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James Cameron reveals massive yet small Titanic secret, 26 years later

We hadn't thought of this cheat.

Titanic (1997) - exterior set
Image credit: 20th Century Studios

If you thought you knew everything about the massive and troubled production of James Cameron's Titanic, you might want to think again.

To celebrate the domestic release of the 4K remaster of the epic 1997 disaster romance, writer-director James Cameron and producer Jon Landau have taken a break from work on Avatar 3 to promote the long-anticipated new release of the fourth highest-grossing movie of all time. While speaking to LA Times' Jen Yamato, the filmmaker and producer revealed some secrets of the complicated production and tricks that helped them make the most out of the money they were given. At the time, Titanic was the most expensive film ever made ($200 million) due to the huge and unprecedented physical scale of the sets plus sequences that required complex engineering and long prep times. Cameron said: "We never panicked... The studio panicked. It’s our job not to panic."

He now laughs about the production's toughest moments, but we've known for years about his frequent clashes with studio executives during that project. Later, the same thing happened with Avatar, so he had to use his 'Avatar clout' to make the movie he wanted to make. After the stunning worldwide success of both Titanic and Avatar, now joined by Avatar: The Way of Water, the filmmaker has made three out of the five highest-grossing movies of all time, so we're pretty sure he's getting no notes and only blank checks from here on out. Back when he was making Titanic, however, he wasn't as fully confident: "The scale of everything was beyond anything we could imagine in terms of our prior experience. At the time we thought, wow, there’s no way this movie could ever make its money back. It’s just impossible. Well, guess what?"

Perhaps the most interesting bit of the conversation came where he revealed some of the 'cheats' they used to save some money, like scrapping an entire set "canted at a three-degree angle," instead simply going from the pre-iceberg ship to the six-degrees set which simulated the sinking of the ship. But even more shocking is the reveal that they only cast short extras to make the set look bigger: "Anybody above 5’8”, we didn’t cast them. It’s like we got an extra million dollars of value out of casting." This is like the opposite of what Peter Jackson and his crew did with several Lord of the Rings sets that were meant to be inhabited by dwarves and hobbits, and we wouldn't have noticed it without coming across these new tidbits. Of course, this trick is the tip of the iceberg of special effects (both practical and digital) the team pulled off to make Titanic feel like the biggest movie of all time when it opened, and the most diehard fans will be able to learn all about them among the 5 hours of bonus material included in the 4K release released on December 5.


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