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What James Cameron learned from Roger Corman and John Carpenter

Empire Magazine recently asked some of Hollywood's best directors and actors to ask James Cameron questions about his career, leading to some fun answers.

John Carpenter's Escape from New York

To celebrate the release of Avatar: The Way of Water, Empire Magazine invited many directors, actors, and the creator of the Papyrus font to ask James Cameron questions about his career. These included Guillermo del Toro, Gina Prince-Bythewood, Rian Johnson, Mads Mikkelsen, Harrison Ford, and the Duffer Brothers. Unsurprisingly, two of the best questions from a director who is a huge movie buff – Edgar Wright.

Wright firstly asked Cameron about what he learned working on special effects and miniatures for Roger Corman and John Carpenter (including on Escape from New York) before making the break into directing. Cameron says; “My early experiences taught me a lot of things, from the rock-bottom basics of production and shooting to a sense of confidence that came from working, however briefly, in just about every department. I could load an Arri 2C, run a Moviola upright, and know what type of paint to use on the set at 3am when the camera crew was coming in at 6am.”

“When I got my own film going, The Terminator, I knew enough about everyone’s jobs, from grip to set designer to editor to visual effects, that I could direct them efficiently, without wasted energy. Which was critical on a visually ambitious film with such a low budget.”

Wright also asked Cameron if the famous rumour regarding Aliens is true. Wright asked; “Is the story of your pitch meeting for Aliens true, where you wrote Alien on a whiteboard, added an ‘S’ and then turned the ‘S’ into a dollar sign?” Cameron responded; “I had lunch with a bigshot producer when I was about to start Aliens who said, ‘This is a no-win for you. If your movie’s good, Ridley [Scott] will get the credit. If it’s bad, it’s all you. It’s a career ender.’ I said, ‘Yeah, buuuuuut… I like it.’ I was maybe a dumbass fanboy, but I could see it so clearly in my head that I just had to go make it.”

“And yes, it’s true. I was in a meeting with the studio head and the executive producers, and I turned my script over and on the blank side of the last page I wrote ALIEN. Then I drew an S on the end. Then I drew two vertical lines through the S and held it up to show them. Maybe it was just Pavlovian conditioning when they saw the $ sign connected closely to the word Alien. Or maybe it was the confidence I projected. But they said yes.”

It’s great to hear that the story of the greatest pitch of all time is true, and that James Cameron is as much of a legend as we suspected. The rest, as they say, is history. Check out our guide to the best alien movies.