“Pretty much anything that you admired back in those days was done on a pretty low budget because science fiction was the redheaded stepchild of movies,” said Oscar-winning director James Cameron at Winter Press Tour in Pasadena on Sunday. “It was not considered to be a very lofty genre.”
Cameron was at tour to discuss James Cameron’s Story of Science Fiction, a six-part series under the AMC Visionaries umbrella, featuring interviews with Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Ridley Scott, Will Smith and Keanu Reeves, among others.
AMC Visionaries is a year-round documentary series that tells the histories of pop-culture genres from the filmmakers themselves.
“We had to shoot The Terminator kind of guerilla style,” Cameron recalled about the 1984 blockbuster starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. “We used available light. I would go out with the director of photography with a light meter, and we’d drive around town until we found streetlights that were brighter. We found the brightest streetlights, and we’d shoot on those streets because we couldn’t afford lights.”
Cameron also spoke of famously populating the walls of a spaceship interior with McDonald’s foldout styrofoam breakfast trays working with director Roger Corman in 1980’s B-level Battle Beyond the Stars.
“You did what you had to do,” he said. “We learned to improvise. But I also think it’s very possible for spectacle to overwhelm a film.”
Budgets, of course, increased significantly for the type of storytelling Cameron was doing, particularly for blockbuster Titanic in 1997. But science fiction is about more than special effects.
“Science fiction has, I think, bifurcated in recent years into the smaller, relatively lower budget, kind of more sociologically oriented stories that ask very profound questions and often, kind of, hold up a mirror to society,” noted Cameron. “Recently, The Handmaid’s Tale, which is obviously about women’s role and rights in society taken through the lens of a kind of a totalitarian fascist state is pure science fiction, but it’s completely sociological. There were no spaceships, robots, very little in the way of visual effects, but it’s pure science fiction.”
The conversation took a more serious turn when Cameron was asked about actress Eliza Dushku coming forward earlier that day alleging sexual misconduct against stunt coordinator Joel Kramer during the filming of True Lies in 1994.
“I haven’t given a lot of thought to this specific situation,” Cameron, who wrote and directed the 1994 film, told reporters. “I just heard about it. But I mean, obviously, Eliza is very brave for speaking up, [as] I think all the women are that are speaking out and calling for a reckoning now. I think this has been endemic throughout human systems, not just Hollywood.”
”I think going forward, it’s important for all industries, certainly Hollywood, to create a safe avenue for people to speak up,” he added. “Anybody who might be a predator or an abuser knows that that mechanism is there and that there’s no shame around it and that there will be consequences. I think we all collectively, just as the human race, have to do that.”