron – The Early Years

James Francis Cameron (born August 16, 1954) is a Canadian film director, producer, screenwriter, visual artist and editor, as well as a deep-sea explorer. His writing and directing work includes Piranha II: The Spawning (1981), The Terminator (1984), Aliens (1986), The Abyss (1989), Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991), True Lies (1994), Titanic (1997), Dark Angel (2000–02), and Avatar (2009). In the time between making Titanic and Avatar, Cameron spent several years creating many documentary films (specifically underwater documentaries) and co-developed the digital 3D Fusion Camera System. Cameron has also contributed to underwater filming and remote vehicle technologies. On March 26, 2012, Cameron reached the bottom of the Mariana Trench, the deepest part of the ocean, in the Deepsea Challenger submersible.

Cameron was born in Kapuskasing, Ontario, Canada, 1954, the son of Shirley (née Lowe), and Phillip Cameron. Cameron grew up in Chippawa, Ontario with his brothers Mike and John David Cameron and attended Stamford Collegiate School in Niagara Falls; his family moved to Brea, California in 1971 when he was 17. Cameron enrolled at FullertonCollege, a 2-year community college, in 1973 to study physics. He switched to English, then dropped out before the start of the fall 1974 semester.

After dropping out of SonoraHigh School, he went to further his secondary education at Brea Olinda High School. After graduating, he worked several jobs such as truck driving and wrote when he had time. During this period he taught himself about special effects: “I’d go down to the USC library and pull any thesis that graduate students had written about optical printing, or front screen projection, or dye transfers, anything that related to film technology.”

After seeing the original Star Wars film 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 was possible, and he wrote a ten-minute science fiction script with two friends, entitled Xenogenesis. They raised money and rented camera, lenses, film stock, and studio, and shot it in 35mm. 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.

While continuing to educate himself in film-making techniques, Cameron started working as a miniature-model maker at Roger Corman Studios. Making rapidly produced, low-budget productions taught Cameron to work efficiently and effectively. He soon found employment as an art director in the sci-fi movie Battle Beyond the Stars (1980). He did special effects work design and direction on John Carpenter’s Escape From New York (1981), acted as production designer on Galaxy of Terror (1981), and consulted on the design of Android (1982).

Cameron was hired as the special effects director for the sequel of the Joe Dante directed drive-in hit Piranha, entitled Piranha III: The Spawning in 1981. The original director, Miller Drake, left the project due to creative differences with producer Ovidio Assonitis, Cameron was hired by Assonitis, giving him his first directorial job.

The movie was to be produced in Jamaica, however on location, production slowed due to numerous problems and adverse weather. James Cameron was fired after failing to get a close up of Carole Davis in her opening scene. Ovidio ordered Cameron to do the close-up the next day before he started on that day’s shooting. Cameron spent the entire day sailing around the resort to reproduce the lighting but still failed to get the close-up. After he was fired, Ovidio invited Cameron to stay on location and assist in the shooting. Once in Rome, Ovidio took over the editing when Cameron was stricken with food poisoning. During his illness, he had a nightmare about an invincible robot hitman sent from the future to kill him, giving him the idea for The Terminator, which later catapulted his film career.

After completing a screenplay for The Terminator, Cameron would only sell it if he could direct the movie. However, the production companies he contacted, while expressing interest in the project, were unwilling to let a largely inexperienced feature film director make the movie. Finally, Cameron found a company called Hemdale Pictures, which was willing to let him direct. 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.

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 title role, that all changed when Arnold Schwarzenegger and Cameron 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 Schwarzenegger. 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 low-budget film which cost $6.5 million to make, utilizing cost-cutting skills he’d learned working for Corman. However, The Terminator eventually earned over $78 million worldwide. Cameron was a star, he could make whatever he wanted next, and he wanted to make an Alien movie…

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  1. Pingback: John Sayles « socialpsychol

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