NY Times profiles James Cameron’s effect on New Zealand

Senior Editor
07.30.12 24 Comments

Please don't rape our land, James Cameron

In case you didn’t know, James Cameron is planning to shoot Avatar 2 and 3 (and possibly 4) in New Zealand. He’s already bought a property there, and the New York Times recently profiled the area, in a story full of the kind of fish-out-of-water anecdotes that you might expect when an egomaniacal director who eats studios and sh*ts money moves to a quiet rural town full of gentle, unassuming simpletons, who, according to tradition, still have sex with the sheep that roam the rolling hills of their pastoral backwater. It’s a story ripped from the pages of Avatar itself, and you know how Times writers love that easy symbolism sh*t. The whole thing’s worth a read, but here are some highlights:

Still, Mr. Cameron’s purchase of the Lake Pounui property [$16 million for 2,500 acres in a wine town] has also coincided with escalating fears here about a land grab by wealthy foreigners. Recently, for instance, New Zealanders had a conniption over the sale of 16 dairy farms to a Chinese company. (A court fight over the deal continues.) Mr. Cameron’s arrival added fuel to the media fire. “Hordes are bound to follow from Hollywood,” Stephen Oliver wrote in The Waikato Times on April 2, poking fun at the outcry by envisioning pristine hillsides “festooned with trophy homes” in an “obscene showcase of bad taste.”

Relax, bro, it’s still an 18-hour flight. LA sucks and it’s full of A-holes, but the mitigating factor is that those A-holes are still really lazy.

Adrienne Staples, mayor of the South Wairarapa District Council, recalls that being her first reaction when told in early February that a supposedly famous filmmaker had bought farmland in her zone.
It was not a particularly easy day for Ms. Staples. An avid horsewoman, she was trying to impregnate a mare with semen being flown to Wellington from a Spanish stallion on the South Island. She drove across the Rimutaka Range, twice, to get the semen; juggled calls from the press [nearly spilling her semen! -Ed.]; and offered to bake Mr. Cameron a cake, because, after all, this is rural New Zealand. [Which of course means “Land of Cakes” in the Maori language.]

Don’t worry, lady. By the time Avatar 2 starts shooting, Cameron will be impregnating those mares himself, with the locals calling him “Toruk Takto.” Or literally, “the man who comes inside horses.”

Cameron has been taking precautions not to upset the locals while he mines for unobtanium, but one thing he did that no one seems to like is shut down a hall on his property that used to be used for weddings.

The “I’m the king of the world!” director (his words on winning the best director Oscar for “Titanic” in 1998) also does not seem overly concerned with pleasing everybody. Asked if he might reopen that wedding hall, Mr. Cameron paused a bit, then said, “That’s going to be my workshop.”

You think that’s bad, I heard he promised to turn one of the world heritage sheep-shearing caves into his ping pong room!

Ask New Zealanders who worked on “Avatar” about Mr. Cameron and their eyes tend to grow big. “You have to understand that we don’t have much experience outside of Peter [Jackson], who is soft-spoken and gentle,” said one senior prop technician, who asked for anonymity because he hopes to get a job on the “Avatar” sequels. “Jim Cameron sometimes shouted at us, and our instinct was to take it personally.”

Kiwi not used to yelling. Kiwi know only sheep. Sheep docile.

The difference between the two cinema titans is highlighted by what several longtime film workers in New Zealand referred to as “the two tea incidents.” Years ago the strong-willed Mr. Cameron, annoyed that his “Aliens” crew in England was taking a break, kicked over a tea cart — a tale that has followed him over time, in part because he personally retells it. In contrast, an anecdote about Mr. Jackson involves the time when there was confusion among new staffers over who was responsible for fetching him tea; multiple people kept arriving with steaming mugs, and, worried about offending anyone by speaking up, he spent the day politely accepting them.

This would probably be a good time to point out that New Zealand is Australia’s Canada. The relationship is almost identical. Also, they pronounce their E’s as I’s and their I’s as U’s, but that’s neither here nor there. All I know is, James Cameron already made a three-hour movie about how terrible Westerners are, I can only imagine what his movies are going to look like after he’s been living in rural New Zealand for four years. He’s going to be like that guy who spends two weeks in London and comes home with an accent, times a thousand. Ten bucks says there’s going to be an American character whose giant SUV runs on actual native babies.

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