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“ Do a rig-smashing scene with a miniature or faking it? Fuck! Let's do it for real!”

James Cameron on creating a scene

US: The 100 Million Dollar Man

From: Us
Date: June 27, 1991
By: Iain Blair

Cameron had thought about filming the rig-smashing scene with a miniature or faking it onstage, but then he thought again. "Jim said, 'Fuck! Let's do it for real,'" [Co-Producer B.J.] Rack recalls. "Everyone was appalled."

Appalled or not, when Cameron finally gets around to putting the scene on film, more than 500 assorted technicians and crew members wait nervously for something to happen. And it does: There's a screech of burning rubber. The rig suddenly appears on an overhead bridge and comes crashing straight through the bridge parapet before plunging some 50 feet to the canal below in a shower of smashed masonry. Not even a big rig could survive that impact, right? Wrong. Barely pausing to straighten out its wrecked front end, the rig careens off a wall and hurtles single-mindedly after the kid, like... well, a Terminator.

"The first Terminator was a very, very big stepping-stone for me," notes Schwarzenegger, almost getting sentimental. "It helped me get out of that genre of muscle films like Conan and into legitimate action films. I've been offered a lot of money to do sequels to my other films, like Predator and Commando, but the only one I really wanted to do was Terminator. I also made it clear I wouldn't do it without Jim."

Not surprisingly, the director returns the compliment. "No one else could play the Terminator - Arnold's really matured into the role," he says, although how one matures into being a robot is left open to question. Obviously, Cameron, who is known for being a driven perfectionist, got the performance he wanted from Arnold. "I mean, he's very demanding," says Schwarzenegger. "He was demanding in 1984, he's very demanding now."

Indeed, Cameron's favorite communication on the set alternates between "Goddammit! That's exactly what I don't want!" and "Perfect! Let's do it again." More than one crew T-shirt reads, "Life's Abyss and Then You're Terminated."

Cameron himself happily admits to having a less than sanguine reputation when he is directing. "I know what I want, so why waste a lot of time I don't have discussing it," he says. True to his words, a few nights later he arrives on the set of a postapocalyptic battlefield, doesn't like what he sees and personally rearranges several hundred skulls until he is satisfied. Time, as always in moviemaking, is of the essence, particularly regarding Terminator 2, which is racing to meet a July 4 premiere. "The biggest challenge has been the sheer logistical scale and complexity involved, especially in such a short time," admits Cameron. "We always gave ourselves the goal of a July 4 opening, and from the finish of the first draft of the script to the release date will be only 13 months."

And expensive to deliver. Blowing up buildings and helicopters and closing down freeways for spectacular chase sequences not only take time, they cost money. Lots of it: Terminator 2 is widely rumored to be the most expensive film ever made in Hollywood (current estimates range from $75 million to as high as $110 million).

"All the rumors are totally absurd," snorts Cameron, which hasn't stopped speculation everywhere from the tabloids to The Wall Street Journal. "There's simply no way we could spend that much money in this amount of time. We'd have had to employ every single person currently on the union roster in Hollywood. The amusing thing is that we are on-budget in special effects, which is the area everyone would assume we'd go way over on. Sure, it hasn't been cheap to make, but everything we're spending is up there on the screen. I'll let audiences be the judge."

A few nights later, Cameron is at it again: The scene calls for a 68,000 pound nitrogen tanker to careen down a road and then flip over and smash into a building. It is the director's inspired touch to have the Terminator ride on top, as if he's surfing the tanker.

"It's a pretty cool image," says Rack, "but riding it when it crashes is also an impossible stunt." Meaning that the FX team will have to later fake some of the footage on a rear-projection stage. But everyone's enthusiastic about filming the tanker hurtling down a road at 60 mph with stuntman Peter Kent substituting for Schwarzenegger.

But Arnold hasn't played the Terminator twice for nothing. When he wanders onto the set and sees what's happening, he coolly sizes up the situation and quietly tells Cameron, "I can do that." And he does, several times, without the benefit of a safety harness.

"That was pretty scary," says Rack, "and I said he should be cabled." The stunt guys, though, saw it differently, saying, "No, no, if he's cabled and something goes wrong, he can't jump off."

"Well, that made me feel a whole lot better," cracks the coproducer. "Arnold is totally committed to this project."

To underscore the point, Rack tells a Christmas tale: "It's December 23 and everyone's made their holiday plans and got their tickets, and of course we run into trouble on this incredibly difficult scene at the steel mill." Cameron came to his coproducer and told her, "You've got to ask Arnold to work an extra day." Obviously the actor is not too thrilled at the news. "C'mon B.J., I made all these plans," he tells her.

"So I'm preparing my how-much-do-we-have-to-pay-to-get-your-full-attention speech," says Rack, "and Arnold just looks at me and says, 'Is this really important?' and I say, 'Yeah, it's really important.' So he says, 'Okay,' and walks into the other room and I'm just sitting there talking to a friend and I hear him talk to his assistant and he says, 'Okay, I want you to call Bruce Willis and tell him he and Demi can't take the jet to Utah because the schedule's screwed up. And then I want you to call my production company and tell them the Christmas party tonight is canceled, and then I want you to call the Shrivers and tell them that the big Christmas party we were throwing tomorrow night is off, and then get on the phone to George (Bush, this is) and tell him the goodwill tour to Saudi Arabia's gotta be postponed... ' Can you imagine how I felt after hearing all this?"

Back on the set, star and director are in the middle of another tricky shot, and things are going very well. "Perfect!" announces Cameron, barely pausing to add, "Let's do it again right away." But Schwarzenegger has anticipated his director and has already hit his mark.

Despite all the retakes, everyone seems confident that when the hoped-for crowds flock to theaters on opening day, Terminator 2 will not only be ready, but will pulverize the opposition. "There's an enormously high expectation level with this movie, but I think we can pull it off," sums up Rack, who adds, only half-jokingly, "My motto is 'July 4 - if we're not done, we're finished.' "

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Page last modified: April 24, 2012 | 11:49:07