Future of entertainment

Future of entertainment
James Cameron
The ambitious filmmaker explores the medium's next dimension.

Since his big debut with 1984's "The Terminator," James Cameron has done more than his share to propel cinema into the future, single-handedly putting computer graphics in the popular filmmaking vernacular with 1989's "The Abyss" and 1991's "Terminator 2: Judgment Day." Now, he's at it again, driving movies into the next dimension as the industry's foremost advocate for stereo films. "I don't like to call it 3-D because that sounds so retro," says the three-time Oscar winner, who took time out from testing his new Fusion camera system to talk with The Hollywood Reporter's Paula Parisi about the future of cinema.

The Hollywood Reporter: Many of your films are set in the future, and it's oftentimes pretty bleak.
James Cameron: I've always had a love-hate relationship with technology. But it's a big part of our future, for good and bad.

THR: Your vision of the future also includes 3-D, or stereo, as the next leap in filmmaking, and it sounds like you're inventing the technology to make that happen.
Cameron: I've been working in 3-D for the past four years and made two documentaries (2003's "Ghosts of the Abyss" and Buena Vista's "Aliens of the Deep") that way using a new camera system that was created in partnership with Vince Pace, who is one of the leading camera engineers working in the film industry right now. Five years ago, we did napkin drawings of this camera system, and for the past year, he has been working on a new version of the system and just completed it. We're beta testing it now. Initially, we called it the RCS-1, or Reality Camera System 1, but we thought it needed a sexier name, so now we're calling it Fusion. We have 12 cameras, which translates to six systems because each one is a stereo system. So, we've got six systems to support features right now because the idea is not just to service my films but other 3-D filmmakers as well. Robert Rodriguez used our cameras on all his 3-D shows (2003's "Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over," Dimension's "The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3-D").

THR: And you'll be using the cameras on a feature yourself sometime soon?
Cameron: Yes, on "Battle Angel." Everybody keeps asking when we start shooting. I don't know because with all the other stuff we've had to work out, shooting will probably be the least challenging part of it. But it'll probably be in January or February. The film will be largely previsualized when we start shooting.

THR: What kind of previsualization are you doing?
Cameron: We've taken sort of a unique approach, I think. Our previz is at a very high level. We don't even consider it previz, we consider it the first stage of production. It's really the first stage of imaging, and in the process, we get our previz, which we can keep for ourselves, for editing purposes, to show the studio. It's also the first step toward getting the shot. Now, I'm talking about this as if it's so great, but we haven't gone through the process yet. But this is what we're trying.

THR: "Battle Angel" is based on the Japanese graphic novel by Yukito Kishiro. What about it appealed to you?
Cameron: It's the story of the journey of a teenage girl who has a human brain in a synthetic body. It's a quest for identity, mainly, with a lot of samurai- and kung-fu-type action, and ultimately it becomes about making a stand, deciding to do something to change the world for the (better). It takes place in the 26th century. To create that world, we'll be blending live-action and CG. We'll shoot real sets and CG characters -- they'll be played by live-action actors but will appear onscreen as CG characters; it'll be a real mix. And we're planning to be in theaters in 2007, releasing it in 2-D and 3-D. Maybe the 3-D release will be a bit earlier, as an incentive for theater owners to get equipped.

THR: Sounds pretty nifty.
Cameron: I should hope it's better than nifty.

THR: So, you're shooting for awe-inspiring, then?
Cameron: The good thing about shooting for awe-inspiring is that even if you fall a little bit short, it's still pretty great.

"Aliens of the Deep"

THR: I understand with your documentaries, "Ghost of the Abyss" and "Aliens of the Deep," you came up with a single-projector 3-D upgrade that works with existing D-cinema equipment, which should make it more economical for exhibitors as they're transitioning to new display systems.
Cameron: We didn't come up with the upgrade, we encouraged its development, working closely with Texas Instruments to ensure that their DCI-compliant 2K DLP cinema projectors are fully stereo-capable. There are a couple of really good single-projector solutions for 3-D, which are stunning in their image quality. One solution is to use passive polarized glasses and to install a silvered screen. The other is to use "active" LCD glasses and to just use the whitescreen you already have. The cost is probably close to a wash between the two, and both will work on screens up to about 45 feet, so about 90% of the screens. With the coming conversion to digital projection, we could see 3,000-5,000 digital projectors out there in the next two years. The Technicolor plan, in partnership with Sony, Warners and Disney, calls for 3,000. Any one of these screens can be upgraded to 3-D for a relatively small additional cost.

THR: And it seems to be attracting broader interest among those in the creative community.
Cameron: Now you've got several filmmakers working in the medium -- Robert Zemeckis, having done a 3-D release on 2004's "Polar Express," is now producing "Monster House" using the technique and directing "Beowulf" using 3-D. So, I think this is an interesting confluence of events, one that will lead to as profound a change in the cinema experience as the introduction of color and sound. We haven't had a revolution in the way we watch films in a long time. It's overdue.

THR: You've spoken eloquently about filmmakers learning to express themselves in the stereo medium, but how will it monetize?
Cameron: Well, the best example, "Polar Express" -- the majority of the screens were 2-D, but the IMAX 3-D theaters brought in a substantial amount of revenue.

THR: It seems like there could be a rerelease market for this as well.
Cameron: George (Lucas) is talking about rereleasing "Star Wars" in 3-D, the original (1977) one. I prefer the look of films actually shot in 3-D as opposed to transferred to 3-D, but short of having a time machine, that's the only way anyone's going to be able to see many of these films in 3-D. We might rerelease (1997's) "Titanic" this way because if I had the technology back then, I would have shot it in stereo.

THR: What about the aftermarket for films shot in 3-D? People will just watch in 2-D at home?
Cameron: Initially. After all, you still have to make a good film. And in the first few years, there won't be consumer products to support stereo at home. As the number of stereo titles comes up, the consumer-electronics companies will capitalize on the emerging market and build the viewing devices, which currently exist only as prototypes. For the time being, 2-D at home will distinguish the theatrical experience, which is necessary right now to bolster ticket sales. It'll give people a reason to get out of the house and away from their HDTVs. Give 'em their money's worth out of going to the theater!

THR: How do you see the Internet evolving as part of the entertainment landscape?
Cameron: I think it's so amazing how the world has become so connected yet so disheartening, in that all people seem to use (the Internet) for is to seek out other people like themselves (who have) the same interests, instead of exploring different cultures and learning something new. I could go on for hours about that. But I really don't see the Internet as entertainment. It has become part of the fabric of our life, the fabric of how we store information.

THR: Well, it does compete for eyeballs and time. Even at its most basic, when users are reading text, it's certainly as much like entertainment as reading a book.
Cameron: Entertainment is just one of the many things it is. It's much more than that. And it's certainly having an impact on the way films are marketed, the way films are distributed. It affects the perception. And people are already downloading movies. You've got the early adopters, and everyone else is two years behind. Of course, the more people illegally download movies, the worse movies are going to get.

THR: So legally downloading ...
Cameron: Legal downloading is fine. The more the studios stay ahead of it, provide the services and provide rich and varied content for downloading, the better the whole thing will work. The more they force people into piracy mode, the worse it's going to work, and the negative effect will be that the visual quality of films will suffer. Films will be reduced down to a few actors doing maybe well-performed scripts, but to have the visual spectacle, nobody will be able to afford it. Movies will basically turn into television.

THR: Did you learn anything from working in television, doing "Dark Angel" for Fox, that has impacted your filmmaking?
Cameron: I think so. In television, you learn to compromise in the right places. You have to be quick and not too precious, and that's a good lesson for a filmmaker. You tend to start thinking you're writing a chapter of the Bible, and you're not. You're making a film.

THR: You're on the NASA Advisory Council. What does that entail?
Cameron: We meet quarterly to review NASA's strategic plan. I'm in my third year. I'm also a member of their strategic road-mapping committee for human and robotic exploration of Mars, which looks out 25 years. If you don't have a long-term vision, you don't know what to do in the short term.

THR: Is NASA going to have a man on Mars in 25 years?
Cameron: They've been talking 25 years, but at the rate they're going, it could be longer. If you put your mind to it, you could do it in 10. But they don't work that way. I have to say, I'm a little disappointed at the timeline.

THR: Judging by the speeches you've given for the folks at NASA, and their reactions, you're highly motivational to that crowd. Maybe you can motivate them to move a little faster.
Cameron: I do my best.

THR: What about exploration beyond our galaxy. Does that ever come up?
Cameron: No. The nearest star system is Alpha Centauri. It would take several hundred thousand years to get there at the speeds we can attain with current rocket technology. It would take 4.5 years at the speed of light, but we can't send people, or even very small robots, at anywhere near the speed of light, not by many orders of magnitude. So barring some sort of breakthrough in quantum physics, we're probably a hundred years from even attempting to send a probe to another solar system.

THR: Are we going to be seeing intergalactic travel in "Battle Angel"?
Cameron: "Battle Angel" takes place in a time when technology has crested and then gone backwards -- in the past of the movie's story, we have conquered the solar system and traveled to the stars, but the means to do that have been lost. The people in the film live in the shadow of past greatness, amid the ruins of technology they no longer understand. The ships no longer fly "beyond the sky." At some level, it's a metaphor for us right now -- once we walked on the moon in a Golden Age of exploration, which I recall from my teenage years, but now we can't do that anymore. We don't have the capability to go to the moon right now, even though we imagine we are a nation that can still do such things. But we've lost the will to explore.

THR: What do you think life will be like 100 years from now. Will people still be watching movies?
Cameron: I think if there's anybody around to watch anything, they'll be watching something like movies.

THR: With all the technology you've been developing, is filmmaking its own kind of grand exploration for you?
Cameron: It's not, really. Exploration is when you go someplace people have never seen before and discover something. We're doing a lot of innovation. You have to do innovation to build the technology to do the exploration. And you have to do the innovation to do things no one has ever seen before in film. It's fundamentally different doing a documentary where you have no idea what you're going to see next and making a movie where it's scripted, and you're doing scene 29. One, you're providing the imagination, the other nature is providing the imagination. But hopefully with the technology we've innovated, we'll be taking audiences where they've never been before. Then they'll be doing the exploration. They buy the ticket; they get to go explore in a different world. I'm just the tour guide.

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