When Peter Jackson ("Lord of the Rings", "King Kong") and James Cameron ("Titanic", "The Abyss") walked on stage, they were already chuckling at each other. Together, they filled up Hall H at this year's Comic-Con International in San Diego last Friday.
One of the moderator's first questions was what movies inspire them. Jackson said he watches "Goodfellas" and "Casino" a lot. "I can watch those movies and feel inspired again," said Jackson.
"I don't like to watch movies while I'm making a movie," said Cameron. "I'll mindlessly search cable late at night. I don't want to be strongly influenced."
At this point, a thin man with a comb over, thick glasses, and a plastic sci-fi gun rushed up on the stage. He claimed that he was thirsty from walking around the convention all day, and poured himself a glass of water from Jackson's pitcher. A bodyguard appeared quickly and pulled him off the stage.
"That's interesting," said Cameron. He then added nonchalantly, "What was the question again?"
The talk then turned to the future of film. Both directors feel that 3D filmmaking will be essential in Hollywood over the next few years. Cameron took the opportunity to announce that he has started a project to convert "Titanic" into 3D. It could take anywhere from a year to a year and a half to finish the project.
"3D is something very timely," Cameron said. "We need it now to give the degree of theatricality that the theaters need."
This got Jackson wondering which of his projects would look good in 3D. Someone in the crowd shouted "Dead Alive!"
"'Dead Alive' would be cool, yeah!" said Jackson. He went on to explain that while he would love to convert his "Lord of the Rings" trilogy into 3D, Warner Bros., who now control the rights to the films, has said there aren't enough 3D theaters to merit the cost.
Looking ahead to new techniques is essential, Cameron said. "There's a zone in the middle between the possible and the impossible, where in maybe five years you can pull it off. That's where I like to be." This was why his next project, "Avatar," has had such a long pre-production process. Many special effects build some of the central characters, and they "lived in the uncanny valley for a while."
Jackson addressed the often-heard complaint about the lack of originality in movies. "It feels like the entire film industry is in a defensive stage right now. No one's on the attack."
This segued into Jackson's support of Neil Blomkamp's upcoming "District 9." Blomkamp is apparently a huge fan of Cameron and had said to Jackson, "I want to know what's inside James Cameron's head."
"I hope not literally. We've already had one wacko on the stage today," said Cameron.
The directors discussed the technical innovations they would like to see. "Personally I would like to see an increase of frame rate from 24 to 48 [frames per second]," Cameron said. "I think sports could drive that."
Jackson also lamented the watching of movies on smaller screens, such as on the iPhone. "It's like instead of going to Paris you buy a postcard and put it on your mantle. It doesn't replace the experience of being there, of seeing the movie."
"If you get stoned and hold it up here," said Cameron, pointing in front of his nose, "you can't tell the difference!"
Motion capture was discussed next. "I don't like to call it mo-cap or motion capture," said Cameron. "I like to call it performance capture. [Actors] don't do motion, they do e-motion."
Jackson also calls the process performance capture, and expressed his concern for the future of actors as the technology advances. "There's an [intellectual property] aspect to be considered. The actors should own their image."
"Should we do a movie with Marilyn Monroe? No, it's creepy and wrong," said Cameron. "But if Clint Eastwood wants to do another 'Dirty Harry' movie, I'd probably go see it."
Jackson also brought up another project: the new "King Kong" section of the Universal Studios Hollywood tour that he is producing. Jackson's face lit up as he described his plans, including a wraparound view of Skull Island, King Kong fighting dinosaurs, and how Kong's hot, stinky breath will be blown on the tourists. The ride will also be in 3D and shot at 60 frames per second.
While known for using some of the most advanced tech available for his movies, Jackson had this to say about the nature of technology and storytelling. "Technology is only ever a means to an end. The whole thing is about the future of movies and tech is that it's only ever about stories and character, and that's all they ever should be about."