James Cameron talks about writing all three AVATAR sequels simultaneously

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When I walked out of my first 3D screening of James Cameron’s Avatar, there were two things on my mind: 1) Oh my god, James Cameron just had consensual sexual relations with my visual cortex, and 2) Seriously, how the hell did nobody think to tell him that he was writing a Space-Pocahontas ripoff? While that first thought inevitably passed, the second stuck with me for a long time, particularly on subsequent viewings.

Thing is, Cameron wrote the script to Avatar all by himself, and him being James Cameron, I’m sure nobody was willing to say anything. That is a problem that shouldn’t be there for Cameron’s planned three Avatar sequels though.

The writer-director appeared at LA Times’ Hero Complex Festival this pass weekend, and while there he revealed (via /Film) the ambitious plan he had concocted to pen all 3 films simultaneously, so that all the scripts were done and ready for him to shoot back to back to back.

“We tried an experiment. We set ourselves a challenge of writing three films at the same time. And I could certainly write any one of them but to write three in some reasonable amount of time – we wanted to shoot them together so we couldn’t start one until all three scripts were done and approved. So I knew I was going to have to “parallel process” which meant I would have to work with other writers. And the best experience I had working with other writers was in television when I did Dark Angel. The television room is a highly collaborative, fun experience. 

So we put together three teams, one for each script. The teams consist of me and another writer on each one of the three [films]. So I’m across all the films and then each one of them would have their own individual script they were responsible for. But what we did that was unique was we sat in the writing room for five months, eight hours a day, and we worked out every beat of the story across all three films so it all connects as one, sort of, three film saga. And I didn’t tell them which one was going to be there’s individually to write until the last day. So everyone was equally invested, story wise, in all three films.

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So, for example, the guy that got movie three, which is the middle one of this new trilogy, he now knows exactly what preceded and what follows out of what he’s writing at any given moment. We all consider that to be a really exciting, creative and groundbreaking experiment in screenwriting. I don’t know if that necessarily yields great scripts but it certainly worked for us as a process to get our minds around this kind of epic with all these new creatures, environments and characters and all that.

Cause the first thing I did was sat for a year and wrote 1500 pages of notes of the world and the cultures and the different clans and different animals and different biomes and so on. And had a lot of loose thematic stuff that ran through that but I didn’t a concrete story. I wanted to approach it more like, “Guys we’re going to adapt a novel or series of novels.” Because I felt that kind of detail, even if movies can’t ever be that detailed – it can be visually detailed, it can’t be that detailed in terms of character and culture. But you always get this tip of the iceberg kind of thing. You sense it’s there off camera or in the past of the moment that you’re seeing. So I felt that was the way to do it.

While I’m still not 100% sold on the idea that we need 3 more Avatar films, I am rather relieved that Cameron is bringing in more pairs of eyes through which to see this universe he wants to explore further. The fact that those eyes belong to Josh Friedman (Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, War of the Worlds), Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver (Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) and Shane Salerno (Savages, Shaft, Armageddon) also help considerably. And as long as they bring in all their collective expertise equally (Salerno will of course write any scene involving explosions and Aerosmith song pieces), then we may just be treated to another major sci-fi property from the man that has already brought us so much.

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Last Updated: June 3, 2014

Kervyn Cloete

A man of many passions - but very little sleep - I've been geeking out over movies, video games, comics, books, anime, TV series and lemon meringues as far back as I can remember. So show up for the geeky insight, stay for the delicious pastries.

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