James Cameron details writing strategy for ‘Avatar’ sequels [video]

June 03, 2014 | 1:10 p.m.
1884116 ca 0531 hero21 ac James Cameron details writing strategy for Avatar sequels [video]

Writer/director James Cameron photographed during the 2014 Hero Complex Film Festival at the TCL Chinese 6 Theatres in Hollywood on May 31, 2014. (Anne Cusack/Los Angeles Times)

1884116 ca 0531 hero24 ac James Cameron details writing strategy for Avatar sequels [video]

Writer/director James Cameron speaks at the 2014 Hero Complex Film Festival in Hollywood on May 31, 2014. (Anne Cusack/Los Angeles Times)

1884116 ca 0531 hero26 ac James Cameron details writing strategy for Avatar sequels [video]

Writer/director James Cameron speaks at the 2014 Hero Complex Film Festival in Hollywood on May 31, 2014. (Anne Cusack/Los Angeles Times)

1884116 ca 0531 hero27 ac James Cameron details writing strategy for Avatar sequels [video]

Los Angeles Times reporter Rebecca Keegan interviews writer/director James Cameron during the 2014 Hero Complex Film Festival in Hollywood on May 31, 2014. (Anne Cusack/Los Angeles Times)

It takes a village to write three movies at once — or at least that’s how James Cameron is approaching the three “Avatar” sequels.

Speaking at the fifth annual Hero Complex Film Festival over the weekend, the “Avatar” director described his strategy for completing the three scripts — which are scheduled to be shot simultaneously beginning later this year — with a technique borrowed from television writers’ rooms.

Taking place at the TCL Chinese 6 Theaters, the Hero Complex Film Festival featured screenings of Cameron’s seminal 1984 science fiction film “The Terminator” and sequel “Terminator 2: Judgment Day.”

The director took the stage in between the films for an extended Q&A in which he discussed his progress on scripts for the next big film franchise on his plate, the Pandora-set fantasy “Avatar.”

“The first thing I did was I sat for a year and wrote 1,500 pages of notes of the world and the cultures,” Cameron said. “The different clans and the different animals and the different biomes and so on… a lot of loose thematic stuff ran through that, but I didn’t have a concrete story.”

For the next step, Cameron brought in a group of writers,  Josh Friedman (“War of the Worlds”), Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver (“Rise of the Planet of the Apes”) and Shane Salerno (“Savages,” “Salinger”) to collaborate with him.

“I knew I was gonna have to work with other writers, and the best experience I’d had working with other writers was in television when I did ‘Dark Angel,’ ” Cameron said, referencing his short-lived sci-fi TV series that ran from 2000 to 2002. “The television room is a highly collaborative, fun experience, so we put together … three teams, one for each script.”

The group met daily for five months, Cameron said, hammering out a three-movie story arc with definite beginnings and endings for each film.

“We worked out every beat of the story across all three films, so it all connects as one three-film saga,” Cameron said. “I didn’t tell them which one was gonna be theirs to write until the last day … so everybody was equally invested story-wise in all three films.

“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 epic, all these new creatures, environments and characters.”

“Avatar 2″ is scheduled to be released in December 2016, with subsequent films following in December 2017 and December 2018.

Watch the clip above to hear what else Cameron had to say, and look for more video from this conversation and others from the weekend soon.

–Rebecca Keegan | @LATHeroComplex

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