James Cameron Discusses AVATAR and its Original Story Factor

by Joey Paur


We got to see 25 minutes of footage from James Cameron's Avatar at Comic-Con and what I saw blew my mind. Some of you will get your chance to see 15 minutes of footage this month on August 21st, Avatar Day. I hope you do get a chance to see it so you can experience the greatness for yourself. Cameron recently did and interview with the LA Times, in which he talks about several different aspects of the film, including it's strengths and weaknesses. On of which he points out is the fact that the film is an original story and its not based off of a comic book or novel.

We have no brand value. We have to create that brand value. "Avatar" means something to that group of fans that know this film is coming, but to the other 99% of the public it's a nonsense word and we have to hope we can educate them. Well, I shouldn't say a nonsense word - it doesn't mean anything specific in terms of a brand association. And in fact there may be even a slight negative one because more people know about the Saturday morning cartoon, the anime, than about this particular film. We've got to create that [brand] from scratch. On the other hand, ultimately, it is probably the film's greatest strength in the long run. We've had these big, money-making franchise films for a long time, "Star Trek" and "Star Wars," you know, "Harry Potter," and there's a certain sort of comfort factor in that; you know what you're going to get. But there's no kind of shock of the new that's possible with that. It's been a while since something that took us on a journey, something that grabbed us by the lapels and dragged us out the door and took us on a journey of surprise.

That is what I want, a journey of surprise. Of the 25 minutes of footage that was shown to us, we still had no idea what was going one, there were no spoilers, we know nothing about what is going to happen to these characters, so there is still tons of room for surprise. The Marix is then used as an example:

That's something where we had no real way of knowing what that film was going to be about and it really just took us on a great ride.

He then goes on to talk about how the story of Avatar is told.

The story is told very much from character. You go on Jake's journey with him. It actually starts quite small. It starts close to him, in his apartment with him, and it just expands and expands in scope as it goes along.

Cameron then reveals that Wizard of Oz is his favorite movie, and goes into a little bit about how Avatar has it's Oz similarities.

I had to get it in there somewhere. The production designer was Rick Carter, who actually played that out. He thought how it was, in some ways, like Dorothy's journey. I didn't quite get as much of that [when I first wrote it]. You do things sometimes as a writer subconsciously, things you're not even aware of. I'm always comfortable doing things instinctively because I see it as taping into this vein of archetype that works for a broader audience base. I don't question what I'm doing if it feels right. There might be some other references there I might not be aware of.

The original story that Cameron wrote was done 15 years ago. He has said several times that they could never do it because the technology wasn't there to make it happen. Now that the technology is here, he talks about the original story and how much of that story remained intact.

I had to rework to make it possible. My treatment was so expansive and novelistic that it needed to be necked down just to make it something that could be done on the screen. This film is done on an epic scale, but it's done within the parameters of a Hollywood movie. What I found is that instead a script I had written the outline of a novel, and it was just too much story, too much back story, too many secondary characters ... but look, sometimes lightning just strikes; you have write everything down, get it done. Better to weed it out later and not miss an idea. It was essentially the longest script, in terms of the amount of time it took me to get a workable draft. The first time I tried, it ended up being more than 200 pages, so I had to go back and throw out big chunks, a lot of ideas went out. But I have to say the essence of all the big ideas stayed and I felt pretty good about that.

Cameron then concludes, by talking about how Avatar is an original project, so there is no room for people to pre-judge it. The film being an original idea can only help it in the long run.

We aren't going to get prejudged like "Watchmen" or even a Batman or Spider-Man movie because you don't have all that history and that huge, brand-based mythology that you have to live up to. We aren't going to piss anybody off because they don't know what this thing is. Nobody read the novel, nobody read the graphic novel, we're not going to be playing against expectation. They aren't going to be viewing us as a disappointment or letdown before the movie even starts. This is a doorway and they don't know what's on the other side. We're going to open it for them.

There are a lot of fans of this kind of science fiction and fantasy film, and I think it's pretty fertile soil for us. I don't want to sound like, you know, ‘Pride goeth before the fall," or too much hubris, but I think we get those fans to support this. I think our greater challenge is the wider public, which isn't as predisposed to embrace the movie like those fantasy and sci-fi fans. We need to talk to that audience and make them believe that this is a must-see even if they aren't sci-fi fans. And I'm not putting down Comic-Con fans. When I go down there I'm among my peeps. It's a great place to unveil "Avatar."

I can't wait to see this film! I hope it becomes an incredible success, because I want to see more of these original ideas brought to life!

Source: LA Times

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