Writing a movie is rather serious undertaking. Writing three movies at the same time is a hellacious task and just seems kind of mean to yourself. Lucky for us, James Cameron is just this kind of masochistic bastard and is working on three movies at once. Sure, he has help, but he’s in the process of cranking out screenplays for Avatar 2, 3, and 4.
These aren’t tiny movies either, if the 2009 original—the highest grossing movie of all time—is any indication, all three of these sequels are going to be monumental feats in their own right. And since he plans to shoot all three films back-to-back-to-back, the scripts need to be in workable order before production begins, and he’s hired a pool of writers to help him along the way.
Over the weekend Cameron made an appearance at the Hero Complex Film Festival in Los Angeles, and talked about the challenges he’s faced in this process. The director has scripted many of his own movies, and he likened the collaborative task to working with various writers on his short-lived, turn-of-the-millennium TV series Dark Angel, and called it a “fun experience.” He put together three teams—one to work on each film—that included himself and another writer. Basically, he teamed up with other writers and could pop in and out when he needed or had things to contribute. They all “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 there’s individually to write until the last day. So everyone was equally invested, story wise, in all three films.”
He calls the process “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.”
Don’t for a second think that Cameron just sat back, letting other people do the work and taking the credit. That’s apparently not how he rolls. He came super prepared, showing up with more than 1500 pages worth of notes covering everything from the various clans and cultures on the planet of Pandora, to the plants and animals and more.
Even if specific details and information doesn’t find its way into the finished films, this is the kind of character work and world building that really sells what you’re trying to construct. In creative writing, you generally want to know everything about the people and places you put on paper, whether the information is there in black and white or not. As Cameron says, “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.”
Much of the key cast is already in place, and Avatar 2 is scheduled for release in December of 2016, with the Avatar 3 and Avatar 4 following in 2017 and 2018.