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Comic-Con 09: Live Blog from James Cameron/Peter Jackson Panel

by nathanbloch   July 24, 2009 at 8:17PM  |  Views: 190

Entertainment Weekly's panel featuring James Cameron and Peter Jackson begins with a funny introduction. The moderator notes that one of these filmmakers discovered Kate Winslet and the other made over a billion dollars trying to drown her. One got a realistic performance out of a CG spider, and one got a couple of realistic performances out of Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The moderator asks both filmmakers what they would've worn if they'd been to Comic-Con in the past, and Jackson laments that he's not able to spend time buying collectibles. Cameron responds, "I'll come as Peter Jackson next time. I'll sign a lot of autographs, and sign a lot of deals."

Asked what their inspirations have been, Jackson talks about putting Goodfellas and Casino on when he needs to be inspired. "I can watch those movies and feel inspired again," he says.

Cameron says, "Honestly, I don't like to look at movies when I'm trying to make a movie. ...I'll just try to mindlessly surf the cable late at night." He continues, "I really don't want to be strongly influenced by anything at this point." He mentioned being inspired by Edge of Darkness when a strange man interrupts, slurs his speech, and steals a glass of water. Security escorts him off the stage. 

"We were thinking about shooting King Kong in 3D early in production," Jackson says as he discusses when he met Cameron.  Cameron joked about making a meeting with Jackson at five in the afternoon after Jackson had slept off his hangover after winning many Academy awards for The Lord of the Rings.

"It was watching the second Rings film," Cameron says, and that's when he realized it might be possible to make Avatar.

Cameron talks about how he and Jackson bonded over their mutual interest in 3D and their mutual "getting it." Cameron then says he's going to "dimensionalize," or convert, Titanic into 3D to applause from the audience.

On the topic of converting Jackson says, "We'd love to convert the Lord of the Rings," but Warner Bros. thinks there aren't enough 3D theaters. "Everyone's just a bit conservative at the moment." Cameron joked that there would be enough theaters soon thanks to Avatar. Cameron talks about how home Blu-ray players need to also be outfitted for 3D so theatrical sales aren't solely responsible for paying for the conversion of theaters.

Asked by the moderator if both filmmakers are tired of being told what they want to do is too hard, Cameron says, "It's all just too hard, let's stop." Laughter from the audience. 

"If something's difficult, and you immediately think gosh how am I going to do that, then the fun of doing that is finding how you're going to put it on the screen," Jackson comments. "As long as you've got a green light from the studio...they tend to leave you alone."

Cameron talks about finding how to do what's possible in a year, because that's when you're going to do something no one's ever seen before. He talks about how he developed concepts for a year with a $10 million budget from Fox with the understanding that the studio could axe the film at any point. He put together, early on, a 40-second clip that looked almost as good as the footage shown yesterday which was enough to instill confidence in the executives. "They could see enough of it to be intrigued," Cameron says, "and they went ahead with the project." 

The discussion now turns to remakes, specifically how Jackson and Cameron are not going down that path. The moderator asks them if they despair about creativity. Jackson talks about how the film industry is playing a "defensive game" at the moment, nobody's taking risks, which is leading to "movies being made that aren't as exciting as they should've been."

Cameron talks about "cash machines" like the Harry Potter movies and the studios having to play the game of just making movies. "I think we may be at a point right now in history where the really big films...might almost not be possible in years to come. That people may have loved movies to death." He talks about how the "epic pictures may not be possible to make."

The moderator then lists some questions that Neill Blomkamp had for James Cameron. Cameron drives a Toyota Hybrid, doesn't go on vacation, but thinks about it. Blomkamp's main question: Will young people want to go to movies in 20 years?

Jackson says his 14-year-old son doesn't have much interest in films, and is more focused on video games. "Entertainment options for young people are a lot broader now," he says. "When we all can remember how to be original now, and the economics settle themselves out so there can be more risk taking," movies will become original again. He talks about film being the superior medium when done properly. Cameron says video games don't make people cry, to which Jackson responded that he cries when his 14-year-old son beats him at a game.

Cameron talks about movies in 20 years, saying that 3D is very timely, but that he doesn't necessarily see a future where we experience touch and taste and smell in theaters. He says 3D is catching up to us, and that we've been mixing in 3D for 25 years. Cameron talks about speeding up the rate of frames that film is played, he hopes it goes from 24 to 48 frames, particularly in digital projectors, in order to create better images and get rid of strobing. He talks about NBA people not wanting to shoot games at 24 frames a second because it looks bad. "Digital projectors can support up to 144 frames per second right now," Cameron commented.

Jackson talks about watching films on phones and handhelds as being the "postcard" version of watching a movie. Cameron jokes that watching David Lean movies on handhelds wouldn't work very well.

Asked what they do when they hang out together with each other and fellow filmmakers, Jackson talks about supporting each other and sharing experience. Cameron jokes that you have to go through making a movie to understand how hard it is, and so "you always feel sorry for the poor bastard."

The conversation turned to motion capture. "Not only does it not replace them, it empowers them," Cameron says. "I like to call it performance capture," Cameron continues, "The facial performance, to get that right, is relatively recent." 

"We can get 100 percent of what an actor does," Cameron says, "Every moment of their creation on-set is preserved." Cameron compares the real-time virtual camera images as looking like a video game. He says there's a big difference from that and the final, photo-real look of the project. 

The topic then turned to actors, and why neither filmmakers usually choose big-name actors. Cameron says after the effects budget there's no room for expensive actors. Jackson says he likes not having actors bring baggage with them from being stars, he likes his actors being able to own their characters and "close the gap between the audience and the character."

Discussing where movies are made, Cameron says studios are very US-centric. Cameron compliments Jackson for his guts to shoot movies all over the world to applause from the audience. Jackson says that the actors in The Lord of the Rings joked that the films were the biggest low budget movies they'd ever made, and how no one had fancy trailers or the usual "trappings".

Cameron joked that Jackson got turned down from using WETA (a special effects company) for District 9 because Avatar was hogging its resources.

Jackson talks about the Universal theme park that's getting rebuilt, replete with Tyrannosaurus rex fighting King Kong and people on the ride being able to actually smell the dinosaur's breath. It sounds pretty incredible as he describes it, and the audience cheers. 

Cameron is asked by an audience member if he would ever make a low-budget film, to which he responds, "Why would I ever do a stupid thing like that?"

Jackson, asked how he sees technology changing movies, responded that movies will always be about story and character. Cameron talks about how the old special effects technologies must evolve to "satisfy the eye."

Cameron then touches on how music revenues are now being driven by live performances, and that movies too can incorporate live performances in movies, if only partially with fewer effects in those scenes. 

Asked about future projects, and whether he's thinking about his next film even as he finishes Avatar, Cameron responds, "It's not a good time to ask a woman if she wants to have more kids when she's crowning."

Finally, a questioner asks Cameron, "When are you going to make Aqua Man?", to which he responds, "Well you blew your question, do you have another?"

Source: Michael Buckner/Getty Images