How James Cameron Dreamed Up The Terminator

Not many Hollywood directors could follow both George Lucas and Steven Spielberg… but not many Hollywood directors are James Cameron.

Cameron, who had the highest-grossing film of all time twice in a row with Titanic and Avatar, is the subject of the second season of the podcast series Blockbuster. Created by Emmy winner Matt Schrader, Blockbuster is a docu-narrative podcast that combines detailed research with professional acting to create an audio recreation of film history. The first season followed the meteoric rise of Lucas and Spielberg. Season two, which just debuted, is doing that with Cameron.

If you want to hear more, head to Apple Podcasts, GetBlockbuster.com, or where ever you listen to podcasts.

 

Germain Lussier, Gizmodo: How did you settle on James Cameron for the second season of Blockbuster?

Matt Schrader: This season begins in the same place and time as season one ended: the Chinese Theatre in Hollywood in May 1977. At the time, James was a college dropout and a truck driver, but wanted to see this campy science-fiction film playing in other a few theatres, so he drove up from the nearby town of Brea. When the movie ended, he knew his fantasies about making his own science-fiction movies were now possible, because this “George Lucas” guy had just overcome the impossible.

So in a remarkable way, Lucas’ creativity becomes contagious and inspires someone who will eventually top Star Wars at the box office two decades later on an even more chaotic film: Titanic. It seemed a fitting start to “The Story of James Cameron.”

Even more interesting to us: James Cameron’s incredible struggle is not very well known, so it was a fascinating dive. We found his ambition to be so unstoppable and inspiring as he’s beginning to find small successes. (It even inspired us to push the boundaries more about what our “biopic podcast” could become.) James fights for big ideas that are revolutionary — even when other people can’t see the vision behind them.

Gizmodo: What was it about James Cameron that made him a good topic versus others you may have considered?

Schrader: James’ story is the greatest tale of rugged perseverance in Hollywood that I’ve ever come across. We related so strongly to the battles he fights to try to establish himself and his career, especially as an outsider in Hollywood.

As a storyteller myself, I was unprepared for how dire things got for James at times. Most filmmakers never would have made it, but something in James propels him forward after each failure. It became the story of a truly exceptional person who doesn’t know it yet. Only through his many struggles does his brilliance begin to shine.

This is a deeply powerful story to any creative person, and proof that sometimes art really can change the world.

Gizmodo: Was this season easier to put together after the success of the first season?

Schrader: It was actually much more difficult! We were initially encouraged and thought it might be a little easier after Blockbuster earned several awards for season one (Adweek’s Creative Podcast of the Year, and Best Mini Series honours from the 2020 Webby Awards and NYF Radio Awards). Our team worked so hard for this new model of biopic podcast (“biopod”) last year, and it was well-deserved recognition for them, but… then we made season two twice as long, with a lot more bonus episodes with the real people featured in the story.

So I’d actually say we channeled a bit of the James Cameron spirit. Instead of following our own prior success, we really pushed hard to advance every creative aspect of what we were doing. We really bought into the idea of creating the richest and deepest story ever told in a podcast.

Gizmodo: How much time was spent researching and writing?

Schrader: Researching alone took months! I actually documented a part of that process to include as “bonus interviews” with some of the real-life people in the story, which was crucial to understanding James Cameron’s motivations and passions through his early career. It was amazing to sit across from people like legendary producer Roger Corman, who first hired James to work as a model builder for some of his B-movies. He told me about how James was unlike anyone else he’d ever hired — and he’d already launched careers of Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese.

In addition to those original interviews, we also wanted to weave in hundreds of other archival interviews and other sources to reconstruct historical moments with as much depth as possible, as if we were really there. We researched this as if it was going to be a major motion picture, and wanted to stay true to the James Cameron spirit we found so inspirational.

Gizmodo: What makes this season bigger and better?

Schrader: We’ve ramped up every aspect of this season with some incredible partners at podcast network Cadence13. This season stars Ross Marquand (Aaron from The Walking Dead; Red Skull from Avengers: Endgame) as James Cameron, and even I melted into some of his performances when we were in production. We also had about 75 other characters across the 10 episodes, so we worked with casting director Johnny Gidcomb (who’s worked on over a dozen Marvel films) to find the right cast.

Peter Bawiec’s sound design goes into incredible new territory — especially in building abstract but vivid nightmares James has during his career struggles. We got to create scenes that were far more creative than we thought “real life” has any business being.

Maybe my favourite part of this season is the original score by Fernando Arroyo Lascurain. Together we plotted out over two and a half hours of original music — both orchestral and electronic — which gave us the ability to tell parts of the story that words cannot. I can say with confidence Fernando pioneered a new style of “scoring” never done before on a podcast. Even in our review sessions, the music left me with goosebumps! We’ll be releasing the “Original Podcast Score” soon as well, which will be another first!

Gizmodo: Can you tease a few of your favourite moments/discoveries people can look forward to?

Schrader: Without any spoilers I can say this: We tried to create iconic moments in all 10 episodes, starting with James’ dive to Titanic at the start of the season, and then as he discovers his talents. In episode three (out today) we get to experience James at his lowest, and the terrifying nightmare that comes from it, which inspires his breakout film The Terminator.

Over the next few episodes, we get to meet young Arnold Schwarzenegger and hear James fight for a female action star in Sigourney Weaver on Aliens — a movie where not even the film crew seems to respect him. Of course, this all leads into James trying to prove himself, ending up at the bottom of the ocean, and then taking on more pressure than any filmmaker in history as the budget for Titanic reaches historic proportions — and endangers the future of two major Hollywood studios.

In the end, this is a story about the shaping of a truly remarkable person — one of the world’s true geniuses, as it turns out — and how it all began from a spark of creativity.

Blockbuster season two is now available on Apple Podcasts as well as GetBlockbuster.com.