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If you like James Cameron's story, you might also like:
Robert Ballard,
Francis Ford Coppola,
Ron Howard,
Peter Jackson,
George Lucas and
Robert Zemeckis

James Cameron also appears in the video:
Media and Social Responsibility

Teachers can find prepared lesson plans featuring James Cameron in the Achievement Curriculum section:
Media & The Arts

Related Links:
Deap Sea Challenge
Cameron Online

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James Cameron
James Cameron
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James Cameron Interview

Master Filmmaker

June 18, 1999
Washington, D.C.

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  James Cameron

What was your childhood like?

James Cameron: It was not remarkable from the standpoint of outside influences.

I lived in a small town -- it was 2,000 people -- in Canada. A little river that went through it and we swam in the -- you know, there was a lot of water around. Niagara Falls was about four or five miles away. The Niagara Falls. So I've always sort of loved the water -- possibly as a result of that -- and that has manifested itself obviously in my work.

James Cameron Interview Photo
It's also a big part of my private time. I do an awful lot of scuba diving. I love to be on the ocean, under the ocean. I live next to the ocean. My mother was a housewife but she was also an artist. My father was an electrical engineer. So right there you have a collision of left and right hemisphere thinking and I think I got equal parts of both.

My mother was definitely an influence in giving me a respect for art and the arts and especially the visual arts. I used to go with her to museums, and when I was learning to draw I would sketch things in the museum, whether it was an Etruscan helmet, or a mummy, or whatever. I was fascinated by all that.

I was always fascinated by engineering. Maybe it was an attempt maybe to get my father's respect or interest, or maybe it was just a genetic love of technology, but I was always trying to build things. And sometimes being a builder can put you in a leadership position when you're a kid. "Hey, let's build a go-kart. You go get the wheels and you get this," and pretty soon you're at the center of a project.

I look back at, you know, I was at ten years old or nine years old, and I'm the same person now, you know, and in essence -- in wanting to build things and wanting to get a lot of people together and do some grandiose thing, whether it was build a fort or a tree house, or an airplane. Once we built an airplane. Not intending it to fly, just hang from a tree but, you know, that sort of thing. And I realize I'm just doing the same thing now. I'm just getting a bunch of kids to help me build a fort, except that now it takes $100 million, and the kids are all my age.

Were you a good student?

James Cameron: Yes, good student. Mostly because of a real natural curiosity. I wasn't trying to please anybody. It wasn't competitive against the other kids. It wasn't about trying to please my parents so much as I just wanted to know things, the sciences, history, even math to an extent. I was just switched on somehow. That's the most important thing when I look back to that formative period, junior high through high school. It was a six year period.

I spent all my free time in the town library and I read an awful lot of science fiction and the line between reality and fantasy blurred. I was as interested in the reality of biology as I was in reading science fiction stories about genetic mutations and post-nuclear war environments and inter-stellar traveling, meeting alien races, and all that sort of thing.

James Cameron Interview Photo
I read so voraciously. It was tonnage. I rode a school bus for an hour each way in high school because they put me in an academic program that could only be serviced by this high school much further away. So I had two hours a day on the bus and I tried to read a book a day. I averaged a book every other day, but if I got really interested in something it was propped up behind my math book or my science book all during the day in class.

Was there a book that influenced or inspired you in some way?

James Cameron: I remember it more by authors. Arthur Clark and A.E. Van Vogt, all of the mainstream old guard of science fiction at that time. In the latter years of high school I got into the newer guys of that time, Harlan Ellison, Larry Niven, people like that. It was a steady diet of science fiction.

Were there any teachers who had a big influence on you?

James Cameron: There was. The critical moment for me was in the 11th grade.

My biology teacher, Mr. McKenzie, decided that what our school needed was a theater arts program and we didn't have it. There was wrestling, basketball, football, it was a very jock oriented school and there was no theater program whatsoever. So we started a theater program from scratch. We bootstrapped it. He taught it, and I think he might have done it for nothing. We had to build the props and the scenery and the costumes and do everything ourselves. We had to turn the stage into a proper working stage. It took a year, but we started putting on our own productions. I think that was really a pivotal moment.

My biology teacher was our muse at that time. And I think the fact that we were having to do everything, that it wasn't handed to us, may have created a kind of a work ethic that paid off then in independent film production because it's the same thing. You know, you're finding scraps and bits and pieces, and putting it all together and putting on a show. And it's that sense of being able to create some moment of glory, some showmanship -- out of nothing, out of baling wire -- that is maybe a lesson that was learned there as a result of this man who just decided to have a theater arts program.

Otherwise I would have been marginalized by the fact that it was a very athletically oriented school. I've gone back to the school recently and found out that the theater program is the thing that the school is most proud of. Their teams are doing terribly but their theater program is doing great and they're winning all these dramatic awards around the province. So that's Mr. McKenzie's legacy. The point is that teachers can be absolutely critical at the right moment in your life and they can be mentors.

Sometimes it's only just one comment that they can make. I was talking to this man, my biology teacher, and he said, " I've seen your aptitude tests..." or whatever kind of testing they did 30 years ago in Canada, "...and we believe that you have unlimited potential." Now I don't know if he'd ever seen the tests and I don't know if any of the data indicated that, but hearing that, and knowing that somebody somewhere believed that I could go accomplish something, was a big contributor to the self-confidence necessary to overcome all of these things later. Because you're going to have 10,000 people telling you why you can't do something, and sometimes it only takes one person to tell you that you can do something and you take it to heart. Otherwise I wouldn't have remembered it all these years, and I remember where the conversation took place.

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