James and The Giant Ego

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Justin Neal Headshot02I’ve been saying for a long time that filmmakers love sports and war metaphors to describe the process of making a movie because they are applicable in so many different ways.

Both involve a group of individuals brought together for a single purpose. They might be there for different reasons, but the goal is the same – to win, often at any cost. On the highest level, both involve campaigns – an MLB season has 162 games; America was in WWII for 3 years and 8 months (officially). Both involve a definite hierarchy, where everyone has a specified role until promoted – do your job, which is your job, and nothing else.

Certain filmmakers become a special category of “Battlefield Commander.” These are the filmmakers that relish in organizing a massive production campaign to see their giant imagination distributed to a worldwide audience. Ridley and Tony Scott, Oliver Stone and David Lean are just a few of these. To take on the responsibility of the 3 biggest movie budgets in history (each during their time) carries the weight of everyone’s expectations, your own most of all. What kind of ego allows a person to believe that they are up to the task?

I don’t know, but his name is James Cameron.

When making a movie as big as Titanic is (and trust me, as a burgeoning filmmaker, I get a nose bleed just thinking about the man hours it took), it takes a person like that to see it to the end. It’s aCrane campaign. After a few weeks, the point of every day is to make it to the end of the day. There is no end in sight. Even if your part in the process has finished, his goes on. He was the first, and he will be the last. He’s the General, and the buck stops with him for both praise and derision. That kind of pressure in that kind of environment is a recipe for extreme behavior, for which Cameron is now legendarily known for.

His alter ego, known as MIJ (Jim spelled backwards) to those who work closest with him, is the part of him that will reach the North Pole at whatever the cost. “All hands on deck, all of the time, or I will throw you off the boat myself” type of attitude. Known for his soft touch when handling employees, “If I had wanted it done this badly I’d hire a f***ing temp,” he is also know for nailing cell phones that ring on set to the wall (that one I can completely understand). Like other perfectionist filmmakers like Kubrick and Fincher, Cameron knows how to do Bullhornevery job on set better than the person who is doing it most of the time. But unlike Kubrick and Fincher, who are both soft spoken, Cameron is the man with the bullhorn, commanding legions in the battlefield. From a craned camera platform suspended 100 feet in the air, he orders his troops too and fro on the deck of a sinking Titanic.

Calls come in daily from the studio as the budget continues to rise, the shooting dates add to the schedule, and the press begins to smell blood – Cameron’s blood.

Every day is a fight. You lose battles along the way, but the war continues. It seems to never end. Everyone around you is exhausted.

What keeps it going? His ego. His drive to do what he thinks no one else can do.

I eat pressure for breakfast,” says Cameron.

I admire that.

South ParkI also think South Park has a point about him too.