James Cameron sits down with The Lantern

James Cameron is a busy man.

The hit director behind “The Terminator,” “Titanic” and “Avatar” said his flight into Columbus marked airport No. 114 that he has traveled through in the last three months.

“I’m due for a day off any month now,” he said.

Before Cameron delivered his lecture to students at Ohio State on April 28, he made rounds across the globe to raise awareness on the themes he presented in his last film, “Avatar.”

“I’ve been contacted by so many groups from around the world dealing with environmental issues, indigenous rights issues and so on that I’ve been busier than ever,” Cameron said.

Cameron decided to take a break from activism to give his first-ever college lecture in the Ohio Union’s Archie M. Griffin Grand Ballroom.

“It seemed like an opportunity to share my life experience and the journey that I’ve had and see if people can find some way of mapping it to their individual journeys,” he said.

Now, with “Avatar” in his rear-view mirror, Cameron is taking some time away from filmmaking, but is currently talking with 20th Century Fox about an “Avatar” follow-up.

“If we make it right away, it won’t even be out for three-and-a-half years,” he said. “But it will be a continuation of the story and deal with some of the same themes, but in surprising ways.”

Attention to Cameron’s every move will be heightened thanks to the record-breaking box office of “Avatar.” Apart from earning more than $2.7 billion in worldwide box office, Cameron’s epic also took home three Oscars at this year’s Academy Awards.

All eyes at this year’s Oscar ceremony were on a juicy battle between Cameron’s “Avatar” and his ex-wife Kathryn Bigelow’s “The Hurt Locker” in the Best Picture and Best Director categories.

Both trophies went to Bigelow.

“I’ve worked with Kathryn a couple of times as producer and I know her artistic integrity is extremely high and we both value that,” Cameron said.

With Bigelow’s “The Hurt Locker,” which had a $15 million budget, taking home top honors at the Oscars over “Avatar,” which reportedly cost between $300 million and $500 million, Cameron said the Academy’s recent preference for smaller, independent films gives directors no incentive to make big-budget movies.

“What they’ve done historically is create a disincentive for filmmakers to make high quality, big movies,” he said. “And then all the critics whine that big movies are just these hollow, clanking commerce machines when in fact, there’s not a huge incentive for filmmakers to go that extra distance because they’re not honored for it in any way.”

Though Cameron didn’t walk away with either the Best Picture or Best Director Oscars for “Avatar,” he did end up taking it to the No. 1 spot in all-time box office.

Cameron’s quest for success has led his actors and crew members to speak out against the director’s demanding nature. On the set of “Avatar,” actor Sam Worthington said a frustrated Cameron confiscated the crew’s cell phones and stapled them to a wall.

“Go find a quote, a quote, which you won’t be able to, of an actor saying that I was demanding, at least in a negative way,” he said. “They may say that I challenge them to do their best work, but in actor speak, that’s a compliment.”

Cameron said the actors he works with love the challenge he presents.

“I tell them going in, ‘We’re going to the Super Bowl, so be ready,’” he said. “But they love that. Are you kidding? An actor wants to be challenged.”

It must be working.

Cameron’s last two films, “Titanic” and “Avatar,” have grossed $1.8 billion and $2.7 billion worldwide, respectively.

“I’m a big movie fan and I just make movies for what I would want to see,” he said. “What I would want to see in a movie theater is a film that takes me out of myself, takes me on a journey, immerses me in the characters, gives me a powerful emotional reaction to the story and then spits me back out onto the street kind of dazed and wanting to go see it again.”

Part of Cameron’s box office success with “Avatar” stemmed from the urcharge added to 3-D ticket sales. Despite the tough economy, cinema-goers still forked over the extra cash to watch “Avatar” in 3-D.

“It’s completely immersive,” Cameron said about 3-D. “It’s an enhanced experience. It’s a premium experience. You enter the world. It seems more palpable, more real to you as you’re watching it. People are transported; they lose track of time, they lose track of space, where they are. They’re fully immersed in the story.”

With “Avatar” serving as the catalyst in making 3-D popular in cinemas, Cameron went on the defensive against those saying 3-D is still just a gimmick.

“That’s a very, very tiny minority. The audience has spoken,” he said. “I think the jury’s in. It’s not a gimmick. It’s the way people want to see their movies.”

And when “Avatar” hit store shelves April 22 on DVD and Blu-ray, it achieved more success, already topping “The Dark Knight” as the No. 1 best-selling Blu-ray in the format’s history.

“I love Blu-ray. Great format,” Cameron said. “You get all the quality and resolution in the image that you would have in a movie theater.”

And now, with an “Avatar” sequel confirmed to be in development, Cameron is keeping his lips sealed on where the next film in the franchise will go.

“I don’t want to spill the beans before the fact,” he said.

And what about the sequel dealing with the themes of “Avatar” in “surprising ways?”

“The key word there is ‘surprise,’” he said. “And if I tell you what it is, it won’t be a surprise.”

[This story ran in The Lantern on May 3, 2010. Click here.]

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