To celebrate the Titanic Live event in California on June 22, 2019, we are publishing excerpts from an unpublished interview newly translated into English with James Cameron, originally published in 2005 in the French magazine Cinéfonia.
The rest of the interview will be published in a project of which we will reveal some details soon.
April 1986 – London
It has been four weeks since James Horner waited for a first edit of the Aliens film directed by James Cameron. When the first assembly was provided, instead of the six weeks originally planned for writing to the images, there were only two weeks left. James Horner was then confronted with one of the most painful challenges of his young career: composing 97 minutes in a fortnight, so that, once the recording sessions began, he would be confronted with incessant changes in editing.
“They didn’t know what they were asking, how inhuman and how difficult it was. I ended up writing the cue as best I could, and then two days before, a day before, I was supposed to record the music. Massive changes. They had changed the whole sequence around. And I was up for, you know, thirty-six hours, making sense, retiming, rewriting like crazy, like crazy, like crazy.”
Driven by shortened deadlines and printing requirements to ensure that scores were available in large numbers at the time of recording, limited by the obsoleteness of the Abbey Road Studio 1 equipment, and at the end of his nerves in the face of the constant dissatisfaction of Cameron and his producer, each time turning down his new proposals, Horner had to admit that he could not meet 100% of their expectations and the tone went up.
James Cameron explains:
“James wanted time I could not give to him. The production was just too demanding and I had the money guys breathing down my neck. It all ended with a kind of confrontation that was inevitable, come to think of it. Nevertheless, the weeks in London with James Horner and all my staff yielded a fantastic score. James was not happy with it, but it was essential to the movie. It was 80% of what I had dreamed about and I had to come up with the missing 20% by cheating and by manipulating everything I had available, including Jerry Goldsmith's original score. Obviously, James was outraged : he knew exactly what he could have brought to the film, and so did I. You know by now that the circumstances were not conducive to us coming up with the best possible score and we were forced to deal with the situation.”
Following this nightmare experience, James Horner promised himself that he would no longer work with the director. So when the latter wanted to contact him for The Abyss, three years later, he obtained a categorical refusal.
James Cameron remembers:
“He got angry and so did I, but we never had anything but great respect for one another and moreover, I think our "divorce" was blown out of proportions, as it was only due to a specific context. But we are both stubborn and proud, so it took a little longer than expected for us to be reconciled. I tried to find a new way of working with James for The Abyss but it didn’t pan out. He had put me on his red list and I did not manage to get out of the doghouse. We missed a second collaboration that could have allowed us to wipe the slate clean and express ourselves in our respective fields, each doing what we love. You see, I'm almost more disappointed by not having had the opportunity to do The Abyss with James than by everything that happened on Aliens.”
But ten years after the painful memory of Aliens, the two men managed to get closer.
James Cameron confides:
“I never lost track of James Horner and his career. The craziest things have been written about what I wanted musically for Titanic, some people even suggested that my first choice was John Williams. It’s true that over the years Michael Gorfaine has often suggested the great John Williams, but ever since Apollo 13, I knew James Horner was the right guy for me. I admire John Williams but his style would have been at odds with my musical vision of Titanic and I do not think that we would have come up with the best score for the film.
I have always been impressed by Enya's vocal colors. I think she was able to inject a tone into her albums that in the world of film music was only reflected by some of James's scores like Legends of the Fall or Apollo 13. I wanted a blend of those two scores for Titanic, vocal material, lots of emotion, violence and lyricism. As Titanic began to take shape, I let James Horner know I was interested in hiring him. Through Michael Gorfaine, I expressed my admiration for the two aforementioned scores, but also for Casper, Braveheart and many others. In 1996, I sent him the Titanic script and asked to see him. I also hired Randy Gerston to take care of the source music in Titanic and he was a spokesperson, a spy, a mole, anything you can imagine … in order to win James over. Randy worked hard to bring James on board and in the end, he agreed to meet me.”
Finally, the reunion between the composer and the director took place:
“We saw each other at Sony Classical and we gave one another a few words of praise before we sat down. I came right out and said: "Apollo 13 and Legends of the Fall are the best two scores of the last fifteen years and I want them to inspire you for Titanic.” Then we went back to Aliens and we ironed everything out. We did not try to settle scores but rather tried to explain to one another why we had been at loggerheads on that particular project. James explained to me how he sees his music, in terms of painting and colors, both in the context of a film but also on a more general level. To him, every new score is part of a vast symphony. He wants to get the structure and the coloring just right, while still tailoring every individual score to the needs of its particular movie. It’s an approach I find enormously appealing because it is precisely this musical intellectualism, this urge to create a tapestry that goes way beyond individual projects, which makes James Horner is one of the greatest composer in the world, period.
James was very eager to work on the film and it took me only a few minutes to understand that. I gave him very precise notes about the music for each of the key scenes by referring to previous scores of his : the use of the voices, electronics … and over the course of just two hours, we had covered all of Titanic without any disagreement whatsoever. James was growing more and more confident : he let me listen to stuff of his to back up what he wanted to write and in doing so, he guessed exactly what I was after. There were none of the misunderstandings we had had on Aliens, nor any last-minute changes. In the end, I asked him, "You seem to know exactly what I want, so do you want to go ahead and compose the score?" And he said to me: "You jump, I jump, I want to see you build this film, tear it down and rebuild it.” To which I replied: " You jump, I jump, I want to see you build this score, tear it down and rebuild it." And we shook hands.”
The rest is history….
The Final Countdown [documentary extra, DVD] Prod. 20th Century Fox, USA, 2003 [ITV DVD, B00012FXAE, 2004]
Didier Leprêtre, “De Aliens à Titanic, plongée dans les abysses”, Cinféonia Magazine, n°16, December 2005, 44
New West Symphony will perform Titanic Live at California Lutheran University on June 22nd. https://newwestsymphony.org/home/titanic-live/
Courtesy of New West Symphony Orchestra Presented by New West Symphony Association in partnership with CSUN/The Soraya and California Lutheran University.
TITANIC Live is an Avex Classics International Production