James Cameron on the Future of Cinema

The director of Avatar and Terminator talks about future sequels, 3-D television and Hollywood in 2050

James Cameron Avatar
James Cameron, with Sigourney Weaver, Joel Moore and Sam Worthington, is in command on the set of Avatar. 20th Century Fox / Everett Collection

Many believe that Avatar, the largely computer-generated, 3-D film by James Cameron—and the top-grossing movie in history, earning nearly $3 billion worldwide—has changed the moviegoing experience. Like Avatar, Cameron’s 1984 thriller Terminator, about an indestructible human-machine cyborg, and 1997’s Titanic, with its hyper-realistic feel for the “unsinkable” ship’s disastrous end, are morality tales about technology’s risks—created with the most advanced technology. The director spoke with reporter Lorenza Muñoz.

How has technology evolved since your first foray into film?
Terminator was my first real film, and you can directly contrast 1984 to 2010. No single technique we used then was used today. We shot Terminator on film, and we don’t shoot on film today. All of the visual effects are digital now. Back then we used glass paintings, foreground miniatures and stop-motion animation. We thought we were being tremendously innovative—and we were. The technology has changed but the basics of the job haven’t. It is still about storytelling, about juxtaposing images, about creating a feeling with images and music. Only the technical details have changed.

How do you see technology changing for the Avatar sequel?
We always planned to make this as a series of two or three movies. The appeal of going into the second film is that we can continue with the system we created. Now we will just speed it up, refine and make it more intuitive for the artists working on the film. The next movies will be more about details but not fundamentally different.

In 40 years, will people see movies in theaters, or will everyone be watching from home on computers with 3-D capacity?
I think there will be movie thea­ters in 1,000 years. People want the group experience, the sense of going out and participating in a film together. People have been predicting the demise of movie theaters since I started in the business.
Why doesn’t the Avatar DVD have 3-D?
We have to wait until the technology is available in every home. I think it will be standard in 4 years, not 40. We will have a glasses-free technology in five years at home and three years for laptops. The limiting factor is going to be content. You can’t rely on a few films a year for this. It is going to have to be 3-D broadcast sports, scripted television, non-scripted television and reality television.

Will Hollywood still be the filmmaking capital of the world in 40 years?
It will always be a filmmaking center. Filmmakers from China and Japan and Germany come to Hollywood to have meetings with studio executives and to get money for their movies. It is a central switching station for global entertainment. Hollywood is also the place for filmmakers who want to make movies for a global market. China and Russia make films for their own markets, but I don’t see the likelihood of those places replacing Hollywood. India has a huge film industry that supplies hundreds of films a year, but it is very much about that market.

Will you be making movies in 40 years?
If I’m alive. I will be 96, so I will be making films very, very slowly.