Director James Cameron gives new details on epic shoot for upcoming ‘Avatar’ sequels

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Movie director James Cameron knows a thing or two about taking on epic productions throughout his career, so when he says the upcoming shoot for the four upcoming “Avatar” sequels is his biggest challenge, I’m inclined to believe him.

In an interview with Famous Monsters of Filmland to help promote the upcoming 30th anniversary of Aliens for their June issue, Cameron discusses the work process in filming the entire slate of films in the follow-up to his record-setting box office smash hit.

“It’s not back-to-back. It’s really all one big production. It’s more the way you would shoot a miniseries. So we’ll be shooting across all [AVATAR scripts] simultaneously. So Monday I might be doing a scene from Movie Four, and Tuesday I’m doing a scene from Movie One. … We’re working across, essentially, eight hours of story. It’s going to be a big challenge to keep it all fixed in our minds, exactly where we are, across that story arc at any given point. It’s going to be probably the most challenging thing I’ve ever done. I’m sure the actors will be challenged by that as well. It’s like, ‘No, no, no, no, this person hasn’t died yet, so you’re still in this phase of your life.’ It’s a saga. It’s like doing all three GODFATHER films at the same time.”

My head is already spinning thinking about the complexity of shooting just one of these CGI-heavy feature length films, let alone shooting all four concurrently. With so many technological advancements since the original came out in 2009, Cameron sounds like he’s ready to fully take advantage of the latest tech, but also with an eye towards practical effects and photography — either for use in the final shot or as a reference for the special effects team.

“If I could do the Alien Queen today with the techniques we used on AVATAR, she’d be spectacular. She’d be much more dynamic. Now, where I would struggle is to make her as texturally real. But that’s all doable now. … On the new AVATAR films, I’m actually going to shoot more real-world stuff. It may only be there as an example from which we then generate CG, or we may actually integrate some of those photographic elements. But I want more photography. … Like, if I was doing the Alien Queen, I would want photography to show the exact way that the slime drools off the curl of a lip and caught the light in a certain type of very low-key lighting. I would want to see that so that I can talk to the CG artist and say, ‘All right. Do that.’ … It always usually boils down to the lighting and the conception of the shot.”

As confident as he sounds in the success of his ambitious project, Cameron also recognizes it would be a mistake to go head-to-head with the juggernaut that is “Star Wars” when it comes to releasing the finished project.

“My original plan was to release them a year apart, but we’re opening that up. If for no other reason than that I don’t want to land on the same date as one of the STAR WARS sequels. That wouldn’t be fair to them. [Laughs] No, that’s just good business. I don’t want to go head-to-head with STAR WARS. That would be stupid. And hopefully they won’t want to go head to head with us.”

James Cameron’s exclusive ALIENS 30th anniversary interview with executive editor David Weiner will be available at CaptainCo.com and on newsstands June 7. Get ready for the wave of Avatar films starting in Christmas 2018 with the follow-ups planned for 2020, 2022, and 2023.

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