James Cameron, Xenogenesis (1978) James Cameron was driving a truck before he made his first film, Xenogenesis in 1978. He felt inspired (and frustrated) after watching Star Wars, spent a lot of time reading and learning how to use camera equipment, and his experimental sci-fi short was born. He made the movie with friends, and it eventually helped him get a job with famed producer Roger Corman as an FX specialist. We think it’s safe to say the filmmaker has come a long way in that department given the job he did on the CG-heavy Avatar.
After seeing the original Star Wars film in 1977, Cameron quit his job as a truck driver to enter the film industry. When Cameron read Syd Field's book Screenplay, it occurred to him that integrating science and art was possible, and he wrote a ten-minute science fiction script with two friends, entitled Xenogenesis. They raised money and rented camera, lenses, film stock, and studio, and shot it in 35mm. To understand how to operate the camera, they dismantled it and spent the first half-day of the shoot trying to figure out how to get it running.
While continuing to educate himself in film-making techniques, Cameron started working as a miniature-model maker at Roger Corman Studios. Making rapidly produced, low-budget productions taught Cameron to work efficiently and effectively. He soon found employment as an art director in the sci-fi movie Battle Beyond the Stars (1980). He did special effects work design and direction on John Carpenter's Escape from New York (1981), acted as production designer on Galaxy of Terror (1981), and consulted on the design of Android (1982).
Cameron was hired as the special effects director for the sequel of Piranha, entitled Piranha II: The Spawning in 1981. The original director, Miller Drake, left the project due to creative differences with Ovidio Assonitis. Cameron was hired by Assonitis to take over, giving him his first directorial job. (He had worked previously with producer Roger Corman.) The interior scenes were filmed in Italy while the underwater diving sequences were shot at Grand Cayman Island.
The movie was to be produced in Jamaica. On location, production slowed down due to numerous problems and adverse weather conditions. James Cameron was fired after failing to get a close up of Carole Davis in her opening scene. Ovidio ordered Cameron to do the close-up the next day before he started on that day’s shooting. Cameron spent the entire day sailing around the resort to reproduce the lighting but still failed to get the close-up. After he was fired, Ovidio invited Cameron to stay on location and assist in the shooting. Once in Rome, Ovidio took over the editing when Cameron was stricken with food poisoning. Suffering from his illness, one night he had a nightmare about an invincible robot hitman sent from the future to kill him, giving him the idea for The Terminator, which would later catapult his filming career.
Main article: Aliens (film)
Cameron next began the sequel to Alien, the 1979 film by Ridley Scott. Cameron named the sequel Aliens, and again cast Sigourney Weaver in the iconic role of Ellen Ripley. According to Cameron, the crew on Aliens was hostile to him, regarding him as a poor substitute for Ridley Scott. Cameron sought to show them The Terminator but the majority of the crew refused to watch it and remained skeptical of his direction throughout production. Despite this and other off-screen problems (such as clashing with an uncooperative camera man and having to replace one of the lead actors – Michael Biehn of Terminator took James Remar's place as Corporal Hicks), Aliens became a box office success, and received Academy Award nominations forBest Actress in a Leading Role for Weaver, Best Art Direction, Best Film Editing, Best Original Score, Best Sound, and won awards for Best Sound Effects Editing and Best Visual Effects. In addition, the film and its lead actress made the cover of TIME magazine as a result of its numerous and extensive scenes of women in combat - these were almost without precedent and expressed the feminist theme of the film very strongly.