Ghost of the Abyss Interviews
James Cameron and Bill Paxton
By Ross Anthony

Jim hops into our hotel conference room labeled "Salon 9," he's up and ready to "debrief."

JC: Hello Salon Nine from deep space (jokingly).

PRESS: Talk to us about the length of this film.

JC: We did struggle with length. Most IMAX films are 45 minutes long. We pushed this one right to the limit, which is 60 minutes. And that 60 minutes is a hard deadline created by the platter system for IMAX 3D -- it can't take anything longer. We struggled to get everything that we wanted into the film.

PRESS: What about the DVD?

JC: Well the DVD is a 90-minute version. Yes, you'll see a little bit more. A little bit more ROV stuff and some more kinda behind the scenes on the ship.

PRESS: Were there problems with your camera system?

JC: We were just figuring out how to move the system around the ship. The camera is very light it's only 22 pounds. You can hand hold it for literally hours at a time. But then you've got the recorders over there. How do you move, if you suddenly have a shot on another deck, how do you move the whole thing? Eventually, we ended up wiring the ship with HDST cabling to different nodes and then we plugged into that. ... We were learning as we went. It was great because it was intensive, there was no place to go (chuckle). We were on the ship and we had to figure it out.

PRESS: Will viewers need those glasses?

JC: Do I have to wear those glasses? I think people associate wearing the glasses with the eyestrain that they got from badly or not optimally shot stereo-photography in the past.... In going to HD system, going digital, we'd given ourselves the opportunity to improve stereo-photography a great deal. I think we're jumping up one quantum level.

RA: Was there a stereo camera inside the subs?

JC: Yeah, but not all the time and not on all the dives. That was just impractical from a data management, task-loading standpoint. You have to dedicate a dive to doing that. So we did that once. Most of the time the camera was operating outside the sub, which is really right because the inside of the sub looks the same whether you're at the surface or at the bottom. So we had 3 cameras inside each of the 2 subs that were all recording to a stack of DVD decks that ran for 3 hours apiece. They recorded the feeds from the ROVs and interior cameras. So every dive was documented from hatch closed to hatch open 100% in both subs. And you can see, a lot of that stuff appears in PinP windows on the film. When we go full screen in 3D, some of that stuff was shot on a dive and some of it was recreated later where we used as a guide what the witness or surveillance style cameras said that people did or said. I mean, nothing was scripted everything was in everybody's own words, but you know, we had to bow to practicality at that point. Also, when Bill is at the window looking out and we're at full screen looking back at him, it was unsafe to block the window with the 3D cam. So we decided to record all that with a little witness camera and then recreate it later for full screen. Everything he says is what he said. And that's true of the other folks as well. That was amazing, you can get people who aren't actors, just do what you did the first time. And they do fine -- they do great.

PRESS: What about the T2 DVD?

JC: Yes, there is a new T2 DVD. I don't know too much about it, but I did do a commentary for it.

PRESS: Down in the subs, did you ever feel like your life was in danger?

JC: Frequently. That's the other thing that makes diving with 2 subs great -- not just from the imaging standpoint. If you're diving in one sub and you get stuck at the bottom -- you die. If you're diving 2 subs, the other one can come over and help you out.

PRESS: Did you learn anything new this time?

JC: We knew everything that was known when we made [Titanic], but not everything was known. The steel plans for the ship still existed and we got those. But the way the ship was finished internally -- all of our information was based on the sister ship -- the Olympic. That was a different ship, they did things differently from one to the other. So for the first time, we really now know what the Titanic really looked like. So when you're flying through the rooms and so on in those CG shots -- that now is the definitive representation of what the ship really looked like. Not the movie -- although the movie comes damn close.

PRESS: When did you decide to go down again to the Titanic?

JC: Pretty much right away... right after the Academy awards. ... I gave my brother Mike the marching orders and some funding to go build the vehicle. We didn't know if it was going to take 1 year or 2 years or 3 years, or whatever... there was no specific film project at that point. I got busy doing other stuff, writing scripts, Dark Angel, space stuff all kinds of different things. Eventually, the ROVs were done. Meanwhile, we had been developing 3D technology for the Space project and those cameras had been just completed... and we sort of put 2 and 2 together and said, "Hey let's go do a 3D film about Titanic."

RA: I'm quite interested in space exploration. Talk to me about Mars and your space projects.

JC: I had a couple different space projects. One was like a real space project. We were going to fly the stereo cam system and originally it was going to be on the Mir space station as opposed to the Mir submersibles. But then that got de-orbited when we were in the middle of that process. So we shifted it to a possible ISS mission and were actively planning that and would be now except for the Columbia tragedy which obviously creates a set back. Because NASA's got a lot on their plate right now and they don't want filmmakers cluttering up their manifest. So that was one project and that's on hold. The Mars project is essentially on hold in the same way, which is, I only need to make that film sometime before we actually go. And it looks now like that's being pushed out because everything's getting slowed down in space exploration unfortunately as a result of this. They've got to figure out how to make the space shuttle safe and how to evolve beyond that. Now, the Mars project (and I'm still hoping to do that in the next couple of years) is a fictional film about the first human expedition to Mars. It's not a flight of fantasy type of Sci-Fi film. It's a directly iterative Sci-Fi that says, "This is how we are going to really go and really do the most adventurous thing the human race can conceive of doing right now for real." This isn't about light sabers and flying faster than the speed of light and meeting cool 3-eyed aliens from another galaxy. This is stuff we can do. We just have to decide to do it. And I think that's pretty great. As much as I love oceanography, it's nothing compared to space exploration.

PRESS: Are You still saying no "TRUE LIES 2"?

JC: Yes! (Laughs) I was on a whole different vibe.

PRESS: What was the story you had planned?

JC: Did you see the last James Bond film -- no I'm just kidding. There's no point -- it's just dead air. I am so not interested in that project.

RA: And your thoughts on T3?

JC: I'm not involved in T3. When I was in post on Titanic, I was approached on that. I said, "I'm just not that ... Ahhh, I mean, I told the story." I mean, the reason here to make the film is to cash in on the success of the franchise. I think films should be made from an organic place of 'I have a specific story to tell now I'm gonna figure out who's ready to pay for that.' It was 18 times harder to get the money to make Titanic than it ever would have been to make another Terminator film because that was a proven commodity, but I was much more interested in Titanic and I think that's the way films should be made.

PRESS: I asked about "True Lies 2" because I thought you wrote a script for it...

JC: No, We had a draft that was generated by another writer. I didn't write it. And I was never terribly satisfied with that draft ... and then the September11th attacks happened and the idea of a domestic comedy/adventure film about an anti-terrorism unit just didn't seem all that funny to me anymore.

PRESS: So will you be doing any further documentaries with this HD 3D system?

JC: My feeling is, any explorer anywhere shooting anything that's worthy of photography should be shooting using this system because it's the closest analogue to human vision and therefore allows you to share that with people after the fact in the most compelling way. Some of the documentary stuff we're going to be doing in the future will be funded for broadcast by broadcast TV; we're still going to shoot it into 3D. Maybe 3D becomes so standardized down the line that people start to think of 3D as part of the library value of a library of images. ... In fact, that machine at the beginning of the film is 1903 stereopticon and people loved to shoot stereo at the turn of the century. Unfortunately, they never shot Titanic in stereo. So we had to create the stereo on all those real stills shot by the ship builder. It was gorgeous but it took 6 months.

RA: Of all the films you've made, which is your favorite?

JC: Titanic...(thinks)..or maybe Terminator, even though it was kind of cheesy, because I was just a truckdriver before it.

As Jim gets up to leave, reporters rush over to have him sign their studio production stills. I've seen this before, but Jim did something none of the other "celeb's" did. He actually looked at the photographs, commenting and scrutinizing them as he signed. He also mentioned that his next feature film would be in 3D. I asked him just which one of all the films hed made was his favorite. Without much thought he responded, "Titanic" but then paused and smiled, "or Terminator" he corrected remarking that that was his first film even though it was a little cheesy and that before it he was a truck driver.

Bright eyed and in good humor, Bill Paxton is quick to joke, happy to talk with us and quite likely the most relaxed candid interviewee we've had the pleasure to meet.

BP: I survived! Unsinkable Bill Paxton! (chuckles)

PRESS: How long did it take down there?

BP: About 13 hours. It takes over 2 hours to go down.

PRESS: This is a silly question, how do you go to the bathroom?

BP: You know what? It's not a silly question. I think we're all humans and that's one of the first things we think about ... I'm sorry that's not in the documentary. I never asked Lori Johnston what she did down there. But they have this big glass beaker thing, looks like its from a 1930 Frankenstein set with a big rubber stopper on the end of it. And I don't know... I'm a very nervous pisser as it were ... and some guy's like shoved up against me ... I could be there for hours just trying to squeeze out a few drops.

PRESS: Did you get seasick?

BP: Yeah, when they first let you go on the surface, it's like being in a gyroscope...bobbing around. ...So we all got pretty violently ill, but the Russian pilots in the subs are stoic, they just sort of nod off and go to sleep.

PRESS: What did you think of the Academy awards?

BP: Everyone just wanted to see how politically correct or not it was going to be. God, I admire Steve Martin. He got on that bucking horse and rode it well.

PRESS: And Michael Moore?

BP: I felt he did a disservice to the cause he was trying to promote. I thought he handled it wrong. I was more touched by people's appeal in a positive way for peace, than this man's angry denouncement of this war. Look, I have a lot of mixed feelings about this. But I support the troops. This is tough time right now. I think a lot of people in our industry are afraid to speak out. I had a drink with Sean Penn the other night. He went over to baghdad in December just to see for himself what was going on. And that guy is as American as anybody I ever met. I said to him you know I admire you for standing up and saying what you believe or telling us what you saw, I think that takes a lot of guts. But my career is in enough trouble right now (laughs).

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Last Modified: Thursday, 21-Oct-2010 16:36:04 PDT