Titanic – Behind the Scenes, Making

By admin • Titanic Movie • 4 Apr 2012

Director James Cameron wanted to drive home the message that even in the face of advancing technology; man can be at a losing end if he is not prepared. He was always fascinated with ship wreck and the story of Titanic excited him no end. He wanted to convey an emotional message through the tragedy and focus on the human loss in one of the greatest tragedies of all time. To create the right resonance for the subject, James Cameron knew that the love story would be essential.

James Cameron went to the actual Titanic wreck with his crew and shot the actual Titanic wreck in 1995. He wrote a scriptmen for the movie and had a meeting with 20th Century Fox executives and pitched it as a story about ‘Romeo and Juliet on the Titanic’.  James talk of his experience, “Also, fellas, it’s a period piece, it’s going to cost $150,000,000 and there’s not going to be a sequel…. They were like, ‘Oooooohkaaaaaay – a three-hour romantic epic? Sure, that’s just what we want. Is there a little bit of Terminator in that? Any Harrier jets, shoot-outs, or car chases?’ I said, ‘No, no, no. It’s not like that.'”

Fox Studios were doubtful about the commercial viability of the project but still gave a nod considering Cameron’s track record and hope of forging a long-term relationship with the director who had movies like Terminator, Judgment Day, Abyss and True Lies to his credit.  Cameron convinced Fox that he is going to do comprehensive research and said that his team will organize drives to the actual site over a period of two years (1995 to 1997) and even put some of them in the initial parts of the film.

“My pitch on that had to be a little more detailed,” said Cameron. “So I said, ‘Look, we’ve got to do this whole opening where they’re exploring the Titanic and they find the diamond, so we’re going to have all these shots of the ship. Now, we can either do them with elaborate models and motion control shots and CG and all that, which will cost X amount of money – or we can spend X plus 30 per cent and actually go shoot it at the real wreck.”

The crew shot at the real wreck place in the Atlantic Ocean eleven times in 1995 with a lot of risk. They went really deep at the site where the Titanic wreck was located. The director adds, “ At that depth, with a water pressure of 6,000 pounds per square inch, “one small flaw in the vessel’s superstructure would mean instant death for all on board.”  He still laments that the adverse conditions did not allow him to get the kind of footage he wanted.

The famous director adds, “ This was just a story, or just another drama. It was an event that happened to real people who really died. Working around the wreck for so much time, you get such a strong sense of the profound sadness and injustice of it, and the message of it. You think, ‘There probably aren’t going to be many filmmakers who go to Titanic. There may never be another one – maybe a documentarian.” Due to this, he felt “a great mantle of responsibility to convey the emotional message of it – to do that part of it right, too.”

After getting, compiling and editing the underwater Titanic shots, the task was now to write the screenplay.  Since the director wanted to do complete justice to the people who died, he and writer John Landou spent six months researching about the crew and passengers.  James adds, “I read everything I could. I created an extremely detailed timeline of the ship’s few days and a very detailed timeline of the last night of its life. And I worked within that to write the script, and I got some historical experts to analyze what I’d written and comment on it, and I adjusted it.” He says how he was breathing Titanic for a few years.” I had a library that filled one whole wall of my writing office with “Titanic stuff,” because I wanted it to be right, especially if we were going to dive to the ship,” he said. “That set the bar higher in a way – it elevated the movie in a sense. We wanted this to be a definitive visualization of this moment in history as if you’d gone back in a time machine and shot it.

Cameron knew that there were many who wouldn’t really be so interested at the outset, which is why he put the character of Brock Lovett as a person who does not connect with the tragic element of the story.  He then worked on the love story of Jack and Rose who fall in love onboard Titanic; they are so close yet so far, as  their love is torn apart when Jack sinks in the deep, dark North Atlantic Ocean as her lover Rose watches, helplessly.

“All my films are love stories,” Cameron said, “but in Titanic I finally got the balance right. It’s not a disaster film. It’s a love story with a fastidious overlay of real history.” Cameron then framed the romance with the elderly Rose as an essential and poignant element of the screenplay, who drives the story forward.  In the end,  the director keeps the audience guesses if the elderly Rose had died in her sleep or if she was dreaming of the love won and lost.

James Cameron who is known for his infamous temper on sets , made sure that everything and everyone was disciplined enough. Kate Winslet who even chipped a bone in her elbow during the shooting said that she feared for her life for being drowned in the 17m-gallon water tank which was supposed to sink the ship;  as well, while being petrified of James Cameron.  She said, “There were times when I was genuinely frightened of him. Jim has a temper like you wouldn’t believe,” she said “‘God damn it!’ he would yell at some poor crew member, ‘that’s exactly what I didn’t want! But you know what, he used to get angry for all the right reasons.”

Bill Paxton, one of the co-stars in the film admits,. “There were a lot of people on the set. Jim is not one of those guys who has the time to win hearts and minds.” Behind his back, Cameron was called ‘Mij’ as an alter-ego for his real self. Unfazed by criticism, James defended himself, “, “Film-making is war. A great battle between business and aesthetics. I’m demanding, and I’m demanding on my crew. In terms of being kind of militaresque, I think there’s an element of that in dealing with thousands of extras and big logistics and keeping people safe. I think you have to have a fairly strict methodology in dealing with a large number of people.”

The duration of the movie shoot was supposed to be for 138 days but the production time shot up to 160 days, which also increased the costing.  Due to being in constant exposure to cold water, crew members developed flu, cold and kidney infections including Kate Winslet. At one point, she even decided to not working with the director again unless it was a question of a lot of money.  Some crew members even abandoned the project and three stuntmen ended up with fractures.  Leonardo Di Caprio however agreed with Cameron’s  way of working and his passion and said that he did not feel threatened or in any physical danger while working in the sets.  The Screen Actors Guild gave a clean certificate stating that there was nothing inherently harm-causing in and around the set.

Fox executives were not exactly happy with the progress of the film and were shocked to see the budget going to $200 million for a mere ‘period’ film.  Some of the studio executives asked for cuts in the film because the running screen time was more than 3 hours.  Though they could sense an Oscar thanks to the length and the detailed research of the film, they had doubts about the commercial viability of the project because an extended length of a film was known to result in lesser occupancy in theaters.

. Cameron did not relent; he shot back at Fox, “You want to cut my movie? You’re going to have to fire me! You want to fire me? You’re going to have to kill me!” .The executives were in a quandary. Having gone so far in the project, they did not want to abandon it because it would mean loss of their investment. James said that he would even forfeit his share of profits which Fox studios did not entertain because they were quite doubtful about the movie actually making any profit.

Cameron admitted that though his films had a way of shooting up their budget, Terminator 2 – Judgement Day and True Lies had gone up by 7 to 8 percent above their budget but Titanic shot up significantly even though they started with a huge budget.  He said, “As the producer and director, I take responsibility for the studio that’s writing the checks, so I made it less painful for them. I did that on two different occasions. They didn’t force me to do it; they were glad that I did.”

Cameron asked Digital Domain the company that had worked in Abyss and Terminator 2- Judgment Day to do the special effects for Titanic too.  Digital Domain is a company founded by James Cameron along with Scott Ross and Stan Winston, based in Venice, Los Angeles, California.

The water tank used measured 5,000,000 US gallons (19,000,000 l) that could not only flood but also tilt the entire set into the water. To sink the Grand Staircase, 90,000 US gallons (340,000 l) of water were poured into the set. There was an accident when the staircase broke away from its steel reinforced foundations, even though no one was hurt.] The post-sinking scenes in the freezing Atlantic were shot in a 350,000 US gallons (1,300,000 l) tank. The frozen dead bodies were created by applying powder on actors that crystallized when they came in contact with water. Wax was also applied to hair and clothes.

There was one main omission of a historical fact, there was a ship close to Titanic called SS Californian It had turned off its radio and couldn’t hear the SOS calls.  Cameron reminisces, “. “Yes, the [SS]  Californian. That wasn’t a compromise to mainstream filmmaking. That was really more about emphasis, creating an emotional truth to the film. “The story of the Californian was in there; we even shot a scene of them switching off their Marconi radio set.  “But I took it out. It was a clean cut, because it focuses you back onto that world. If Titanic is powerful as a metaphor, as a microcosm, for the end of the world in a sense, then that world must be self-contained.”

Cameron did not act with other Titanic films that showed the liner just sliding into the water gracefully while the reality was that the ship had broken into two before its plunged into Atlantic. To employ this, he had to get a tilting full sized set and bring in 150 extra and 100 stunt artistes.  He wanted to keep the experience purely chaotic.  First he tried with real people, where they had to fall off the precariously titling deck, plunging hundreds of feet below and bouncing off propelling and railings but this resulted in many injuries even for the stunt people. So Cameron stopped the risky stunt and instead used computer generated people for the steep falls.

Before the release of the movie, film critic s said that Titanic would flop miserably. It had clearly shot over the budget and the crew members who had a bad experience or had left the sets spread stories that things were not right with the film and James was making a disaster of a film. At one point, even Cameron felt that he was doing the wrong thing and he was risking the jobs of people. He said,  “We labored the last six months on Titanic in the absolute knowledge that the studio would lose $100m. It was a certainty. “

A film critic for the Los Angeles Times wrote that “Cameron’s overweening pride has come close to capsizing this project. Titanic is a hackneyed, completely derivative copy of old Hollywood romances.” But as we know, all is well that ends’ well. On the day, Titanic released, it created history. Critics and people all over the world loved it and it became a cult film. Titanic is also known to be the best romantic film ever.

The film was playing on 3,200 screens even after ten weeks of its release. For ten weeks, it earned more than $20 million which was unheard of. After 14 weeks, it still earned more than 1 million a week.  Titanic went on to have terrific repeat value with girls and women-folk screaming for Leonardo Di Caprio while the famous Kate Winslet painting scene had its own cult status.

James Cameron sums up the extraordinary reception to Titanic saying, “The story could not have been written better…The juxtaposition of rich and poor, the gender roles played out unto death (women first), the stoicism and nobility of a bygone age, the magnificence of the great ship matched in scale only by the folly of the men who drove her hell-bent through the darkness. And above all the lesson: that life is uncertain, the future unknowable…the unthinkable possible.”

Titanic Making Video

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