James Cameron is a director who knows how to do sequels right. Cameron has directed some of the best sequels ever made, sequels that many would say surpassed the original film, like 1986’s Aliens and 1991’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Cameron is back with a sequel for the first time in thirty-one years with Avatar: The Way of Water, the sequel to his 2009 blockbuster, Avatar. But The Way of Water is just the beginning of Cameron’s planned sequels, with a third film coming in 2024, followed by a fourth in 2026.
Collider’s Perri Nemiroff recently spoke with Cameron about his writing process, having all the screenplays for the future films written before going into production on The Way of Water, and how the fourth Avatar might be the most bonkers film in the series. Cameron said of his plan to write all the films before starting production on The Way of Water:
“My model was what Peter Jackson did with The Lord of the Rings, which was a crazy bet in its time. And really hats off to that, that they took that chance to launch on all three of those films. But he had the books mapped out, so he could always show the actors what they needed to know about their character arc. So I felt I had to do the same thing. I had to play this as if the books already existed. So the only way for us to do that was to write all the scripts and let the actors read all the scripts and see where their characters were going and what it all meant. Not that that’s actable in the moment, but I think it’s something that the actors could work into their preparation for their characters.”
The Way of Water’s screenplay is written by Cameron, Rick Jaffa, and Amanda Silver, who also wrote Jurassic World, the recent Planet of the Apes trilogy, and the upcoming Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes. Cameron, Jaffa, and Silver all have story credits as well, alongside Josh Friedman (2005’s War of the Worlds) and Shane Salerno (2012’s Savages). And like Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings films, the Avatar sequels were also filmed in New Zealand.
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Cameron also talked about the difficulties of filming multiple sequels at the same time:
“So they knew, ‘Okay, we’re going to come in and film this in bite-size chunks, not necessarily in sequence. We’re going to be shooting parts of 2, parts of 3, parts of 4 on any given day.’ That’s a challenge, but it’s no different a challenge than, let’s say, if you’re working on a limited series, and you’ve got a home set that’s going to be seen across six hours. It’s no different. I’m not saying there’s anything unique about this, but I felt that it was the right way to approach it with the actors. And also to let them see where it’s all going, so they’re properly motivated and enthused. Because the story’s a corker. By the time we get down to 4 and 5, if we’re so lucky, knock wood, to get that far, which is obviously driven by market forces, we have to be successful.”
This cast certainly knows what to expect with the gargantuan ambition of Cameron. Not only does The Way of Water features Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldaña, Sigourney Weaver, Joel David Moore, CCH Pounder, and Dileep Rao from the original film, and also reunites Cameron with his Titanic star Kate Winslet. Cameron discussed what it is about Avatar 4 that makes it a “corker”:
“I can’t tell you the details, but all I can say is that when I turned in the script for 2, the studio gave me three pages of notes. And when I turned in the script for 3, they gave me a page of notes, so I was getting better. When I turned in the script for 4, the studio executive, creative executive over the films wrote me an email that said, ‘Holy fuck.’ And I said, ‘Well, where are the notes?’ And she said, ‘Those are the notes.’ Because it kind of goes nuts in a good way, right?”
Cameron also said of Avatar 4 that “you think you know what it’s about, and then, oh no, you don’t,” and that “I hope I get to make that film, is what I’m saying.” If Cameron’s other successes are any indication, there shouldn’t be any issue with the people wanting more of what Cameron is making, so hopefully, we’ll get to see this apparently wild fourth installment.
Avatar: The Way of Water comes to theaters on December 16. Watch the most recent trailer below and stay tuned for our full interview later this week: