Between his voyages to the bottom of the sea and dominating the highest-grossing films of all time, it’s easy to forget that self-proclaimed King of the World James Cameron used to be a struggling filmmaker trying to find that special project that would break him through to Hollywood success. Just run down the resume. The Terminator movies. Aliens. The Abyss. Hell, I didn’t like Avatar but there’s no question it was an important and influential movie, for good or ill. But a few short decades ago, a young James Cameron was so determined to direct the first Terminator film, he sold his original screenplay to producer Gale Anne Hurd for one single dollar.
I ran across this little bit of science fiction history in a years-old IGN piece about the history of the Terminator franchise, and I’m kind of astonished that I’d never run across the story before now. When Cameron wrote the Terminator screenplay, things were rough. He was living out of his car and struggling to get by. Needless to say, he could have used the cash a screenplay sale would bring in. But Cameron apparently wasn’t going to be satisfied just with selling the script. He wanted to direct The Terminator as well. Giving the reins to an unproven director would have been a tough sale in the best of circumstances, but Cameron was willing to put his money where his mouth was. In exchange for the directing gig, he sold the script to Gale Anne Hurd for one lousy dollar. Four quarters, for a movie that went on to bring in around $80 million worldwide, and which launched Cameron’s career into the stratosphere.
It’s an object lesson in something you’ll hear a lot from successful creative types: if you truly want to make your dreams happen, you make them happen. You find a way, even if the way forward seems difficult or risky. Sometimes, you gamble. It seems like an obvious truism, but you know there are people out there who, in Cameron’s position, would have held out for a better deal, and thus possibly have doomed The Terminator, and the career that followed it, before it even had a chance.
The chance to be an indelible part of science fiction and movie history? You’ll forgive me for skipping franchises, but I’d buy that for a dollar.