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 "Titanic Anecdotes" by Stephen Schochet 
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Post "Titanic Anecdotes" by Stephen Schochet
Title: Titanic Anecdotes

Author: Stephen Schochet


Studio executives in High Concept Hollywood have very short
attention spans. When pitching a film idea, many believe if you
can't do it in one sentence it is an unmarketable product. For
example Planet Of the Apes (1968) starring Charlton Heston was
pitched by producer Arthur Jacobs as "Moses Talks To Monkeys".
Passenger 57( 1992) with Wesley Snipes was known as "Diehard On
a Plane." Director James Cameron, despite a strong track record
with films like Aliens (1986) and True Lies (1994) knew he would
have a tough selling job after he went deep sea diving with Dr.
Robert Ballard to glimpse the remains of the RMS Titanic. He
became so emotionally involved by the experience that the
sinking of the famous luxury liner in 1912 had to be the subject
of his next picture. His pitch to the nervous executives at
Twentieth Century Fox was," Romeo and Juliet on a doomed ship."
There was a tense pause and Cameron said," Also fellas it's a
period piece, it's going to cost $150,000,000 and there's not
going to be a sequel." Fox, a studio which had known great
success with both The Love Boat (1977-1986) TV show and The
Poseidon Adventure (1972) was dubious about the idea's
commercial prospects. But wanting a long term relationship with
Cameron they gave him a green light.

Previous movie versions of the Titanic had focused on the
historical aspects of the ship hitting the iceberg, so Cameron
decided to play up the fictional love story. After Gywneth
Paltrow turned down the female lead, Kate Winslet campaigned for
it heavily by sending Cameron daily notes from England stating,
"I'm your Rose." Her persistence led Cameron to invite her to
Hollywood for auditions. One of her screen test partners
Leonardo DiCaprio, impressed her so much she whispered to
Cameron," He's great. Even if you don't pick me, pick him."
Cameron picked them both, but Leonardo was harder to convince.
Playing a romantic lead in a blockbuster just didn't seem cool.
Cameron told him," I know what you want. You want to play him
with a deformity or a limp. Well, it's lot harder playing a nice
guy like Jimmy Stewart then one of those freaky, weirdo
characters." Freaks and weird character portrayals often take
home Oscars, but DiCaprio agreed to play the part.

For a major Hollywood production the star salaries were
relatively low, DiCaprio made the most at $2,500,000. The
biggest expense of the film was building the ship, it required
the construction of a entirely new studio in Rosarito Beach.
Cameron's attention to historical detail was evident down to the
carpets, the grand staircase, the Picasso paintings and the 1911
touring car that Jack and Rose made love in. But other aspects
of the film were less accurate. There was no evidence that on
the real life Titanic people in third class were blocked from
reaching the upper decks and the lifeboats, the emphasis was on
rescuing the women and children, the richest man on board the
ship actually died. In the film, First Officer William Murdoch
was portrayed as a coward who shot passengers, in real life he
was a hero which caused James Cameron to apologize to his
surviving relatives. And Leonardo's character Jack was based on
an unattractive coal miner, who never left the bottom decks, let
alone met someone like Rose.

Cameron, temperamental in the best of times, was surviving on
three hours sleep and saved most of his screaming for the film
crew. His philosphy was you couldn't get great perfomances out
of the actors by yelling. In one scene, Winslet and DiCaprio
were running away from a huge wave on one of the decks and the
actress was submerged and nearly drowned. Moments after she was
rescued Cameron calmly said," OK. Let's do it again."

As the costs began to mount along with the stories of the
director's slow pace and temper tantrums, the Fox executives
began to freak out. They suggested an hour of specific cuts from
the three hour film. They argued the extended length would mean
less showings thus less money. But long epics are more likely to
help directors bring home Oscars, and Cameron was more defiant
than DiCaprio. "You want to cut my movie? You're going to have
to fire me!" You want to fire me? You're going to have to kill
me!" The executives, knowing that starting from scratch meant
their entire investment would be gone, did neither. They also
rejected Cameron's offer of forfeiting his share of the profits
as an empty gesture; they were sure there wouldn't be any.

With more special effects being added Titanics's release date
was moved back from summer to Christmas 1997. At one point
Cameron visited the Twentieth Century Fox studio headquarters to
request permission to shoot additional footage and ran smack dab
into company chairman Rupert Murdoch (no relation to William) in
the hallway. After months of fiercely ordering people about, the
self proclaimed "King of the World" could not look his real boss
in the eye. "Uh hi. Uh I know I'm not your favorite person
spending all your money. But I guarantee you the movie will be
good." Murdoch, with a glint of steel in voice, replied. "Young
man, it had be better be better than good!"

Thanks largely to repeated viewings from young girls, the film
made more money than any other picture in history. It tied Ben
Hur (1959) for the most Oscars (11) although it was not even
nominated for Best Original Screenplay. The Fox Executives were
more relieved than euphoric and promised no more $200,000,000
movies, they felt like they had dodged a bullet. DiCaprio who
infuriated the studio by refusing to promote the film and show
up at the Academy Awards, became a $10,000,000 per picture star,
was chased down streets by adoring young females, and later
called the whole Titanic craze," kind of an empty experience".
Winslet, who at one point during the shoot woke up and said,
"God I wish I was dead", moved back happily into smaller
independent films. Cameron got his original profit share and
continued to lose his temper, suggesting a film critic who
panned Titanic be impeached. He reflected later that movie
prices had to be raised to fifteen dollars to pay for overblown
budgets. "People would be mad for six months and then they would
come back. Of course I wouldn't want one of my movies coming out
during those six months."

About the author:
Stephen Schochet is the author and narrator of the audiobooks
"Fascinating Walt Disney" and "Tales Of Hollywood". The Saint
Louis Post Dispatch says," these two elaborate productions are
exceptionally entertaining." Hear realaudio samples of these
great, unique gifts at

This article was re-posted by permission.

Tue Jul 10, 2007 5:24 pm
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