Starlog: Director's Judgment
Date: September, 1991
By: Marc Shapiro
There was a blind innocence surrounding James Cameron as he went about the business of creating the original Terminator. Cameron. then a recent graduate from the Roger Corman school, was working on the biggest project he had ever been involved in and admits to "a naiveté in the way I went about things on that film."
Seven years and some big pictures later, the timid tenderfoot has been replaced by the veteran director of Terminator 2: Judgment Day, a man who knows no fear.
"There are things we're doing on this film that are extremely difficult, from a filmmaking point-of-view," declares Cameron. "But I'm not steering away from them. If it takes doing difficult things to make this movie, then we'll do difficult things."
Grabbing an interview with Cameron on the fly proves daunting when all the director can offer is a minute here and there between scene set-ups. Cameron - long, lean and seemingly none the worse for T2 wear - does mental double duty, aiming good-natured, concise responses at STARLOG's questions while constantly stealing glances at the activity on a nearby set. But then. double duty has been Cameron's work ethic throughout this entire production. When not filming. the director can be found going over raw footage, coordinating Industrial Light & Magic FX with live action and prepping upcoming stunts. Given the chaotic conditions, it's little wonder that he has scant time for summing up his Terminator 2 experiences.
"I've never really been big on anecdotes," he demurs. "Some of making this film has been easy, and some of it has been very tough. I don't know how you sum up 106 tense days of filming."
Despite the obvious door left open in the original Terminator, there weren't high hopes for a follow-up. "In my own mind, I had given it my best shot and was not really interested in doing a sequel," Cameron asserts. "When the first film came out and was successful, Arnold Schwarzenegger and I discussed the idea of a sequel. We both went through periods where we weren't really interested in doing it again, even though Arnold always seemed more enthusiastic about a sequel than I was."
Circumstances changed, and Cameron came up with the kernel of a Terminator 2 storyline. "Arnold bought the story concept right away," recounts Cameron. "He liked the idea the first time I pitched it to him and he never asked for any changes."
Still. there was a question mark in the pair's T2 plans, and it hovered over the availability of Linda Hamilton to reprise her role as Sarah Connor. "I had ways of doing the story without her if she declined," reveals the director, "but I was hoping that she wouldn't. I called Linda out of the blue, after not talking to her in over a year, on the day she was about to take a role in another film. I said, 'Linda, don't do it, do this instead.' She agreed to do Terminator 2 and is now grateful that she did, because the film she was about to accept turned out to be a piece of crap.
"But that didn't mean we had a deal that day." Cameron explains. "There was a prolonged negotiation and, during that time, I was adamant in telling Carolco that I would not write the script until Linda's contract was in hand. I wasn't about to write for a month and then find out that the deal had gone south. I came precariously close to having that happen with Sigourney Weaver on ALIENS, and I wasn't about to let it happen again."
It didn't. With Hamilton in the fold, Cameron and Judgment Day co-writer William Wisher set out to brainstorm and hammer out a first draft of the Terminator 2 script in four weeks. The director then dove hell-bent into prepping the film's massive FX menu in a pre-production period that he now feels "didn't give us enough time." "This was a very complex show, in terms of special FX and stunts, and we really didn't have enough time to prep it," he decides. "In many cases, we're paying for it now. The major gags were prepped, but beyond that, much of the FX stuff was just not ready ontime. It was nobody's fault. There just wasn't enough time to design many things.
"The computer-graphics stuff from ILM was the element of this picture that we thought was going to be tough," Cameron goes on. "But that has gone as smoothly and as by-the-book as anything can when it has never been done before. The practical FX have slowed things down more than the visuals have. The guys handling those FX could have used another two months, so we've been faced with having to test a lot of stuff as we've gone along. It's not the ideal way to do things, but we've basically been prepping many of the FX in front of the camera."
Cameron lapses back into his "no anecdotes" mode when prodded to describe Terminator 2's high points. "Simulating a working steel mill on a big scale was tough," he ventures. "It was cold and unpleasant. Working with large moving machines and moving around on six-story catwalks, there was also the potential for danger. Doing the scenes in the mental hospital was difficult at times because we were working in confined areas. What I do remember are some really classic Terminator-style shots that the audiences will appreciate."
And a number of those scenes, says Cameron, center on the story's emotional, rather than action-packed side. "We've taken the time to sit down and create scenes with an emotional impact," he proclaims. "That's really important, because audiences are more savvy than the consensus Hollywood thinking gives them credit for being. That's why Ghost did much better at the box office than Die Hard 2. The first Terminator had many of those scenes. Sure, there was the gunfire and explosions and chases, but there was also the relationship between Sarah and Reese, which was a kind of epic Gothic romance." Cameron contends that his style of directing, which he describes as "fast-moving and kinetic," has (with a few exceptions to accommodate ILM effects) not really changed in Terminator 2. "I'm not trying to impose any particular style on this film," he vows. "The scenes in this film are speaking to me organically. If a scene has a specific narrative purpose, I'm doing what the scene seems to dictate. There has been no conscious effort on my part to shoot this film entirely with long lenses or in a warm sepia color. I'm not flinging the camera wildly in a scene that doesn't need it. I'm not doing anything to get in the way of telling the story."
He sends his thoughts back in time to reassess his feelings at the helm of the first Terminator. "For me, that was a big movie," he muses. "After training with Roger Corman, Terminator was like a real movie. A $6.5 million budget was as big as it got. It was a real rush to direct that film, but there was a great deal of terror involved as well, and I never really got to enjoy it. Oh, there were moments when I could kick back and be real excited about things, but the next instant, responsibility would settle in and I would be sweating bullets again."
Given T2's higher budget and advanced technology, a visitor can't help but wonder what the filmmaker would do differently given the opportunity to go back and make that first film again.
"Actually, that has never occurred to me," replies Cameron. "That film is done. l think I would be hard pressed to make a better film for so little money, or even for the inflation-adjusted equivalent of that original budget."
Moving back toward the present, Cameron compares Terminator 2 with his previous big-budget extravaganzas: ALIENS and The Abyss (which he discussed extensively in STARLOG #1lO & #l50). "This shoot reminds me more of ALIENS than of The Abyss. The Abyss had less of the interiors and the pyrotechnics. Logistically, it has been as difficult as The Abyss except for the fact that we're not shooting this underwater. Terminator 2 has been a much cleaner shoot than The Abyss was. Since we don't have an extra couple of weeks in post-production to shoot inserts and pickup shots, we're taking the time to shoot them as we go along. Hopefully, The Abyss will be the toughest picture I'll ever do; right now, Terminator 2 is running a close second."
James Cameron's toughest pictures may yet lie in his future. He may "possibly" direct the long-anticipated big-budget film adaptation of Spider-Man; he will definitely produce the movie version of X-Men.
One morsel not on the director's plate is any involvement in another ALIEN film. "I have no interest in directing another ALIEN sequel," he announces. "At the time I was finishing ALIENS, there was some talk at Fox about my doing another one. l told them if they could get Ridley Scott to direct ALIEN 3, then I would do ALIEN 4. But they didn't, so I won't. Which is just as well, because I don't own the rights to ALIEN, so I wouldn't get a whole lot by doing another one. But there were no hard feelings. I just felt I had other things I wanted to do."
Similarly, future dream projects do not include Terminator 3. "I have no idea where I would take a third film, although I'm sure I could come up with something if I thought about it for a while," he observes. "But I'm not really interested in doing that. Terminator 2 brings the story full circle and ends. And I think ending it at this point is a good idea."
James Cameron has heard all the stories about Terminator 2's cost and what magic his film will have to pull off at the box office to break even. He's well aware of the movie's risk factor.
"I'm not playing it safe by doing Terminator 2," he concedes. "My career could be in real trouble if this film doesn't do well. It's like ALIENS was - I had everything to lose and nothing to gain. But I didn't get into filmmaking to play it safe."