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Old 04-29-2010, 08:05 PM
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Default James Cameron lecture-my notes!

(I typed this up late last night after I got back to my apartment from the lecture. It was such an inspiring talk. The whole thing lasted about two and half hours, and I ended up taking around 10 pages of notes!)

James Cameron came to The Ohio State University to give a lecture at the new Ohio Union this evening. The event was held in the Grand Ballroom. How "grand"? Grand enough to comfortably seat a sold-out show of 2,000 people. I got there a half hour early, and I was able to get a seat near the middle, but more towards the front. There was a small stage with a lectern and two large projection screens on either side-these were used to project footage of Cameron for those in the back of the room. Finally, the lights dimmed and familiar music began playing... But there was a technical problem and no video! It stopped suddenly, and everyone laughed/cheered, but then it started again-working properly this time. The video was a rather long "trailer" of Cameron's film works, all epically cut together to soundtracks of the various movies. There were fun and interesting parallels made between scenes like the Terminator firing a gun vs Jake firing his rifle and the mech suit from Aliens vs the AMP suit. After a solid round of goosebumps, the reel ended and the man of the hour walked up to the stage and received a standing ovation.

The following are my notes from the lecture.


First film job at age 26
Grew up in a small town of about 1500 people
Always out in the woods collecting bugs, snakes, etc, taking samples of algae and looking with a microscope-a budding scientist
The source of his two driving factors: curiosity and creativity
1960's: loved science, voracious reader of sci-fi books
-at this time (60's) it seemed he was living in these sci-fi worlds
-man on the moon
-exploring deep ocean
-anything seemed possible

In high school, "The term nerd wasn't invented yet..."
-founder and president of the science club
-only other member was a Czechoslovakian girl who couldn't speak much English
-biology teacher helped/urged him to start an art/theater club/program
-This is where he learned that small groups of highly motivated people can be really effective
-They were all self-taught, all took equal part in writing, acting, directing plays

In college, a Physics major
-science as a quest for understanding
-bad at Math, so he switched to English
-wanted to write/illustrate sci-fi novels (this was before the graphic novel that we know today)
-was an avid painter
-realized that school couldn't teach him to write; he needed real life experience, so got a job
-worked as a truck driver, tool fabricator, mechanic, high school janitor
-nights and weekends were spent writing and painting, "All nighters were my way of life back then."
Moved to L.A. with some friends, started making short films

2001: A Space Odyssey was a "religious experience" for him (I think we can all relate to this!
On Saturdays, he would head to the USC Film Department
-heard they had the best program around for film/cinema
-on Saturdays, would study in the Film Dept's library
-Xerox papers, books, etc
-Go home and put it all in black binders on the shelf
-"Basically I got a graduate level education for the price of the xeroxes."

Then, STAR WARS happened
-These were all the images that had been in his head for years
-Thought, "I can do that"
-Quit his job, raised $20,000 "from tax-shelter dentists" to make a sci-fi film
-built a set in the living room, maxed out the credit card
-wife thought he had finally gone crazy
learned that people will help if you share your vision and purpose with them

Leadership
-Difference between a natural leader and a good leader
-learned the hard way
Work ethic
-assume you can beat the brilliant guys by shear force of working harder
"Divine ignorance"
-"We didn't know that we 'shouldn't be able to do something,' we just did it."
-Often able to do something if you don't know the limits, like when you're new at something

First real movie job: "Battle Beyond the Stars" October 1979
(Battle Beyond the Stars - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)
-Total B-movie kitsch, "Biker babes from Mars stuff"
-Got a job in the model shop from a friend of a cousin who had a boyfriend who knew someone who was a carpenter for the film... (something like that)
-It was a b-movie, but it was a REAL MOVIE-getting paid to do something he would do for free!
"When opportunity knocks, be prepared"
Convinced the director the film needed a front projector to tie the actors in with the model work
-convinced the director he was a master projectionist
-hired his friends to help
-already had the knowledge: the old xeroxes
-fabricated and built the projection machine
-working on this film 5 days and people already thought he knew what he was doing (He didn't!)
"Be bold, but be prepared. Sometimes the door of opportunity opens only a crack and you have to leap through before it shuts."

2 years later...
Terminator
-As a director, found that you have to know the answers-even if you don't
*take risks*
All films are risks
-they have to be completely new and different; audiences don't want to watch the same thing
-but they have to make money
New technology can make it different, set it apart

1988 The Abyss
One shot that "couldn't be done"-an alien creature made of water
-turned to an all new technology; computer animation
-first soft-skinned technique
-loved to see people's reactions to this "dream imagery"
-they knew it couldn't BE real, but it LOOKED so real, like a dream
-discovered the power of CG

Terminator 2
Took it to the next level, rather than just one scene of computer graphics, make a prominent character
-T-1000 "The liquid metal dude"
-it was risky
-At $160 million, it was the most expensive movie yet made
-Made half a billion dollars "a lot of money at that time." (laughs)
What made it stand out?
-The shock of the new
Learned the value of risk and reward

Founded a new company; "Digital Domain"
-all-digital filmmaking
-began working on projects that became the industry standards of today, and replaced the old standards

1995-Decided to challenge the team at Digital Domain
-They hadn't made a film yet, which was the whole point of the company
-Cameron wrote a story with lots of creatures and aliens, and he called it AVATAR
Was looking for the "holy grail" of CG technology; render of close-up human emotions realistically
-this project demanded they find the solution
-Soon realized the challenge was impossible at that time-"boldness tempered by careful analysis"
decided to wait until technology caught up

waited 10 years

Titanic
-super risky
-a 3 hour film
-a "chick flick"; people in period dress, etc
-everybody dies at the end
Everyone thought it would be a flop
-was over budget
-mocked by the press: "We all know how it ends!"
Stayed focused, hunkered down to make a great movie
-In the editing room, he taped a razor blade to the edge of his monitor, with a note attached: "Use in case movie sucks"
-"Luckily I didn't have to use it!"
The first weekend, it made $28 million-not big
-that went up the next weekend "That doesn't happen."
-and up again the next weekend "That NEVER happens"
Ended up #1 for 15 weeks "still a record" and it made $1.8 billion, that's "More than any other movie by a factor of 2."

Rewind a bit...
-Saw a TV special about the Titanic, was interested in the robotic vehicles-they looked like sci-fi robots
-thought it would be an interesting contrast to period dress
An avid SCUBA diver
-thought, I can pay for a dive to the Titanic with a movie budget!
-led by his curiosity and love of exploration
-6 months later, was filming
-this was a *real* exploration
-his love of science calling back...

Became interested in deep sea exploration
Started a documentary company
-went on 6 expeditions
-made 4 films
-did full archaeological survey inside and out of the Titanic
-did 60+ submersible dives, about half to the Titanic
-having a great time doing it!
-working with real scientists
-began refining the 3D camera

2000
Partnered with an engineer to build a new, smaller, HD 3D camera system
Personal vow: next film will be in full 3D
-only problem: not enough theaters had 3D projectors
2002
DLP projectors could be modified to do 3D with only one projector
Problem: 'chicken and the egg' issue with the studios and theaters
-no studio will finance a big 3D film unless the theaters can support it
-no theaters will get 3D equipment without a big film to play on it
Disney, to their credit, released Chicken Little in 3D, causing 85 theaters to get the technology in around 2004
Decided he needed to make *THE* big 3D movie, and told the world to start getting ready for it
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Old 04-29-2010, 08:07 PM
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Rediscovered AVATAR script
But...
1.)Is CG technology ready?
2.)Can we make it in 3D?
Had seen proper effects in the character "Gollum" from The Lord of the Rings
For the live action, had a new generation of cameras
-Became the riskiest project ever
-took 4.5 years
-2 years were just CG testing
-built new facial capture system
-invented new "director centric" camera, the "virtual camera"
-able to film actors, but see the Na'vi walking around a 3D jungle-a real time render (in graphics akin to a video game, not the final look...)
Cut the scenes to the exact length and then sent them off to WETA
WETA spent a full year working
-nervous times
Now 3 full years into production until a finished shot is seen
-WETA sent back 10 shots-the scene where Neytiri first encounters Jake and is going to shoot him with the arrow until the Woodsprite alights on her arrow
-full range of emotion in her face, without any dialouge
-Only 2900+ shots to go!
-finished the last 1200 shots 6 weeks before it was due!

December 18, 2009 (Same date as Titanic)
-made $2.8 billion more than Titanic
All gambles had paid off
-The success came from the gambles
-Risks are essential

Thinks back to high school...
Wrote a play called "extinction syndrome"
-an anti-war, environmental "rant"
-dealing with the same issues now

AVATAR is a response to the dangers of society
-in the next 10 years, we have to make a decision
-"Business as usual" won't work
In AVATAR, Earth is called the "dying world"
-This isn't meant to be a bummer!
-Meant as a call to action!

-Did you have an emotional response to the movie?
-Do something about it!
-Read, research
-Ignore the TV and the radio, get the real facts about the issues
-Teach others!

A global response to AVATAR
-humanity's connection to nature
-indigenous themes (mining, Ecuador, etc)
No other film has these ideas, subject matter
Studios asked him to "tone down the treehugger, hippie bull****"
-No, this is the kind of movie I'm making

Nothing good gets done without risks

(always tells this to the crew of expeditions)
Three mantras:
Hope is not a strategy

-this is a test
Luck is not a factor
-make your own luck
Fear is not an option
-be bold, don't be paralyzed by disaster scenarios

*Curiosity and challenge*
-all interests are linked by these
-importance of lateral thinking; "What are they doing in such-and-such field?"
-don't specialize
-leads to depth of thought, but narrow thinking

Rewind to leadership
-here is a problem
-create a team
-execute a solution
A natural leader is not the same as a good leader
Had to make many sacrifices

Stand back and said "Why am I doing all this?"
-The task itself, the process, is the reward
-A small team with a belief, most often others won't understand you

***At this point, he lost his place in his notes, and made a joke about the lighting being crappy. Tried again to find his place, and then said "Screw it," and did the rest totally ad-hoc***

Need to bond with the people you're working with, and respect each other for their work they've done
At this point, he modified his working behavior, stopped being a jerk
For AVATAR, wanted to test this new behavior
-get respect by giving respect
-it was a better process overall
-the team became a family, and they all want to do it again!
25 years, and still learning new things, like how to operate with people
AVATAR was his best success because of this family bond

***At this point, a woman stood up and shouted something like "I just wanted to say I admire you Mr. Cameron! I haven't seen AVATAR yet, but I admire your honesty and integrity!" Cameron laughed and said "Thank you, (points to lone cameraman) hey-can we get a camera on her?" ***

Now a Q&A session:

Q: Pandora is called by some as a Garden of Eden, a paradise. Where is this location on Earth for you?
JC: Coral reef
Most people hurry through, wasting oxygen, thinking there's always something cooler up ahead, taking pictures, etc
I just drift through, slow down, admire the life and beauty
-call it "nature's imagination"
global warming threatens the reefs, only a few degrees warmer and they would bleach, even the most conservative predictions for global warming are a death sentence to the reefs
Feel bad about the world he's leaving for his children
This moment is pivotal!
-AVATAR has given him a voice on the issues
-indigenous people in Brazil called upon him to help stop the dam project
Sorry for taking that way off topic!

Q: It took many years to make AVATAR, how did you motivate yourself?
JC: Through challenge and risk, "I eat adversity for breakfast!"
The leader can't give up, followers will lose motivation, you have to fake it
Was 18 months into production before it was green-lit by the studios
Just have to continue to show up

Q: How does the AVATAR consciousness swap work?
JC: "That's proprietary information..." (laughs)
"Actually, it works on the PFM Principle. The Pure Funky Magic principle!" (laughter)
You can conjure up anything with sci-fi, but you have to make it feel real
It's a psionic link, some kind of telepathic thing that physicists will figure out in a couple years

Q: What is your opinion on post production 3D movies like Clash of the Titans?
JC: (Interrupts) "Oh don't even get me started!"
Can't say much bad about it because they're working on converting Titanic to 3D (crowd gasps!)
-gotta put in the time and money, doesn't understand Hollywood's thinking right now
Good news: 3D TV sets are out
-all networks will be going to 3D
-more and more 3D cameras (only "30-40" today)
Not in favor of quick, cheap conversion-you can't charge the audience for a premium experience if that's not what you're going to deliver
Don't want to spoil the market with bad 3D like a "pop-up valentine"
Notes that people have a different reaction to the 3D effects (in regards to headaches, etc)
-some people can't see the 3D effect
-most people are "sort of in the middle of the bell curve" and enjoy it
-some people are actually over sensitive to it, maybe should see 2D movies
Would love to see classic films converted to 3D if it was done properly; Indiana Jones, Jaws, Terminator, etc

Q: Sometimes the actor's vision isn't the same as the directors, how do you resolve these differences?
JC: Definitely have to work together
He looks for inspiring actors that will influence him
likes to listen to actors and incorporate their ideas
Found that when he can properly articulate his vision, the actors get excited about it
Looks for "agile actors"
May work with an actor for 2 hours to see if they make a good fit for the job, there has to be "give and take"
-they should be able to do their own interpretation and respond well to directions thrown in
Doesn't hire a lot of big stars, was friends with Arnold and Sigourney

Q: Often criticized of making a movie about rejecting technology by using high tech to make it. How do you respond?
JC: movies are technical, artificial
it's an argument of the form versus the content-the technology has nothing to do with the art

Q: Most ridiculous movie pitches you've heard?
JC: Battleship! Like the table top game!

Q: What is unobtainium used for?
JC: Got a lot of flack over unobtainium
It's an engineering slang term-something to solve your problem that goes beyond the natural laws
Never said it in the film, but in the movie, it's a room temperature super conductor
most real superconductors are at cryogenic freezing levels, but scientists today are always finding warmer and warmer superconductors
On Pandora, they found this rare earth mineral
A key to dying Earth's energy crisis
-Didn't want to equate it to oil in the film-too preachy
-Really a commentary on colonialism throughout history
-whether it be spices, gold, animal pelts, diamonds, it's always something! Always something they want!

Q: How important is it to you to carry the environmental message forward in the sequels or other future projects?
JC: This film has lead to a rise in my environmental activism
-Have a sense of duty to continue with it
-but not in another film right now
-AVATAR sequel won't be for about at 3.5 years at the earliest
-doesn't want film to be too preachy
-AVATAR had a nice balance between the entertainment and the message, the next film needs to be light like that

Q: Which was your favorite movie to make?
JC: They were all fun!
In The Abyss I got to be under water. That was fun for the first 3 days. (laughs)
True Lies was fun, Jamie's dance was fun
-Jamie had the idea to slip and fall on the pole dance, but told everyone not to tell Arnold about it
-when she fell, Arnold freaked out and moved to help her, but then realized he was totally blowing the scene and sat back down
-That's the version in the film because it's totally in-character!
AVATAR was fun because it was new
-didn't have all the answers
-sometimes there were big technical problems
-would stop working, pull up a big table, and sit around and brainstorm for an hour or two, then it was back to work!
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Old 04-29-2010, 08:07 PM
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Epic! Thanks for this I'm printing this out for my Avatar folder... thanks again ma tsmukan!
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Old 04-29-2010, 08:08 PM
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***This is where the lecture ended. It was a solid, and inspiring 2 hours. Afterwards, Cameron said he had to go to some function for the university, but he had a few minutes and wouldn't mind hanging around a little longer. He didn't want to spend that time signing things, rather, if anyone want to talk to him personally, he was making himself available. Most people left the hall, but there was a large gathering that stayed behind in attempt to get close enough to talk to him. I was able to get pretty close, but we ran out of time before I got the chance to talk to him. I thought that was really great of him to do, have personal conversations with fans and aspiring directors. I'm sure the security staff was freaking out though! Anyway, here are my photos from the post-lecture talk. They were taken with my iPhone because I wasn't allowed to enter the hall with my camera and had to remove the batteries. I was disappointed to see so many cameras then, after the lecture, during this talk. One guy even had a huge DSLR with a telephoto lens! Oh well, such is life. The experience was worth more to me than a photo or an autograph. I left the hall totally inspired and energized. I didn't get to sleep until 5 am last night. I was just so jazzed by what I had heard, how Cameron was able to build his career from nothing. Totally self-taught! I was especially inspired by his backstory. Honestly, he basically gave a retelling of my life! I feel like my goals aren't so unobtainable now. With creativity, hard work, and determination, it can be done! I hope you enjoyed reading this, and kudos if you got through the whole thing, I realize how long it is, but I wanted to give a complete report of the event for everyone. I know the notes outline format isn't that great, but hopefully you are able to draw the same level of inspiration from his lecture that I did, and that Cameron's charisma shines through.


Photos:
James Cameron at OSU 1 on Flickr - Photo Sharing!
James Cameron at OSU 2 on Flickr - Photo Sharing!
James Cameron at OSU 3 on Flickr - Photo Sharing!
James Cameron at OSU 4 on Flickr - Photo Sharing!
James Cameron at OSU 5 on Flickr - Photo Sharing!
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Old 04-29-2010, 08:09 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Stanley_9875 View Post
Epic! Thanks for this I'm printing this out for my Avatar folder... thanks again ma tsmukan!
No problem! I'm glad I could share this experience with others! I'm not sure if they recorded the lecture. I think the camera may have just been used to project on the big screens. If I find it on OSU's website, I'll be sure to update.
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Old 04-29-2010, 08:32 PM
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Amazing, and so inspirational

I'd read a lot of it before in various places, but not all in one like that
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Old 04-29-2010, 09:09 PM
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It must have been incredible to attend the lecture Although I knew a little bit about his past, it surprises me how varied his background is.
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Old 04-29-2010, 09:15 PM
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Iknimaya thank you so much for these notes! Gunna read them over today...
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Old 04-29-2010, 09:41 PM
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This is cool. I have a question. Was he a good public speaker? Like, you can tell if someone is good or not. Did he captivate the audience?
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Old 04-29-2010, 10:15 PM
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wow, thank you for posting this . He gave some very good advice for anyone starting out in something that they love. Life isn't without risk and he wouldn't have been able to make the movies that he has (Avatar in particular but also Titanic, etc) without taking risks. I have heard that in earlier projects he was a jerk to the cast and crew. He's still learning and its good to know that he decided to become a better person by being kinder.
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Old 04-29-2010, 10:46 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Sacred Tsahaylu View Post
This is cool. I have a question. Was he a good public speaker? Like, you can tell if someone is good or not. Did he captivate the audience?
He joked that he didn't have a lot of confidence in himself as a public speaker, but I'd argue otherwise. He is a storyteller at heart, you could feel his charisma fill the room. Even if he hadn't made Avatar, he's just an interesting guy because of all the random experiences he's had. It was amazing during the talk afterwards how many people there were that simply wanted to shake his hand. He was really kind with the people who stuck around and listened intently to what they had to say, rather than being in a rush to leave. I was really impressed. Frankly, I was afraid before going to the show that the real man would destroy the image I had in my head. My fears were unfounded though, and I left totally inspired.
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Old 04-30-2010, 12:08 AM
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Thanks you for the notes on the speech. They were great to read.
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Old 04-30-2010, 12:24 AM
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Man... now I can understand the reason behind some of his crazy ideas...
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Old 04-30-2010, 12:35 AM
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Hehe, that's mah favourite director, don't mean to sound all mushy but he is a huge influence in my life. He understands how it all works, taking risks can be good or bad, the thing is with the bad you can learn from that and turn it into a postive. He sounds complete nuts at times, lucky you met him, all i have ever done is shout at him, and that was not the best impression
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Old 04-30-2010, 09:15 AM
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inspiring is really a good word there
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