The Big Picture

Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
on entertainment and media

« Previous Post | The Big Picture Home | Next Post »

James Cameron's greatest tantrums: Part 1

It would be hard to find many people who've been fans of Jim Cameron longer than I have. Way, way back in the 1980s, when I was a young rock writer at the L.A. Times, the studios were putting out so many movies that our team of film critics couldn't handle them all. So our lead critic at the time, Sheila Benson, asked me if I'd pick up some of the slack, figuring that since I'd gone to film school I probably wouldn't completely embarrass myself writing a review or two each week.

Jamescameron Of course, I got the dregs -- the movies that none of our other critics wanted. That was OK, since I'd always been a fan of grind-house movies and genre thrillers, which were exactly the kind of films assigned to me. Most of them were pretty dreadful, but as any critic knows, it's usually more fun to write an exuberant pan than a dutiful appreciation.

And so it was that I ended up seeing "The Terminator," a sci-fi thriller by James Cameron, then an unknown 30-year-old filmmaker whose best known work was "Piranha II: The Spawning." The movie was so unheralded that its distributor, Orion Pictures, only had one poorly attended screening, where I had the pleasure of seeing a career in early flight.

When I got back to the office, everyone was pretty incredulous when I told them that it was one of the best movies I'd seen all year. But they ran the review anyway, which went in part:

"['The Terminator'] is the kind of slam-bang B movie that's almost disappeared from Hollywood, loaded with fuel-injected chase scenes, clever special effects and even a welcome dose of sly humor.... This ominous fantasy will prick up your ears -- it has the unsettling air of a scare story that doesn't just send a shiver down your spine, but deftly collides with your imagination."

Of course, Cameron has gone to much bigger and better things in the past 25 years, culminating with the arrival this weekend of the much-chattered-about "Avatar." I haven't been able to see it yet, since I'm on the outs with 20th Century Fox, the studio releasing it. But it seemed like an apt time to tell some great stories about Cameron, who is infamous for his outrageous on-set behavior. Luckily, I just got hold of "The Futurist: The Life and Films of James Cameron" by Rebecca Keegan, a Hollywood-based contributor to Time magazine. Keegan spent time with Cameron on the set of "Avatar," but better still, has collected a host of wonderful bigger-than-life Cameron tales.

One of my favorites unfolds during the making of "True Lies," which Cameron shot over a six-month period in late 1993. Cameron ended up using a new cinematographer, Russell Carpenter, who is now a star, but at the time his biggest credit was "Pet Sematary II." After being subjected to what Keegan calls Cameron's "merciless management style," Carpenter soon found himself on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Carpenter recalls that one of his worst moments occurred when he was seated with about 25 other people, watching dailies of that day's shoot. Unhappy about the way Carpenter had lit Arnold Schwarzenegger in a scene where the star looked at himself in the mirror, Cameron growled: "I've got the highest-paid actor in this or any parallel universe and I cannot see his eyes."

After a few more takes went by, Cameron erupted again, saying, "When did you learn to read a light meter?" After dailies were over, Carpenter called his wife and told her that he would probably be fired. One of Cameron's regulars told Carpenter that the filmmaker treated all his cinematographers the same way. So Carpenter phoned Mikael Salomon, Cameron's director of photography on "The Abyss." Salomon laughed, saying, "Did he use the line, 'Where did you learn to read a light meter?' " The experience with Cameron didn't turn out to be all that bad for Carpenter. He went on to win an Oscar in 1998 for his work on Cameron's "Titanic."

Even Schwarzenegger wasn't immune to Cameron's fury. When the film was shooting in Washington, D.C., the star kept the cast and crew waiting one day when he and Tom Arnold went off on a quick tour of capital monuments. "We come back around and Jim is standing in the middle of the road, arms crossed," recalls Arnold. Cameron lunged in the passenger door to get into Schwarzenegger's face. According to Arnold, Cameron gave Schwarzenegger a serious tongue lashing. "He's like, 'Do you want Paul Verhoeven to direct the rest of this [expletive]? You do that [expletive] again and that's what's gonna happen."

Coming soon: How Cameron almost killed himself making "The Abyss."

Photo of James Cameron by Kevork Djansezian / Associated Press

Comments () | Archives (10)

The comments to this entry are closed.

"I'll buy THAT for a dollar!"

Hahhaha... Jim ;D

Carpenter shouldn't feel too bad. Didn't they make the same complaint that they couldn't see Brando's eyes in The Godfather?

heads are going to roll at fox if this movie doesn't live up to expectations, there are a lot of nervous fok around here.

Too Funny! I love that man (Cameron).

Thx for the funny anecdotes about Cameron; hilarious, but the quality is up on the screen, isn't it? All perfectionists do this...and sometimes they get crowned KING...twice.

Why on the outs with Fox, Patrick? For the A-/D+ report card you gave them...? Ouch.,0,738085.story

I had the opportunity to work with Jim Cameron on Titanic as his video assist operator, and he is indeed an intense individual (to be put mildly). But he's also a genius and a perfectionist, and he pushed myself and the rest of our crew to perform to limits we didn't realize we had in us. I'm a better person after spending those many months with Jim on the set of Titanic.

Great piece. I was at the Avatar premier last night in Hollywood at the Chinese theater. The film is amazing and I would say groundbreaking. Truth is it looked bad to me going in, but I was wrong. There is something in it for everyone. I really got caught up in the story which I think is better than any of Cameron's previous works. I also bought the Futurist book two days ago and have already read it, it's really good and fun. I loved it. The stories are fantastic and it's well written.

Those Canadians are sooooooo mean! Fun article, looking forward to more stories.

Thanks, Chuck.

Give my girl a call. I might have some work for you.

I worked on Titanic as a Camera Operator for the last week and a half of shooting in Rosarito. Needless to say when I arrived on the set and stepped out of the van, the sight of this "Titanic" set was overwhelming. I then thought "screw it, I'm getting a chance to work with Jim Cameron, one my favorite filmmakers". It was at that point that I realized this is where you either kick ass or go home. And if you didn't kick ass, Jim would send you home. Fortunately for me, Jim did like my work. He liked anyone who showed up ready to take care of business. I don't think Jim would remember me but one moment in particular sticks with me. I was in the water with Cameron, Jimmy Muro (A Camera Operator). We were all side by side. Danny Nucci was swimming away from the bow of the ship and eventually a smokestack lands on him crushing him. When we cut, we went to the floating barge to review the shots on video. We looked Cameron's shot, Muro's, then mine. Video assist played my camera but only "snow" showed up on the screen. Jim started berating the video guy "Where's Mike's shot!!!" The video guy nervously said "I don't know, I...." Jim then turned to me and said "Mike how was your shot" I replied "it was great!" Jim said "Okay, moving on..." We all got out of the water. Next thing I knew the Producer Jon Landau comes up to me. He says "How long have you been on the show?" I say "Three days.." Landau says "Three days and Jim asks you if it's good, you say yes and he trusts you?" I didn't know what to say. I just shrugged. But I basically realized that Jim Cameron expects you who is working with him, to be intelligent, succinct, professional, fearless and think like a filmmaker. Because after all, if it was your project, wouldn't you want the same type of people around you?


Recommended on Facebook


In Case You Missed It...

Stay Connected:

About the Bloggers



Get Alerts on Your Mobile Phone

Sign me up for the following lists: