The man who made the most technologically advanced movie to ever hit the big screen has just hung up on me. Not on purpose. Calling from his car, James Cameron was defeated by some very simple machinery—his cellphone.
A minute later, my phone rang again.
“Sorry about that,” he said, “it was totally my bad. I was reaching out to turn up the volume and I hit the disconnect, which is right next to it. I have to learn to keep my hands off the damn thing.”
Cellphone and their pesky buttons are one thing, but when it comes to big budget epics with complicated technology, nobody is as hands on as Cameron. Last December Avatar became the highest grossing movie of all time, making $2,712,115,019 on a budget that fell somewhere between $230 million (according to The New Yorker) to nearly $500 million (so says The New York Times).
“We’re very cognizant of the fact that it is a big expensive movie,” he says. “When you make a film at that highest level you know the imagery is going to be quite astonishing. That’s what I’m all about. That’s what my career has been all about, starting with the Abyss, then Terminator 2 and True Lies and Titanic. Every one of these films was decried in the largest way possible as being the biggest budget films in history. [But] as an artist, there is no second position on my throttle. It’s full throttle so it may as well be the highest grossing film in history because I’m working like it is anyway.”
Cameron may be the go-to guy for big budget spectacles, but despite his track record there are no guarantees of success.
“I don’t know if I knew it until it was really out there,” he says when asked when he knew he had a hit on his hands. “I had a suspicion that the film would perform beyond what its opening weekend would indicate. I thought our challenge was not the film itself as much as the marketing of the movie. We didn’t have Brad Pitt or George Clooney. It was an unfamiliar story. We had to create a brand from scratch and we had these characters that were blue and were maybe a little off putting when people first saw them. There were a lot of marketing hurdles. I was much more concerned about the 30-second TV spot than the film. I knew the film played fine.”
Now, just four months after its record breaking theatrical run Avatar and its eco friendly message is coming to DVD and Blu Ray just in time for Earth Day. This is a bare bones release, with no extras. (The “über edition” with extra footage and supplements will be out in time for Christmas.)
“It was going to take until November for us to do good supplement stuff and I didn’t think people wanted to wait until November to see an Avatar DVD,” he says, “so we put the plain wrap version out.
“By the way,” he adds with a swagger, “[Avatar] is the highest grossing film in history and has nine Academy Award nominations so people should acknowledge that that film needs to be in the marketplace before we start screwing around and getting creative.”