James Cameron Biography
Birth: August 16th, 1954
Place of Birth: Kapuskasing, Ontario, Canada
Education: Fullerton State College, Physics, switched to English, then dropped out.
From the moment Stanley
Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey was introduced to the eyes of the young James
Cameron, the director, screenwriter and producer hasn't been able to keep his
mind off of filmmaking. The Hollywood filmmaker has written, directed and
produced many successful feature films, including Terminator, Titanic, and
Aliens, which show what dreams are made of.
James Cameron was born in
Kapuskasing, Ontario, Canada in 1954 but grew up in Chippawa, a small town just
outside of Niagara Falls, Ontario, where demanding, disciplinarian parents, with
whom he developed the creative energy and tireless work ethic, raised him. His
father Phillip Cameron, was an electrical engineer and his mother, Shirley
Cameron was an artist. She encouraged her son to paint, and even helped arrange
an exhibition for him at a local gallery.
The young natural leader organized his playmates in such adventurous endeavors
as building a functional catapult that pitched boulders large enough to make
impact craters; on another occasion, he and his cohorts created a miniature
diving vessel to send mice to the bottom of Niagara River.
In high school he wrote sci-fi
stories and fantasized a lot instead of doing his homework.
An avid reader of science fiction since childhood, he was fifteen when he saw
Stanley Kubrick's visionary film, 2001: A Space Odyssey for the first time. He
became fascinated with the whole motion picture process he subsequently watched
the film ten times. "As soon as I saw that, I knew I wanted to be a filmmaker,"
explained Cameron, "It hit me on a lot of different levels. I just couldn't
figure out how he did all that stuff, and I just had to learn." And learn he
did, grabbing his father's Super-8 camera, attempting to direct his own movies.
Not only did Cameron desperately try to understand how motion pictures were made
but also he wrote sci-fi stories and fantasized a lot. It was actually during a biology class in high school that Cameron
wrote a short story, which would later become the movie, The Abyss.
Due to his father's job opportunities, the family moved to Orange County. The
excited teen asked his father, "Los Angeles, isn't that somewhere near
Hollywood?" However, the opportunities in Orange County were limited, especially
since Cameron didn't have a driver's license.
"From a pragmatic standpoint, I could have been in Montana. There is no film
industry in Orange County, and since I didn't have a driver's license, it made
Hollywood as far away as another state."
"I couldn't see myself as a
future film director... those people were somehow born into it. Little kids from
a small town in Canada didn't get to direct movies."
The dream of becoming a director seemed unrealistic, as the young Cameron didn't
believe it was possible. "I couldn't see myself as a future film director. In
fact, there was a definite feeling on my part that those people were somehow
born into it, almost like a caste system. Little kids from a small town in
Canada didn't get to direct movies."
Enrolling at a nearby college California State University at Fullerton, Cameron
decided to study physics, "I liked science and I thought I might want to be a
marine biologist or physicist. But I also liked to write, so I was pulled in a
lot of different directions. I liked the idea of an ocean, even though I'd never
seen or been in one. I loved the idea of being in another world, and anything
that could transport me to another world is what I was interested in."
He made the grades, yet still realized that science was not a field of interest
he wanted to pursue, he switched his major to English, and began studying
literature for a while. Later making the decision that either way he would not
be happy, he decided to drop out. Taking up several jobs, such as working in a
machine shop, being a truck driver, a school bus driver, painting pictures, he
continued to write at night. The next pivotal juncture in Cameron's evolution as
a filmmaker came in 1977, when he saw Star Wars for the first time. It was
exactly the movie he had dreamed of making since watching 2001: A Space Odyssey,
and it inspired him to finally reach out for the dream.
It occurred to him that the possibility of integrating his interests in science
and art were possible, due to the book Screenplay, which encouraged himself and
two friends to create a ten minute script together. They raised the money to
shoot it in 35mm and rented a camera, lenses, the film stocks and a studio. To
understand how to operate the camera they simply dismantled it and spent the
first half-day of the shoot just trying to figure out how to get it running.
When it came to the special effects area, Cameron explains that he was
"completely self taught in special effects. I'd go down to the USC library and
pull any theses that graduate students had written about optical printing, or
front screen projection, or dye transfers, anything that related to film
technology…if they'd let me photocopy it, I would. If not, I'd make notes."
As the future filmmaker continued to educate himself in the techniques, he
landed a job as a miniature model maker at the Roger Corman Studios. Making
fast, low-budget productions, Cameron was able to pick up the pace efficiently
and effectively, moving up his ranking within the studio, soon working as an art
director in the sci-fi movie
Battle Beyond the Stars (1980), and he did special
effects work design and direction on John Carpenter's Escape from New York
He consulted on the design
of Android (1981), and he made movie history when he acted as production
designer on the world renowned Galaxy of Terror (1981). At the time, Cameron
knew he was involved in making the top movies but he was still thrilled to be a
part of a team where he could be involved with the creation of a movie.
During this time, Cameron became so obsessed and driven by his career
achievements that his personal life had to take a back seat, thus ending his
Cameron finally got his big break in 1981 when he got his first shot at
directing a film entitled Piranha II: The Spawning. Italian producer Assonitis,
was determined to produce a sequel to the original Piranha film. In an effort to
save money and have complete control over the film's direction, the
inexperienced Cameron was chosen. However, Assonitis and Cameron just ended up
butting heads by the time the movie's release came around.
The movie was to be produced on Jamaica but when Cameron arrived at the studio,
he discovered that his crew
was comprised primarily of Italians who spoke no English and that the project
was under financed.
"I was fired after
three weeks as the producer of the film really wanted to be a director - that's
why it starts off with intense scenes and ends up with topless women running
around on a yacht"
The movie of course was terrible. After being given the red light by Assonitis
for editing the disaster flick, Cameron desiring to edit his own flawed
masterpiece broke into the editing room with a plastic credit card. He taught
himself to use the unfamiliar Italian editing equipment and secretly re-cut the
Assonitis continued to pester Cameron about the lousy shooting and editing.
Cameron, under duress, in a feverish comatose stage, had a nightmare about an
invisible robot hit man sent from the future to kill him. So he started to work
on the project and his nightmare bloomed into the script, which would catapult
his filming career: The Terminator (1984).
While waiting for Terminator to be financed, Cameron accepted two writing jobs.
Cameron worked on the screenplay of
Rambo: First Blood Part 2 (1985) with
Sylvester Stallone and Aliens (1986), the sequel to the 1979 science fiction
Cameron was positive that the dream he had earlier had potential, so he
contacted action producer Gale Anne Hurd. He sold her the script for one dollar,
on condition he be allowed to direct the movie and direct it his way. The result
was a low-budget movie, made on a mind-bogglingly minimal budget of $6.5, which
became a huge success. The Terminator received international acclaim and
recognition appearing in Time magazine's Top Ten best list, grossing over $80
million worldwide. This movie did not only score a huge financial victory and
firmly established Cameron's reputation as both a screenwriter and director of
undeniable talent, but it launched Arnold Schwarzenegger's career as well.
After The Terminator Cameron was asked to direct the second Aliens movie of
which he had already written the script in a three-month period. Cameron
demanded that Gale Anne Hurd be brought on board as a producer. Before shooting
Aliens James Cameron and Gale Anne Hurd became involved both professionally and
romantically and after a short courtship were wed.
The movie, Aliens was well received by the audience and critics alike with its
riveting special effects, a well-written script, and an Oscar worthy performance
from Sigourney Weaver. The movie received seven Academy Award nominations,
winning the Oscar for Best Visual Effects and Best Sound Effects. The film
became the most successful R-rated film ever, grossing approximately $180
million worldwide. Rambo 2 grossed over $250 million globally, making it an
For 'Aliens' Cameron
received NATO's award as director of the year.
A buzz began to circulate around Hollywood concerning this up and coming
director. Everybody who was anybody wanted to befriend and work alongside
Cameron on his next project. However, instead of settling for the all mighty
dollar deals to direct other people's stories, Cameron decided to put all of his
talents into his own work, The Abyss (1989) was born.
The Abyss would later set new standards for underwater shooting. The crew along
with Cameron had to design and create most of the gear worn by the actors, which
was no small feat. Furthermore, the entire movie was exhaustingly time-consuming
and expensive and post-production ended up delayed because of some of the
difficult effects shots that were to be in the movie, which were later edited
out. The film took 18 months to complete.
The movie received four Academy Award nominations, winning an Oscar for the Best
Visual Effects and grossing $90 million worldwide. Even though Cameron was
getting the opportunity to excel even further professionally, his personal life
was yet again paying the price. Cameron and Gale Anne Hurd were departing ways
during the production and ended up divorcing right after the movie was finished.
went on to produce the very successful movie and now TBS "Movies for Guys who
like movies" classic, Point Break (1991). Kathryn Bigelow, whom Cameron married
that very same year the movie was released, directed the movie. Point Break made
over $100 million worldwide and topped the video rental charts for five weeks
straight. The movie is still just as popular today.
His involvement with The Abyss gave birth to the famous morphing effect
Cameron would use to create the liquid metal T-1000 for his next mega project,
the hugely profitable Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Cameron capitalized on the
success of T-1000 by launching his own special effects company, Digital Domain,
in collaboration with effects wizard Stan Winston and corporate giant IBM.
Terminator 2: Judgment Day budget spiraled out of control and became the most
expensive movie of all time but it was also the most profitable movie James
Cameron has worked on, grossing $500 million. During this time he divorced his
wife Kathryn Bigelow and got hooked up with Linda Hamilton, the female star from
the terminator-movies. He also formed his own
production company, Lightstorm
Entertainment, and inked an exclusive deal with Fox to finance his next three
movies but he exceeded the limit of Fox's funding on each of his next two-films.
"T2" received six Academy Award nominations, bringing home four in Best Makeup,
Sound, Visual Effects and Sound Effects Editing. It also received the Ray
Bradbury Award for Dramatic Screenwriting, five Saturn Awards from the Academy
of Science Fiction, six MTV Movie Awards, and the
People's Choice Award.
As a result of their union, Linda Hamilton gave birth to a baby girl, Josephine
Archer in 1984. During this time period Cameron wrote, produced and directed the
action-comedy True Lies, America's version of the James Bond icon, which grossed
a cool $365 million in worldwide box office. The following year, while he was in
pre-production of his next movie, Titanic, Lightstorm Entertainment presented
Strange Days, directed by Kathryn Bigelow from a screenplay by James Cameron and
Jay Cocks. Unfortunately, it didn't become the great success it deserved.
The most recognizable and successful piece of film
Cameron has ever worked on work up to that point is the retold story of
Titanic. Cameron spent most of his time at the bottom of the Atlantic to see the
Titanic's wreckage, visiting it a total of twelve times.
"It was sort of like going to Mecca first, and getting religion. We went there
with very specific objectives, and I took two things away from the experience,"
explained Cameron, "Working around the wreck for so much time, you get such a
strong sense of the profound sadness and injustice of it, and the message of it.
You think 'There probably aren't going to be many filmmakers who go to Titanic.
There may never be another one-maybe a documentarian.' So it sort of becomes a
great mantle of responsibility to convey the emotional message of it-to do that
part of it right, too."
Taking charge of the responsibility, Cameron cast a spectacular cast; many of
their features resembled the real life crew. Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet
were cast as the leading roles, which the story plot revolved around the love of
Cameron served as director, producer, and editor on the film and due to the
film's production, $200 million, tremendously exceeding its budget; Cameron
forfeited his fees except the $1.5 million received for the screenplay.
When production costs
for Titanic blew well past expectations, Cameron gave back his director's fee,
essentially working for free with the idea that he would profit only if the
movie actually rang the cash registers - as, of course, it did.Titanic
opened in the US on December 19, 1997 and took in approximately $25.5 million in
its first weekend. The movie quickly replaced George Lucas's Star Wars as the
top-grossing film of all time, grossing more than a billion dollars worldwide.
Furthermore the movie later won eleven Oscars tying it with the unforgettable
movie Ben Hurr. It won Oscars for Best Picture and Best Director. Cameron
truly became "King of the World."
When asked about becoming a film director by inspiring directors, Cameron is
prepared. "I tell them that no two people will ever do it the same way, and
there is nothing I can say that will help you. Whatever your talents are,
whatever your strengths and weaknesses, you have to find the path that's going
to work for you. The film industry is about saying 'no' to people, and
inherently you cannot take 'no' for an answer."
In recognition of his
contributions to underwater filming and remote vehicle technology, the
University of Southampton awarded Cameron the honorary degree of Doctor of the
University. Cameron received his degree in person at the graduation ceremony in
His latest movie Avatar
topped Titanic and became the highest grossing movie of all time.
create a film because he is trying to pander to the audience. He does it because
he is passionate about it. He's keenly aware that his passions must convert into
something commercial, but he doesn't place commerce ahead of passion.Passion is
palpable. Audiences can feel it. So is pandering. And audiences can feel that,
though James Cameron has been nominated for and won countless awards he still
strives to be a director truly committed to his work as only a perfectionist
could. Perhaps that is the reason why he is so renowned globally for he can
create new genres of films and stretch our imagination to places where we have
never gone before.