James Cameron's Temper Was On Full Display During The Filming Of Avatar

James Cameron is a notoriously temperamental genius. Some call him a perfectionist. Others prefer tyrant. The older, wiser, chiller Cameron would agree with the latter assessment.

The days of the overly rigorous demands that turned the making of "The Abyss" into a battleground between the director and his overwhelmed actors — e.g. when the camera ran out of film while shooting her emotionally supercharged resurrection, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio stormed off set shouting "We are not animals!" – appear to be long gone. Cameron recently went on record regretting his "tin-pot dictator" ways, which is reassuring because, no matter how much I love "The Abyss" (and I love "The Abyss"), you shouldn't have to nearly drown Ed Harris to make a great movie.

Clearly, Cameron has mellowed out over the last decade, but when he shot the cinematic game changer "Avatar" back in the late 2000s, that infamous ire surfaced in amusingly innocuous ways. According to his star, Sam Worthington, he directed a certain fury toward folks who forgot to silence their phones.

The set of Avatar was where iPhones went to die

In a wide-ranging profile with The Independent, Cameron addressed Worthington's charge with surprising good humor. "Would I nail a cellphone to the wall with a nailgun? Absolutely, if it went off in the middle of a take." This is a considerable distance from nearly drowning Ed Harris. Actually, it's not even bad behavior. It's the kind of punishment we'd all like to mete out to oblivious moviegoers who ruin an emotionally piercing scene by whipping out their iPhone to record said moment. I am steadfastly Team Cameron on this subject. Still, mindful of his rep, he clarifies that he didn't destroy the phones out of anger. "I would do it in a calculated theatrical way. But when the story gets told later it sounds like somebody who's constantly off at the deep end."

I have a (probably cockamamie theory) that Cameron's great mellowing began when he and many crew members were served PCP-laced chowder of disputed origin on the set of "Titanic" (Cameron claimed it was mussel; the late, very great Bill Paxton said clam; the Halifax Police Department concluded lobster). Regardless, the set went mad. People leapt out of their cubicles. There was a conga line. Cameron was stabbed in the face with a pen, and laughed about it. This is not the reaction of the exacting madman who nearly drowned Ed Harris. This is mirthful.

A civilized, rule-obeying James Cameron

Cameron retreated into the deep blue briny after this. He sought wonderment at the floor of the ocean, and only returned to filmmaking when he could shoot on a performance-capture soundstage where every eventuality was pre-visualized. You could not drown Ed Harris in such an environment.

Cameron is chastened. He is content. Technological advancements (many of which he helped to spearhead in tandem with effects legend Dennis Muren) now exist for him to make movies his way on his own meticulously designed highway. But I'll be honest: I miss his damn-the-safety-of-my-collaborators approach to filmmaking, as troubling as it is. You can't fly a real helicopter under a real overpass anymore. You can't nearly drown Ed Harris anymore. And I can be glib about this because Ed Harris made amends with Cameron. Otherwise, Ed Harris might drown me.