Growing Up on Terminator

From Joe McGovern’s ‘The Terminator’ at 30: An oral history:

HURD Success for us meant being able to make another movie. It didn’t mean box-office success or critical success — our goal was to be able to do it again. Anyone who doesn’t feel that way should not be in the business.

CAMERON Both of us really grew up fast on that film. The filmmakers that came out of that film were very different than the ones that went into it because we had so many battles to fight, just the daily battles of getting the shots done and the later battles of getting the film released. We came out of it with a sense of confidence.


WOODRUFF Thirty years later, I feel like we’ve gone backwards in turns of minimal moviemaking. I understand the $200 million dollar Marvel movies and all the CG that’s necessary to make it happen, but not many people know how to make a practical effects film like The Terminator anymore. Today the audience knows that they’re looking at these expertly rendered frames but they don’t feel like that have any connection with the actors — and therefore the actors don’t have as much connection to them either.

MAHAN I’m not sitting here trapped in the ’80s saying that everything needs to be done with an animatronic or makeup effect. But it becomes the trend in certain movies, all that anti-gravity CG where everything is flying weightlessly through the air, and people detect those layers. It’s the mixing of technologies — which is where Jim and Stan were so innovative — that keeps an audience guessing.

Syd Field on “Avatar”

In a three-part interview, Syd Field, author of Screenplay, talks about what made James Cameron’s Avatar work.

Karel Segers: When Avatar broke out so massively and the whole planet went to see it, still people were in denial about the craft of that screenplay. What didn’t they see?

Syd Field: They wanted some type of screenplay that was totally new and just so foreign to their normal state of consciousness like Inception. What people don’t see about James Cameron is that he does not create screenplays, he creates a cinematic experience, going to the movies is a cinematic experience.

I talk about that in my book Going To The Movies: what is the nature of going to the movies? I mean what do we do when we sit down in a darkened theatre, and the curtains part and the screen becomes alive and we are all united in this community of emotion? At that moment we are all united and the film grabs us in the first 10 minutes. So I teach people that if you don’t have them in the first 10 pages, I’m outta there, there’s no reason I need to read more.


My students have been extraordinarily successful. Jim Cameron told me that he never knew that he could write until he read Screenplay. He said that showed him he could do it. Out of that comes Titanic, The Terminator and so on.

James Cameron: “There’s nothing we use now that I used when I started.”

From the Little White Lies interview with James Cameron:

Is there any reliable old technology that you use to make films now?

Interesting. There’s nothing we use now that I used when I started. Nothing. There’s photochemistry, which to me is obsolete. Mechanical movement is the same. As gorgeous as the Panaflex camera was – and it was a beautiful machine – it’s obsolete. Digital camera technology is so advanced now that I wouldn’t ever dream of going back to one of those old cameras. Large-scale physical miniatures, too, they’re gone. The last time I worked with miniatures was on Titanic. I still have the 42-foot long Titanic model, but it’s like a Model-T Ford. No, maybe something higher, like a Duesenberg or something.

The point is, we wouldn’t do it that way any more. We don’t work that way. We can’t. There’s too much flexibility with CG models. And they don’t degrade. I’m always repairing that damn Titanic. It’s always getting bumped into, railing getting snapped off, dust getting on the deck. We just do physical models, we don’t do matte paintings on glass, we don’t do photochemistry any more. And I think movies look better than they’ve ever looked. I know Chris Nolan disagrees, and he thinks that shooting on 65mm IMAX film is great, but you could achieve the same result digitally if you chose to.