It’s been known for some time now that director James Cameron plans to shoot three sequels to his 2009 hit Avatar back-to-back-to-back, but he’s never opened up about how he has managed to handle writing all three movies at the same time, until now. We know that last year Cameron assembled a team of writers to help him pen the screenplays, including Josh Friedman (War of the Worlds), Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver (Rise of the Planets of the Apes), and Shane Salerno (Savages, Salinger), and speaking this weekend at the Hero Complex Film Festival (via /Film), Cameron opened up about the writing process on these highly-anticipated sequels.
“We tried an experiment. We set ourselves a challenge of writing three films at the same time. And 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, fun experience.’
“So we put together three teams, one for each script. The teams consist of me and another writer on each one of the three [films]. So I’m across all the films and then each one of them would have their own individual script they were responsible for. But what we did that was unique was we sat in the 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, sort of, three film saga. And I didn’t tell them which one was going to be their’s individually to write until the last day. So everyone was equally invested, story wise, in all three films.’
“So, for example, the guy that got movie three, which is middle one of this new trilogy, he now knows exactly 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. I don’t know if that necessarily yields great scripts but it certainly worked for us as a process to get our minds around this kind of epic with all these new creatures, environments and characters and all that.’
“Cause the first thing I did was sat for a year and wrote 1500 pages of notes of the world and the cultures and the different clans and different animals and different biomes and so on. And had a lot of loose thematic stuff that ran through that but I didn’t a concrete story. I wanted to approach it more like, “Guys we’re going to adapt a novel or series of novels.” Because I felt that kind of detail, even if movies can’t ever be that detailed – it can be visually detailed, it can’t be that detailed in terms of character and culture. But you always get this tip of the iceberg kind of thing. You sense it’s there off camera or in the past of the moment that you’re seeing. So I felt that was the way to do it.”
Set to feature the return of cast members Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Stephen Lang and Sigourney Weaver, Avatar 2 is scheduled for a December 2016 release which will be followed by Avatar 3 in December of 2017 and Avatar 4 in 2018. The original film remains the top grossing movie of all time with $2.782 billion at the worldwide box office.