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For James Cameron, it all started with a pencil

  • April 3, 2024
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On the occasion of an exhibition dedicated to him at the Cinémathèque française in Paris, until January 5, director James Cameron (“Titanic”, “Avatar”, etc.) tells AFP how it all began: with paper and pencil.

The record-breaking filmmaker remembers his childhood drawings, talks about Hollywood in the age of artificial intelligence and the third “Avatar”, which he is refining in New Zealand.

Question: How important was drawing in your childhood?

Answer: “Drawing was everything to me. It was the way I dealt with the world. I read, I watched films, I listened to all the stories and I had to tell my version of them. I distinctly remember when I was little went to see +The Mysterious Island+. I was amazed by the creatures, the giant crab and everything. (…) I drew my own version with my own animals. I understood that I needed to process things and produce my own version of them.”

Q: Children are growing up in a world where technology is omnipresent. Do you think they should go back to the good old pencil?

A: “I don’t think we can go back, but I think it’s important for people to unplug from time to time (…). Spend time in nature, time with yourself- even.

If you’re constantly bombarded by other people’s creativity, with movies, with games, with a constant stream of media, I think you’ll tend to stagnate. (…) It’s only inspiring if you take the time to do something with it.

Drawing is becoming a lost art. Even the artists who work with me generally don’t pick up a pencil anymore. They think of me as a dinosaur because I draw something for them!”

Q: You are not afraid that film producers will say that artificial intelligence (AI) will now do the trick?

A: “The truth is, most producers or studio decision-makers don’t know what will do the trick! (…) If generative AI can look at every screenplay that has ever been written, watch every movie made , and write a screenplay based on that, they can shoot it and release it. (…)

“Now go back in a century. If it’s an AI that builds off the work of another AI, then it’s just going to stagnate. And it might not happen in a century, but in ten years. (…)

“I wouldn’t be surprised at all if someone had an AI program do a scenario. Would that be good or would it just be very formulaic? The audience realizes when something is made like a recipe, an average of everything they have already seen. The public always wants something new and unique. (…) So I think we are very far from having to worry. Can Hollywood do more stupid things like this? Yes, probably!”

Q: You are in the process of completing the third “Avatar”, an ecological fable, while the situation on the planet continues to worsen. Does this influence you?

A: “It continues to get worse. And it’s a question that becomes more and more important as the story progresses. In Avatar 3, we’re in a state of transition (about) combat for the survival of Earth and Pandora, we explore other cultures on the planet, and we reinforce a villain story, of sorts. (…) What I can promise is that we will not not what you expect. If you want more underwater (scenes), this won’t be it. But there will be plenty of other cool things.

The great challenge for our survival as a species is that we must change the way we live, the way we exist. That’s the hardest thing for people. The more voices they hear, the more they are inspired by nature, by the beauty of the world, by our empathetic connection with each other, the more it makes its way into their minds, and the more likely it is to happen (. ..) We cannot expect such a profound change to happen through a single film. We need a choir of voices.”