Born in Kapuskasing, Ontario, Canada and growing up in Chippawa, Ontario, it wasn't until moing to Brea, California in 1971 did James Cameron's interest in filmmaking appear. While studying English and Physics, he would often head to the film archives of UCLA and study the articles on film making, essentially teaching himself. Realising this was his real passion in life, Cameron dropped out of University and pursued several low paying jobs while using his free time to write scripts and screenplays but it was only after seeing Star Wars in 1977 did he really attempt to enter the film industry.
Making a short sci-fi film with two friends known as Xenogenesis, this got James a lot of attention and also his first real job in the film industry as a miniature model maker at Roger Corman Studios. It was here while working on many low budget films did Cameron start to hone his talents in all aspects of filmmaking. Rising up the ranks to art director for Battle Beyond the Stars and special effects director on John Carpenter's Escape From New York, Cameron apparently got his real break as a director while filming pick-up shots for the 1981 film, Galaxy of Terror. This came at an opportune moment: While working as special effects director on the B-Movie horror Piranha II: The Spawning, the director quit and due to budget limitations, another could not be brought in so James Cameron himself took the role and finished the film. However even while acting as director, James was not allowed to see or edit any of his footage. Unhappy with this, he broke into the editing room and tried to re-edit the film to the way he wanted, but was caught and had all his work re-cut. However, it was while filming Piranha II in Rome that he came up with his greatest creation.
Early Directing Career
While working in Rome, under extreme pressure and in a a totally alien environment, he had a nightmare involving a robot hitman coming from the future to kill him. Supossedly using this idea as the basis for a screenplay, the Terminator was born. However, Cameron admited in Starlog interview that he was inspired by Harlan Ellison's Soldier and Demon with a Glass Hand episodes he wrote for Outer Limits. Cameron was famously sued for plagiarism by Ellison later, and he is now credited in film.
At that time, he found it difficult to find a company which would allow him to direct his own work. After being rejected by company after company, he finally came to Pacific Western Productions, a company started by Gale Anne Hurd who had worked with Cameron earlier in his career. She bought the script for $1 and signed on as producer for the project with Cameron at the helm. Casting Michael Biehn, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton and Lance Henriksen, the man who was originally intended to be the Terminator himself, The Terminator was filmed on a bidget of $6.5 million but went on to become a huge success, generating over $78 million worldwide. James Cameron has finally made his mark as a director and was now a hot commodity in the industry.
While writing The Terminator, Cameron was also working on two other scripts that were sequels to previous successes: Rambo and Alien. However, he gave up on the screenplay of First Blood Part II to focus on Aliens. Envisioning the film to take a totally different stance on the original, Cameron wrote the movie as an action film. Bringing back Sigourney Weaver from the original, he also cast Lance Henriksen and Bill Paxton from his previous film, The Terminator including Michael Biehn who was a last minute fill in for James Remar. Remar had quit the project because he, along with much of the cast, had no faith in James Cameron and felt he was no match for Ridley Scott, director of the first film. They turned out to be wrong as the film went on to be an even bigger success than The Terminator and landed Sigourney Weaver with a Best Actress nomination at the 1986 Academy Awards.
Now known as more than a cult director, James Cameron was allowed more freedom with his next project: The Abyss. A film about a group of deep sea oil drillers who encounter aliens at the bottom of the sea. Known for his demands in the realm of special effects, the film had to be shot in a 40ft deep tank and at a disused nuclear power plant thus going way over budget. While less action orientated and more artistic than his previous films, The Abyss still went on to be nominated for 4 Academy Awards and developed his interest in making extended director's cuts of his films after several key points had to be cut in order to make the film reach an agreeable running length.
After years of negotiating, in mid-1990, the rights to The Terminator had finally been secured allowing Cameron to make a sequel. Entitled Terminator 2: Judgment Day, the project was the first film to surpass the $100 million mark and once again set a benchmark in special effects, but also for action movies with many citing it to be one of the greatest movies ever made. The film was also a bigger success than all of his previous ventures combined, generating over $500 million worldwide and winning 4 Academy Awards. While there was talk of a Terminator 3 soon after, the project never materialised, leaving the closest to a real James Cameron followup to be the T2 3D: Battle Across Time ride in Universal Studios theme parks in 1996.
Following T2, Cameron had originally intended to produce a Spider-Man adaptation with regular Michael Biehn as Peter Parker, however following many disputes over rights and the original script being deemed too violent, he gave up on the project and instead focused on a remake of the French comedy La Totale. This ended up as the action-comedy True Lies starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bill Paxton, Jamie Lee Curtis and Tom Arnold. While a huge success on both sides of the Atlantic, the prospect of developing a sequel has been shut down ever since 9/11 as, according to Cameron himself, 'in this day and age, terrorism isn't funny.'
For a long while, Cameron had an interest in the Titanic and it's surrounding events but was stuck when it came to making the story more than just a disaster movie and so devloped it into a love story between Jack Dawson and Rose DeWitt Bukater, played by Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet respectively. Breaking yet another record by taking the film's budget to over $200 million. Going to great lengths to achieve perfect recreations of the ship, Cameron took several dives to the site and shot footage which he would later insert into the film. While the hype for the film was building, so was the ridicule and the anticipation of the film being a real disaster due to the ever expanding budget and shooting schedule. Earning only $28 million on its opening weekend, the film was already deemed a failure, but in the coming weeks the box offices picked up and continuted to be a huge success right through the winter of 1997 across the globe, pulling in $1.8 billion dollars, a feat that still hasn't been beaten to this day, and winning 11 Oscars.
21st Century and Avatar
Leaving feature films behind to focus on other interests, Cameron created the TV series Dark Angel with Jessica Alba in the lead role as Max Guevara, a futuristic super soldier. While it was initially a hit, the second season saw the shows ratings plummet causing it to be cancelled. As witnessed in earlier projects such as The Abyss and Titanic, James Cameron's passion lay with the sea and following his use of real footage of the Titanic in his film, he started to turn his attention to documentaries about the world below the waves: Expedition: Bismarck, Ghosts of the Abyss and Aliens of the Deep. With the last two developed as IMAX documentaries, Cameron has come to believe that the future of film lies in 3D imagery. Not the red and blue glasses style 3D imagery that has been done in the past but instead a custom built technology which will supposedly give the audience a real 3D experience.
Using this innovative RealD technology, Cameron released Avatar on December 17th 2009 with the film grossing $232,180,000 in its opening weekend and recieving rave reviews from both established critics like Roger Ebert but also from other filmmakers including Steven Spielberg, Edgar Wright and Bryan Singer. This success continued with the film remaining the top of the US box office for 5 weeks, raking in over $1.5bn, placing the film as the second highest grossing in history behind Cameron's own Titanic. At the 2010 Golden Globes, James himself picked up the awards for best director for a motion picture and best picture in the drama category. At the Academy Awards, Avatar won three Oscars for Cinematography, Art Direction and Visual Effects.
After taking a brief hiatus to go on a deep sea diving expedition, Cameron plans to make another film using the RealD technology though, while the actors from Avatar have all signed on to do sequels, he plans to make something else before Avatar 2. Even with talk of a Battle Angel Alita, on April 20th 2010, Cameron announced in an interview with The LA Times that Avatar 2 would focus on the oceans of Pandora.
Until recently, Cameron had no direct involvement with the videoo game industry even though there have been many adaptations of all his feature films, besides Titanic, including several games using characters he has created that aren't directly connected to the films themselves including RoboCop vs. Terminator and the upcoming Aliens: Colonial Marines. However, at E3 2009, it was announced that he would be working with Ubisoft to develop a game set in the universe of his upcoming Avatar movie, with the same name, but featuring a different story to the film. Instead of being a direct adapatation like most licensed video games, Avatar is a side story that takes place during the events of the film in a similar fashion to the Matrix tie-in game, Enter The Matrix.