Despite the fanfare surrounding the unveiling of their new films "Avatar" and "District 9" at Comic-Con this past week, James Cameron and Peter Jackson say they’re saddened by the current state of the film industry.
"I think at the moment it’s a strange time to be a filmmaker, because there’s a sense of depression in the industry," Jackson said in a panel Friday evening in Hall H, where he was joined by Cameron to talk about their work as filmmakers.
"Studios feel DVDs are down and piracy is up, and the entire industry is being as defensive as they possibly can, which leads to movies not being as exciting as they possibly can be."
"We have all these really big franchises that are these cash machines and studios feel they have to play this conservative game," Cameron said. "Movies get paid for by DVDs as well, and we may be at a point right now where the movies you and I like to make aren’t possible. In years to come, they’ll have to be lesser in terms of scope, which doesn’t rule out films like ‘Twilight,’ but epic pictures may not be possible to make unless we can figure out how we can make CG for a lot cheaper."
Jackson, whose plan to develop a film based on the "Halo" game franchise recently fell through the cracks, said he believes young people are more interested in playing video games than going to the movies.
"When I was 14, I knew when movies were coming out and when to expect them, and now my son is doing the same thing with video games," he said. "Certainly, the entertainment options for young people are a lot broader and I think there’s always an audience for film. But now the quality of film is slightly down, and we need to remember how to be original again so there can be more risk taking and it’ll surge back up again."
That being said, the filmmaker says there’s one aspect of the digital generation he can’t understand: why teens would opt to watch his films on MP3 players or laptops.
"If that’s how they want to experience it, there’s nothing you can do to influence that," he said. "It’s a choice. Like when you go to Paris, and as a souvenir you get a crappy little postcard. … The iPod is the postcard of the film experience."
Cameron devoted much time to talking about belief in the future of 3D technology, and said he plans to convert "Titanic" into 3D, but expects that process will take a year to 18 months to complete.
"It’s something that’s very timely, and we need it now to create theatricality and showmanship," he said, adding that he doesn’t believe "feelies" or "smell-o-vision" will ever take off. He does think there’s potential in speeding up the frame rate that images are played back on screen from 24 frames per second to 48.
Jackson hopes to make the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy 3D, but says those designs are being hindered by Warner Brothers, who now controls the rights to the films.
"They feel there’s not enough 3D cinemas, but there will be in two years when it’s finished because we’ve got three two-hour movies to convert," he said.
Cameron says it will take films like Jackson’s being released in 3D to send a signal to consumer electronics manufacturers to start making more home entertainment systems for the technology. That way, he said, "studios don’t have to worry about theatrical revenue for conversion and can think about home revenue as well."
"It’s a self-propelling loop, and fortune favors the bold. And Warner Brothers needs to show a pair of balls," Cameron stated bluntly.
He raved as well about the advancements in performance capture technology, which he used in his upcoming sci-fi film "Avatar." The technology allows computers to capture 100 percent of the physical performances of actors, and animators later draw in the world of the animated film around the characters. For example, Cameron said, Will Smith could make a movie when he’s 75, but could appear on screen as looks at his current age if he chose to.
"It doesn’t replace the actors, it empowers them," Cameron said. "After years of putting rubber makeup on people’s face, this gives you a much purer performance because every nuance and moment of their creation on set is preserved."
Looking ahead, Jackson said he’s busy at work with Steven Spielberg developing the "TinTin" films.
"We are taking on the challenge of taking these designs with a wonderfully distinctive style and turning that into a 3D world … we are making them organic, and giving them a sense of proportion."
As for his future, Cameron want to stick to big-budget flicks with the latest technology over small passion projects, like "District 9" was for Jackson.
"I understand the attraction to it … but I got my yayas out by doing documentaries," he said. "There’s a zone between what’s been done and what’s impossible now but will be possible in a year. And that’s where I want to be, because that’s what no one has done before."