Senior Editor
10.20.09 67 Comments

(“How do you shoot women and children?”  “EASY, YOU JUST USE SOFTER LIGHTING!”)

A new trailer for James Cameron’s Avatar hits theaters this Friday and a New Yorker profile of Cameron just hit news stands.  It’s a typical New Yorker piece, in that it uses “turbid” in the first sentence, an unnecessarily obscure word that has 10 synonyms that mean the exact same thing.  It also describes the Alien Queen in Aliens as “a T. Rex skeleton exhibit come to life, whose goo-encrusted ovipositor is a Satanic vision of the procreative principle. As an instance of feminist iconography it perhaps leaves something to be desired.“*  Nonetheless, it paints an interesting picture of James Cameron, a hyper intelligent, megalomaniacal director surrounded by yes men and lots and lots of toys.  In short, a nerdy, adult version of Michael Bay.  You should read the whole article, but I did my best to pick out some highlights:

Cameron has mastered every job on set, and has even been known to grab a brush out of a makeup artist’s hand. “I always do makeup touch-ups myself, especially for blood, wounds, and dirt,” he says. “It saves so much time.” His evaluations of others’ abilities are colorful riddles. “Hiring you is like firing two good men,” he says, or “Watching him light is like watching two monkeys f-ck a football.”

– “I try to live with honor, even if it costs me millions of dollars and takes a long time,” he says. “It’s very unusual in Hollywood. Few people are trustworthy—a handshake means nothing to them. They feel they’re required to keep an agreement with you only if you’re successful, or they need you. I’ve tried not to get sucked into the Hollywood hierarchy system. Personally, I don’t like it when people are deferential to me because I’m an established filmmaker. It’s a blue-collar sensibility.”

– He signs his missives “Jim out,” and, when he’s working, a deep mechanical roar, like a Navy klaxon, summons him to the stage. “Dive! dive! dive!” he said, an intent look in his eyes, when I asked him what the signal meant.

– The Na’vi, too, are an extension of Cameron. He mentioned that he is a lefty. “Guess what,” he said. “The Na’vi are all left-handed now.” He taught Zoë Saldana how to shoot her bow, as he envisioned it. “It’s a two-fingered inverted draw past the head, like a Samurai,” he said, tracing the shape in the air over his left shoulder. “The archery instructor came and said, ‘Do you want me to teach them archery or do you want me to teach them this? This would never work.’ I said, ‘See that bush?’ It was a hundred and fifty feet away. I nailed it.”

– Any disagreement is resolved with the indisputable logic of an older sibling who has invented a game and deigned to let his kid brother play: his universe, he wins. “I hate this f-cking thing, but I can be very specific about it,” he said, when an image of a rock arch sacred to the Na’vi came up on the screen. “This looks like petrified wood,” he said, circling the offending part with a red laser pointer. “It has a longitudinal grain structure. It looks very fragile to me. This hard, crystally structure looks like barn wood. We want to say that this arch formed as igneous rock, that it’s a lava formation that got eroded, but it’s fracturing out along the crystal planes of minerals.”

– At one point, Landau asked if Jake’s avatar’s ears looked a touch too red in a closeup shot. “When you direct your movie with nine-foot-tall blue people, you can do whatever you want,” Cameron said. “The ears are red when they’re backlit. That’s how they look.”

– The meeting ended on a boisterous note. “That f-ckin’ rocks!” Cameron called out in response to an image of a snarling maw of thin blue-veined tissue, the mouth of the pterodactyl-like banshee that Jake’s avatar domesticates for his ride. “Look at the gill-like membrane on the side of the mouth, its transmission of light, all the secondary color saturation on the tongue, and that maxilla bone. I love what you did with the translucence on the teeth, and the way the quadrate bone racks the teeth forward. It’s a sharky thing. As wacky as this creature is, it looks completely real. Maybe I’m getting high on my own supply.” He was practically out of breath. “The banshee lives! He’s a fierce-looking sonuvabitch.”

Is it wrong of me to like the curmudgeonly types?  I can’t get enough of them.  “Hey, Bill, I thought I told you the igneous formations were supposed to fracture along the mineral planes.  This looks like you saturated the tertiary alpha channels longitudinally.  What are you, a f-ckin idiot?”

*If the point of writing is communicating, the point of every piece of New Yorker writing is communicating “I’m smart!”

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