James Cameron Revisits ‘Titanic’ in Nat Geo Special

National Geographic will mark the 20-year anniversary of James Cameron’s blockbuster Titanic film with the special Titanic: 20 Years Later With James Cameron. That airs Sunday, Nov. 26th. Cameron spoke a bit about some of the pressure he felt to deliver an unforgettable movie. “The entire Hollywood-centric media were all sharpening their knives to carve us up with great deliciousness,” he said, “while we were sweating out getting the film done.”

Cameron said he taped a razor blade to the screen of the Avid, with a note that said “Use in case film sucks.”

Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet starred in Titanic. The film grossed more than $2 billion worldwide. Titanic was the highest grossing movie in history, says National Geographic, until Cameron’s Avatar came out.

Cameron mentioned visiting the Titanic wreck before the movie was shot, and making a dozen dives, learning “all kinds of things that were not well explained by the conventional wisdom in the Titanic community,” he says.

He also spoke about some of the dangerous moments on set, including deciding to put safety cables on a metal gate that Jack and Rose, the characters played by DiCaprio and Winslet, slam into with water crashing down on them. “There was a moment where you get kind of a sixth sense that there’s something wrong,” said Cameron. “I actually just walked the set by myself for 20 minutes, quietly thinking about the physics of everything that was about to happen before we pulled the trigger.”

Sure enough, he said, the gate failed.

Cameron mentioned how the film at times broke from its script, such as when Rose’s fiancé Cal is holding her and she wants to break away. The script had Rose stick Cal with a hat pin, while Winslet ends up spitting in Cal’s face. (Billy Zane played Cal.)

“I think as prepared as one needs to be as a director, especially on that kind of enormous project,” he said, “you also have to be very open at every second for when lightning can strike. Great ideas come from the actors all the time.”

In the special, Cameron looks into newer resources available, and how those might have been used when producing Titanic two decades before.

He said a CG model of the ship would’ve been used, instead of the 42-foot long vessel that was built for the film. (Cameron says the model is sitting on a sound stage in Manhattan Beach.) “It’s probably one of the best, if not the best models of the ship that’s ever been made,” he said. “We wouldn’t build that at all. We’d build a CG model.”

He also assembles a team of Titanic scholars in the special, and they visit the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, where a Titanic exhibit is featured.

The ship went down in April 1912.

Cameron said the feeling that every critic was rooting for the film to fail was “probably about the worst feeling that a filmmaker can go through.” He added, “We were tried and convicted and sentenced before anybody had seen a foot of the film.”

Titanic went on to win 11 Oscars.

Michael Malone

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.