James Cameron Interview: On His Doubters

August 21 was Avatar Day, the day the world finally got to see the 3D space opera (well, 15 minutes of it) that’s been two decades in the making and two years in the hyping – it’s going to change cinema, dontcha know?

Only the world shrugged its shoulders, or at least the bloggers did. What was this cheesy cartoon nonsense? Delgo? FernGully? Planet Videogame inhabited by cerulean-blue Jar-Jars? And it looked even worse if you were watching the teaser trailer on your laptop, 12”x8”, flat as a steamrolled pancake…

Of course, the long-form theatrical trailer did much to silence the naysayers, introducing more story and coherence.

It was enough to get Total Film (very) excited again. So, adrenalin pumping, heart thumping, we flew to LA to meet up with Cameron on the Fox Lot, where he submersed us in 33 minutes of his magnum opus.

Having luxuriated in the extraordinary footage, it’s not hard to see why a dressed-all-in-blue Cameron then strode in the room like a 9ft Na’vi, brimming with confidence. The guy must feel like a skyscraper right now, knowing what he’s going to reveal on December 18.

So, how was Avatar Day for him? Read below to find out...

What did you make of the reaction to Avatar Day? There was a fair bit of sniping – references to Delgo and FernGully …

"That’s how I pitched it. I told the studio if it was FernGully with better effects! That made them nervous."

Next: James Cameron On The Backlash [page-break]

In retrospect, do you think it was an error to put on the event?

"Avatar Day, to me, was so necessary. They [Fox] were going to release a teaser trailer anyway. They had to because that’s the normal course of things. And I was most concerned about seeing the material in a short form, especially on a small screen.

I thought the shock of the new… You know, inherently blue faces just don’t look real, so it’s very easy to dismiss it, regardless of how well accomplished it is. So that’s why I wanted to do Avatar Day, and have a more immersive first look at the movie.

"In fact, the original plan was that the teaser wasn’t supposed to go out until after Avatar Day, but the studio kind of screwed it up a little bit, as they are wont to do."

But were you satisfied with the public response?

"Fortunately, Avatar Day proved to be a big save because 100,000 people got up out of their houses and drove to a cinema to see 15 minutes of a movie that wouldn’t come out for almost five more months.

"Which is pretty remarkable in and of itself. It’s a pretty good metric of the advanced viral hype, because we hadn’t hyped the film - this was all viral hype.

"They love to criticise you for hyping the movie, except we hadn’t yet!"

Next: Satisfaction guaranteed? Not in the Blogosphere [page-break]

Not everyone who watched the 15 minutes then left the cinema satisfied…

"The reaction was absolutely the antonym to whatever criticism we had based on viewing the teaser online, on your laptop, because the exit polling and all the post-interviews were 100 per cent.

"It was not 100 per cent in the blogosphere, based on the teaser trailer itself, and I think we learned some stuff from that experience - that people seem to crave more story.

"It wasn’t sufficient just to dazzle them with the imagery. Most of the comments were “Jury’s still out, because we don’t know the story yet.”

"I thought that was tremendously telling, because it really shows that no matter how dazzling the visuals are, or promise to be, people still want to know what it’s about.

"They want to know who the people are. So the long-form theatrical trailer is much more story-focused. Because we have a great story, you know? We just weren’t selling that."

Did the blogs annoy you?

"The film will be judged in due course. It’s not like we shrug and say, “Well, they didn’t like our trailer, let’s not release the movie.”

"The movie’s coming out. It’s inevitable, like having a baby - baby’s coming out, movie’s coming out. So you just have to focus on making the film the best that it can possibly be."

For the full James Cameron interview, check out the January Issue of Total Film magazine. It comes with a free 36-page supplement dedicated to the man and his work, and with a specially-penned intro by Cameron’s biggest fan, Guillermo del Toro.

Editor-at-Large, Total Film

Jamie Graham is the Editor-at-Large of Total Film magazine. You'll likely find them around these parts reviewing the biggest films on the planet and speaking to some of the biggest stars in the business – that's just what Jamie does. Jamie has also written for outlets like SFX and the Sunday Times Culture, and appeared on podcasts exploring the wondrous worlds of occult and horror.