Titanic: A Frugal Director’s Lament

Jim Cameron's Titanic budget woes got real over DIY Big Macs at McDonald's. Hollywood's new 'budget renegade' laments his thrifty ways, blaming Canadian roots for his cinematic penny-pinching. He's dreaming of a second chance to splash the cash in Tinseltown, but wonders if his frugal past is his undoing.

Back in 1998, I grabbed lunch with Jim Cameron, the illustrious director of “Titanic.”

The sun was shining, but Jim looked as if he’d been through a perfect storm. Over burgers at McDonald’s, he confided his woes.

“The ‘Titanic’ budget’s haunting me,” he lamented. Directing, producing, and writing? A Herculean task, but Jim had regrets. “I’m Hollywood’s new pariah,” he groaned. “They’re branding me a budgetary renegade!”

A McDonald’s employee, bright-eyed with femminism, recognized Jim. “Aren’t you the guy the studios are miffed at? Financially clueless?” she quizzed, eyeing his pockets. She searched him before he could blink. 

She fished out a secret flask and an extra bun from his pockets.

“Busted! He’s making DIY Big Macs,” she declared.

Only the manager, a “Titanic” superfan, saved the day, sending her back to the fryer.

Outside, Jim’s despair poured out. “I’m thrifty to a fault,” he admitted, blaming his Canadian roots for his penny-pinching ways.

“Titanic’ could’ve been monumental, but I skimped everywhere!” A sip from his flask, a shake of his head. “Titianic’s decent, but imagine if I’d splurged!”

I tried to console him. “It’s a hit, Jim.”

But his mind was made up. “I’m a Hollywood one-hit wonder now,” he wailed, dabbing tears with his frayed cuff. “Given another chance, I’d spend like there’s no tomorrow. But who’s kidding who? In Tinseltown, you only get one shot.”

But time would prove him wrong.  Dead Wrong!

 “The Terminator” at $100 million, “Titanic” over $200 million, “Avatar” at $237 million, and “Avatar 2” eclipsing all with a staggering $460 million — all contrasted sharply with his personal frugality.

My lunch with Jim Cameron, a blend of Hollywood grandeur and personal austerity, was a reminder of the complex, often paradoxical nature of the people behind the camera.

The people behind the films make huge profits, if they have huge budgets.

So full steam ahead!  That was what the captain of the Titanic said.  He went down with the ship.

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Jaron Summers wrote dozens of primetime television and radio programs, including those for HBO, CBS, ACCESS TV and CBC. He conceived the TV and Film Institute of Canada. Funded by the University of Alberta and ITV, Jaron ran the Institute for 12 years, donating his services for a decade.

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