“Avatar” may have been the highest grossing film of all time after its original release, but that doesn’t mean that the process of getting there was smooth. Despite James Cameron’s unimpeachable track record at the box office, he still found himself battling with studio executive to keep his favorite shots in the film.
Ahead of the film’s re-release and December’s “Avatar: The Way of Water” sequel, Cameron spoke to the New York Times about the occasionally contentious process of editing “Avatar.”
“I think I felt, at the time, that we clashed over certain things,” Cameron said. “For example, the studio felt that the film should be shorter and that there was too much flying around on the ikran—what the humans call the banshees. Well, it turns out that’s what the audience loved the most, in terms of our exit polling and data gathering. And that’s a place where I just drew a line in the sand and said, ‘You know what? I made ‘Titanic.’ This building that we’re meeting in right now, this new half-billion dollar complex on your lot? ‘Titanic’ paid for that, so I get to do this.’”
The 20th Century Fox executives ultimately obliged, and the stunning flight scenes helped propel the film to gross nearly $3 billion at the global box office.
“And afterward, they thanked me,” Cameron said. “I feel that my job is to protect their investment, often against their own judgment. But as long as I protect their investment, all is forgiven.”
At the end of the day, Cameron is happy with the scenes that ultimately made it into the final cut of “Avatar,” and still stands by the film’s quality (even as he hopes to top it with his upcoming sequel).
“It’s such an intense process when you’re editing a film and you have to fight for every frame that stays in,” he said. “I felt pretty good about the creative decisions that were made back then. We spent a lot of time and energy improving our process in the decade-plus since. But there’s certainly nothing cringeworthy. I can see tiny places where we’ve improved facial-performance work. But it doesn’t take you out. I think it’s still competitive with everything that’s out there these days.”
“Avatar: The Way of Water” is scheduled to open in theaters on Friday, December 16.