James Cameron, director of “Avatar” doesn’t ever do things halfway. The time it took the boat in “Titanic” sunk mirrored the time the actual boat took to sink. The shoot for “The Abyss” lasted roughly half a year, with the cast clocking insane numbers of hours each week, much of that time spent underwater. And then there’s the so-called “game-changer” that is “Avatar,” a thoroughly gripping deep space adventure shot in extremely impressive 3-D.
The next stop for Cameron could be outer space, assuming he gets his way. Not “Avatar”’s beautifully rendered digital landscapes, mind you. Actual outer space. Like 6+ miles over the surface of the Earth. As Cameron exclusively told MTV’s Josh Horowitz, he was at one point deep into the process of planning a trip into the stratosphere.
“I had it worked out with the Russians, with the Energia Corporation,” he explained. “I had a contract and I’d begun training, cosmonaut training, the early biomedical protocols and centrifuge stuff and all that.”
Aliens and interstellar wars weren’t what Cameron had in mind as he made these plans. Remember, the director kept quite busy in the post-“Titanic” years with documentary work. The most memorable effort was “Ghosts of the Abyss,” a 3-D voyage through the actual Titanic wreckage. It was during this timeframe — the late ’90s/early Aughts — that working in outer space became a consideration.
“I had been working closely with NASA and we were going to do a… joint mission. I was going to go up and work on the International Space Station with our 3-D cameras,” Cameron explained. Unfortunately, the timing did not work out. On multiple levels.
“I was pushing for something in the 30 day range and they were pushing for something in the 10 to 15 day range. We got partway down the road on that and, it was interesting, we were testing our 3-D cameras at the Titanic wreck site and September 11 happened. I wasn’t prepared at that exact moment in my life, with a family, to go live in Russia for 12 months, which is what it was going to take to do all the training. so I held off,” he explained, adding “just before we were about to ramp up on it again, then [Space Shuttle] Columbia went down.
“I was on the NASA Advisory Council at that time. My first meeting of the NASA Advisory Council was right after the Columbia accident. My first official duty was to go to the memorial service in Washington.”
First September 11, then the Columbia disaster. It’s as though Cameron’s trip was fated to not occur. “That changed the landscape completely. There wasn’t time in anybody’s worldview… of how the shuttles would operate and how the space station would be run to make it possible to do the mission that we had been discussing.”
Now that a number of years have passed since those tragic events, perhaps it’s time to start looking skyward again? Josh asked just that, and if Cameron would consider taking his cameras into the final frontier for a narrative feature set in outer space.
“It’s not the craziest thing in history,” he said with a grin, adding “because the International Space Station is not currently planned to be funded beyond 2015. They’ve barely gotten the thing built, and now they have to have commercial people come in and figure out how to use [it]. So yeah, I absolutely think there’s the possibility of something like that. The other thing is that NASA is looking now more toward the commercial sector to provide resupply to the space station and human transport. Their next human transport system isn’t going to be online until 2016 or 2017. They were supposed to be online in 2012, but they’re not going to make it.”
Cameron certainly trades a fair bit in the commercial sector. Perhaps he’d be willing to put up some capital, in exchange for some shoot time in the airless void of outer space.
Can you think of any other filmmaker who could actually — and would — make an outer space shoot happen? What kind of story would you like to see Cameron tell in space?