James Cameron Almost Fired His 'Avatar' Sequel Writers' Room

Now that she’s no longer running for president, Marianne Williamson is spending her free time interviewing James Cameron. Williamson is a reported big fan of Avatar, and she recently spoke to Avatar grandaddy Cameron on The Marianne Williamson Podcast. There, the filmmaker dropped the surprising reveal that he came close to firing his Avatar sequel writers’ room because the team was so focused on new stuff instead of obsessively combing over the things that made the first film such a success.

Avatar is the biggest movie of all time, so James Cameron clearly knows a thing or two about a thing or two. Still, when I see him talking about his Avatar sequel writers’ room, I get slightly concerned. During his conversation with Marianne Williamson (via Indiewire), Cameron said: “When I sat down to write the sequels, I knew there were going to be three at the time and eventually it turned into four, I put together a group of writers and said, ‘I don’t want to hear anybody’s new ideas or anyone’s pitches until we have spent some time figuring out what worked on the first film, what connected, and why it worked.’”

I get what the filmmaker is going for here, but is there really some secret formula to explain the Avatar success? Isn’t it just likely that the film did so well because it featured advanced, cutting-edge technology that generated good word-of-mouth? And that the higher prices for 3D tickets helped inflate the box office haul? That seems to be the most reasonable explanation, but to hear Cameron tell it, there’s some sort of Da Vinci Code-like secret to Avatar‘s record-breaking box office, and his writers needed to help him boil it down to its base elements.

Cameron was so serious about this that he even threatened to fire everyone for not following his approach. “They kept wanting to talk about the new stories. I said, ‘We aren’t doing that yet.’ Eventually I had to threaten to fire them all because they were doing what writers do, which is to try and create new stories. I said, ‘We need to understand what the connection was and protect it, protect that ember and that flame.’”

Again: Cameron knows more about moviemaking than I do, so who am I to question this logic? And his writers work for him, so he has every right to fire them if he wants. Still, it seems weird that he was so dead-set against even discussing a new story. Cameron continued that he and the writing team sat down and rewatched the first movie together, and broke it down into a three-tier structure: tier one was “the surface storyline, which is just the plot,” tier two was “the spiritualism and the themes of capitalism, imperialism, colonialism, human rights abuses, and nature deficit disorder.” As for the third tier, that one is a bit more detailed:

“There was a tertiary level as well, and we were all in unison about it, but there was a level that was dreamlike that you could not express in a sentence. It didn’t have any ‘-isms’ to it, it was a dreamlike sense of a yearning to be there, to be in that space, to be in a place that is safe and where you wanted to be. Whether that was flying, that sense of freedom and exhilaration, or whether it’s being in the forest where you can smell the earth. It was a sensory thing that communicated on such a deep level. That was the spirituality of the first film.”

The big question now is: will this approach pay off? I guess we’ll find out when Avatar 2 arrives on December 16, 2022.

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