James Cameron was in attendance at the Hero Complex Film Festival this weekend, and while there he spoke about his classic sci-fi films Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgment Day. However, with his three Avatar sequels due to begin filming later this year, and currently being written, Cameron also went into some detail about the writing process he put together for the sequels.
Cameron hired three sets of writers for the sequels, Josh Friedman, Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver and Shane Salerno, and he used skills he learnt while working in TV to bring his three sequels together so they could be filmed back-to-back. Here is what Cameron said about the Avatar sequels writing process:
“We tried an experiment. We set ourselves a challenge of writing three films at the same time. I knew I could certainly write any one of them but to write three in some reasonable amount of time – we wanted to shoot them together so we couldn’t start one until all three scripts were done and approved. So I knew I was going to have to ‘parallel process’ which meant I would have to work with other writers. And the best experience I had working with other writers was in television when I did Dark Angel. The television room is a highly collaborative and fun experience.
So we put together a team, three teams actually — one for each script. The teams consist of me and another writer on each one of those three films. Each [individual writer] would have their own script that they’re responsible for. But what we did that was unique beforehand was we sat in a writing room for five-months eight-hours-a-day and we worked out every beat of the story across all three films so it all connects as one three film saga. I didn’t tell [the three writers] which sequel was going to be theirs to write until the very last day. So everybody was equally invested story-wise in all three films. So the guy that got the third movie, which is the middle film of this new trilogy, he now knows what preceded and what follows out of what he’s writing at any given moment.
We all consider that to be a really exciting, creative and groundbreaking experiment in screenwriting. It worked as a process to get our minds around this epic and all these new creatures and environments and characters”
Here’s what we know about the three Avatar sequels so far:
At a press conference last year in Wellington, N.Z., with the New Zealand’s prime minister John Key, James Cameron announced that he will make all three Avatar sequels for 20th Century Fox, in New Zealand.
The announcement also confirmed that the films were expected to have cinema releases in December 2016, December 2017 and December 2018.
Variety reports that the three films will spend at least $412 million (500 million in New Zealand dollars) in that nation as a condition of an agreement between Fox, Cameron’s Lightstorm Entertainment and the government of New Zealand. In return, the films will receive a film industry tax rebate of 25% — a figure which was recently increased from 15%.
“The ‘Avatar’ sequels will provide hundreds of jobs and thousands of hours of work directly in the screen sector as well as jobs right across the economy,” Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce said in a statement.
“Avatar” producer Jon Landau and Paul Hanneman, Fox’s co-presidents of worldwide theatrical marketing and distribution, were also on hand for the announcement. “New Zealand offers unparalleled support to films of this scale,” Hanneman said.
Cameron also said at the press conference that filming on all three sequels should last for a period of about nine months. He also said that the budget for all three sequels put together should come in under $1 billion, and considering the first Avatar film cost $500 million, this will be quite an achievement.
The first Avatar film achieved a worldwide box office phenomenon of $2.78 billion, making it the biggest film in history.
Peter Jackson shot his Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit films in New Zealand, and his own Weta company are already working on the Avatar sequels.
The deal for the three films receiving the 25% rebate was outlined in a memorandum of understanding between the New Zealand government, Cameron’s Lightstorm Entertainment and Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp. It specified that at least $412 million would be spent on production in New Zealand, including most live action filming and visual effects.
The memorandum of understanding also spells out that 90% of live action crew are expected to be New Zealanders; an internship program will be supported; New Zealand will host at least one official red carpet premiere; and a featurette on New Zealand will be included in DVDs and Blu Rays.
The memorandum also states that Cameron and Landau have offered to serve as founding members of a new screen advisory board to provide advice and guidance to New Zealand filmmakers looking to succeed internationally.
The three pictures will be filmed simultaneously with production beginning next year. The release of the first sequel will be in December 2016, with the second to follow in December 2017, and the third a year later. AVATAR 2, 3, and 4 will be produced by Cameron and Jon Landau through their Lightstorm Entertainment banner. Like the original film, Lightstorm will work with Joe Letteri and his team at WETA Digital to realize the worlds of the sequels.
Commented Cameron: “Building upon the world we created with AVATAR has been a rare and incredibly rewarding experience. In writing the new films, I’ve come to realize that AVATAR’s world, story and characters have become even richer than I anticipated, and it became apparent that two films would not be enough to capture everything I wanted to put on screen. And to help me continue to expand this universe, I’m pleased to bring aboard Amanda, Rick, Shane and Josh — all writers I’ve long admired - to join me in completing the films screenplays.”
Commented 20th Century Fox chairman and CEO, Jim Gianopulos: “We at the studio have no higher priority, and can feel no greater joy, than enabling Jim to continue and expand his vision of the world of AVATAR. The growing breadth and scale of Jim Cameron’s plans for his magnificent fantasy worlds continue to amaze us all.”