SDCC 09: Peter Jackson & James Cameron Discuss Film Future

SDCC 09 - Peter Jackson & James Cameron

Peter Jackson and James Cameron, two of the luminaries of modern cinema came together at Comic-Con International: San Diego to talk about the film industry, from CG effects and 3-D to character story and the future of movie making.

Assembled as Friday’s final panel of the day in the massive Hall H by Entertainment Weekly, the pair’s talk was moderated by EW editor  Jeff Giles, who started by asking the pair what costume they would have worn to Comic-Con if they’d attended it back in their youths. Jackson said he’d rather make time to shop for cool collectibles on the floor, while Cameron said he’d come as Jackson and “sign a lot of autographs, make some deals.”

When asked what films they turn to for inspiration, Jackson said he can always get a lift from watching Goodfellas and Casino, as he love the energy and the camera movements Martin Scorsese brings to those films. Cameron, on the other hand, says he doesn’t look at other films like that because even choosing what to watch is a choice that has influence. “I really don’t want to be influenced by anything at this point,” Cameron said.

One of the weirder sights of the day occurred when a strange man came up to the panelists’ table and got a drink of water off the table — he was promptly lead away by security.

Jackson said his first meeting with Cameron was actually a near miss. He had gone to visit actress Kate Winslet, who starred in Jackson’s Beautiful Creatures, on the set of Titanic only to find Cameron wasn’t around that day. “That was one of the days I had quit,”

Cameron says, going on to say it was Jackson’s success with bringing to life Gollum in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers that lead him to think it had finally become possible for him to make Avatar.

The pair share a passion for the 3-D format, with Cameron’s 3-D Avatar coming out this Christmas and Jackson working with Steven Spielberg on a 3-D adaptation of the popular comic series Tintin.

They first began to discuss their interest in 3-D a few years ago, when Jackson was considering trying to do his 2005 remake of King Kong in 3-D.

Cameron says there will be a 3-D version of Titanic — that tests have been done and all that’s required is about 12 to 18 months to work on it. Jackson says he’d like to do the same with his films. “I keep trying to suggest it to Warner Bros., but they seem to think there won’t be enough cinemas [with the right equipment].”

Cameron described that dilemma as essentially a chicken and the egg problem, because if Titanic and Lord of the Rings were available in 3-D, it would spur more theater owners to support the format.

That led to a question of whether the pair found it hard to constantly push the envelope and fight the system to try something new. “It’s hard to constantly take the studios out to the edge,” Cameron says. Jackson said the fun in filmmaking is the problem-solving aspect, and that studios are much less of a problem once you get a film past the point of being greenlit and having a budget.

For Avatar, Cameron said there was a lengthy pre-production process to test the technology and make sure it worked. There was a $10 million budget for this period, and it produced a 40 second clip that convinced the studio, Fox, to continue with the project.

With the studios doing so many remakes of everything from TV shows to toy properties that already have some built-in public appeal, Jackson says the film industry is definitely working a defensive strategy at this point.

History supports this from a business perspective, as shown by the success of things like the Harry Potter films, Cameron said.

Looking into the future of movies, both filmmakers said they see challenges. Jackson says that even though his teenage son is as into games as Jackson was into movies at the same age, any predictions of the decline of movies is overstated. Despite the things other media do well, nothing is as good as movies at character and story. “You don’t cry in a video game,” says Cameron.

Cameron says he doesn’t see anything beyond 3-D as a major technical development for films, though presentation could be improved in many ways, such as faster frame rates that improve the look of movement.

As for motion capture, Cameron says the recent advances that allow the capture of facial motions — and therefore emotions — is a big advance and huge boon for actors.

Jackson says of his projects that a trailer is due in a couple of weeks for The Lovely Bones, which is due out later this year.

During the fan Q&A segment of the panel, Cameron says he has no interest in doing a small, low-budget film, though he sees the appeal. He also says he drives a Toyota hybrid and never takes vacations.

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