James Cameron shares ‘Terminator’ memories at Hero Complex Film Festival

June 01, 2014 | 7:34 a.m.
1884116 ca 0531 hero21 ac James Cameron shares Terminator memories at Hero Complex Film Festival

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 shares Terminator memories at Hero Complex Film Festival

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 shares Terminator memories at Hero Complex Film Festival

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 shares Terminator memories at Hero Complex Film Festival

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)

Revolutionary filmmaker James Cameron is one of the most venerated directors working in Hollywood today. But three decades ago, his life was very different. He was earning a living painting one sheets for B-grade movies and using McDonald’s coupons his mother sent to him to eat regular meals.

It was during that time that he wrote the script for the film that would transform his career.

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)

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

“I  was a sad, dark, isolated human being,” Cameron recalled during an interview onstage at the 5th annual Hero Complex Film Festival at the TCL Chinese Theatres in Hollywood on Saturday, following a screening of 1984′s “The Terminator.” “There was an innocence to it in a funny way. I was the anonymous, angry wannabe filmmaker, and I think there’s some courage to say whatever comes into your head…. I was a free voice in the wilderness.

“Most people hate that period of their life, and then you spend the rest of your career trying to get back there,” he added.

In an in-depth conversation moderated by Hero Complex contributor Rebecca Keegan, the Oscar-winning director spoke thoughtfully about his work on the time-travel sci-fi franchise and touched on other highlights from his remarkable career in fantastic cinema, including his upcoming plans for three sequels to his box-office blockbuster “Avatar.”

But most of the evening focused on “Terminator,” with Cameron telling stories about going to diners to write the script for what he thought of as “an urban noir film,” and describing his first meeting with Arnold Schwarzenegger — who was initially being pitched for the role of heroic Kyle Reese, which went to actor Michael Biehn. (He did mention that in the upcoming “Terminator” reboot in production for Paramount, Schwarzenegger will be “very much front and center.”)

The evening concluded with a screening of 1991′s “Terminator 2: Judgment Day.” Cameron said during the Q&A that he felt the $100-million film’s extensive visual effects still appeared respectable even by contemporary standards, and he mentioned that he’d be open to the idea of updating the movie with a possible 3-D conversion and theatrical re-release.

“I think the CG holds up,” he said. “You’d do it better now but it’s not an embarrassment. … Everybody takes CG for granted now, but at that slice of history … ‘T2′ had one of the first digital composites ever done in a movie. The success of the film hinged on that CG.”

Among other highlights, Cameron also said that when it comes to superheroes, Spider-Man was his favorite, and the only character he would have been interested in bringing to the big screen.

As for news on the “Avatar” movie front, beyond describing the approach to writing the scripts for the sequel, he said little (“That’s classified,” he quipped.) But he did point out that the planned Pandora: The Land of Avatar attraction set for the Disney theme park in Orlando, Fla., would feature some fairly spectacular rides and attractions.

“It’s going to have floating mountains,” Cameron said.

Check back soon to watch video from the conversation with Cameron and some of the festival’s other special guests.

— Gina McIntyre | @LATHeroComplex

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