James Cameron Talks About Those 'Avatar' Sequels, Which Are Surely, Definitely Going To Get Made

Last week, James Cameron announced that he was going to be making four Avatar sequels instead of five and you could hear everyone on the internet collectively roll their eyes. Not because everyone dislikes Avatar (I think the 2009 original is still a fine movie), but because Avatar 2 was originally supposed to come out in 2014 and be the next chapter in a trilogy. And then the pattern began: every few years, Avatar 2 gets delayed by another year or two and Cameron adds another planned film to the series. Only a fool would bet against someone as successful and wily as Mr. Cameron, but it's been patently ridiculous to watch from afar as 2014 became 2018 and three films became five.

But maybe (maaaybe) he's not jerking everyone's chain this time around? After all, this announcement came with much fanfare and now he's actually following up said announcement with additional press and interviews about the next movies. And since this is James Cameron, the lunatic/genius behind The Terminator, Aliens, and Titanic, he's never not interesting.

Famous Monsters of Filmland sat down with Cameron for a retrospective on Aliens (which will be the cover story of their June issue), but the Oscar-winning director took the interview down a few avenues into Avatar-land. For example, he explained how all four sequels won't be filmed back-to-back, but simultaneously:

It's not back-to-back. It's really all one big production. It's more the way you would shoot a miniseries. So we'll be shooting across all [Avatar scripts] simultaneously. So Monday I might be doing a scene from Movie Four, and Tuesday I'm doing a scene from Movie One. ... We're working across, essentially, eight hours of story. It's going to be a big challenge to keep it all fixed in our minds, exactly where we are, across that story arc at any given point. It's going to be probably the most challenging thing I've ever done. I'm sure the actors will be challenged by that as well. It's like, 'No, no, no, no, this person hasn't died yet, so you're still in this phase of your life.' It's a saga. It's like doing all three Godfather films at the same time.

While the Avatar sequels will once again be largely built in a computer and most of the cast will be created through motion-capture performances, Cameron expressed a desire to use more real-world references and photography in his process:

If I could do the Alien Queen today with the techniques we used on Avatar, she'd be spectacular. She'd be much more dynamic. Now, where I would struggle is to make her as texturally real. But that's all doable now. ... On the new Avatar films, I'm actually going to shoot more real-world stuff. It may only be there as an example from which we then generate CG, or we may actually integrate some of those photographic elements. But I want more photography. ... Like, if I was doing the Alien Queen, I would want photography to show the exact way that the slime drools off the curl of a lip and caught the light in a certain type of very low-key lighting. I would want to see that so that I can talk to the CG artist and say, 'All right. Do that.' ... It always usually boils down to the lighting and the conception of the shot.

When it became clear that Avatar 2 wasn't going to hit its originally scheduled December 2017 release date, Star Wars: Episode 8 quickly took advantage of the situation and moved in. Cameron is well-aware that going up against a Star Wars movie is box office suicide, so he built his new release schedule around Lucasfilm's slate:

My original plan was to release them a year apart, but we're opening that up. If for no other reason than that I don't want to land on the same date as one of the Star Wars sequels. That wouldn't be fair to them. [Laughs.] No, that's just good business. I don't want to go head-to-head with Star Wars. That would be stupid. And hopefully they won't want to go head to head with us.

Avatar 2 will open around Christmas 2018, with Avatar 3 following in in 2020, Avatar 4 in 2022, and Avatar 5 in 2023. The full interview with Cameron will be available on June 7.