Whilst many cringe when people in the industry describe themselves as “storytellers” in their LinkedIn bios, it is ultimately this love of storytelling that brings so many to the advertising, media, and marketing industries.
This love can often be forgotten amongst deadlines, office politics, and day-to-day life – but ultimately it is what gets many people in adland out of bed in the morning.
Yesterday, one of the world’s greatest modern-day storytellers – film director James Cameron – was in Sydney to share his journey and thought process on telling stories.
Speaking at the World Business Forum, Cameron was in Sydney to talk to business leaders about creativity.
Whilst on paper, Cameron may have been an unlikely speaker for the World Business Forum (which was dominated by a lot of people in suits), he gave valuable insight into modern-day storytelling where technology, exploration, physics, creativity, and love all collide into one.
Here are some of his top pearls of wisdom.
“Ideas as ideas in them themselves are worthless”
Cameron doesn’t do small indie films. He is known for making some of the most groundbreaking, and expensive films in recent history. Avatar cost $237 million USD to make and changed the world when it came to film technology and special effects. Titanic was the most expensive film ever made at the time of its release and involved building half a ship. Terminator 2 created technology that the world had never seen before.
Whilst some might see budgets and investors as a necessary evil, for Cameron, getting together teams and capital is a valuable and much-loved part of the creative process.
“Ideas as ideas in them themselves are worthless. It’s executing on that idea, executing on that idea of excellence, finding the capital, putting together the team doing all the things you have to do to manifest that idea in the real world, that really counts,” he said.
Getting a team together was something that always came quite naturally to him, Cameron said, there were other parts of leadership he had to learn along the way.
“I think as be some people are natural leaders and some people learn as they go along,” he said.
“I think I was always a natural alpha, I could always get the kids on the block to build some crazy project. I think that part of it was always there, but I’ve learned to be sensitive to people where they’re maybe putting themselves under too much pressure”.
He went on to describe “financial metric” as a measure of success saying: “There’s a satisfaction in knowing that you’ve given the investors – in this case Studio 20 Century Fox, and Disney – their return on investment. To me, that’s very satisfying. I’ve had films that didn’t do well. And I don’t like that, you know, they put their trust in me. And it’s up to me to deliver. And it’s also a metric of how many people you’ve reached around the world.”
“Cinema Is Innately Artificial”
With recent technology advancements, you’d be forgiven for thinking cinema’s relationship with technology is a new thing, however, Cameron reminded the audience that cinema’s dependence on technology (a camera) means that it is “innately artificial”.
“Put some actors on stage and magic can happen. You give them some good words. Magic, pure magic can happen,” he said.
“That’s raw human creation. But cinema is not natural, it is innately artificial”.
“I think that’s the nature of the art form of cinema. It’s always evolved cameras, film, you know, lenses, optics, all of those things. I think anybody that thinks that just because we’ve incorporated computers and computer-generated imagery and characters are so into it, that it’s fundamentally different now – it was always a technical art form”.
AI Is Forcing Us To Ask ‘What Are We Here For?’
As someone who has been both a pioneer in technology and creativity, Cameron is the perfect person to ask about AI and whether it spells the downfall of human creativity.
He said: “You see a lot of these articles about AI and the existential threat of AI. And what they mean is human extinction, or whatever”.
“But I go back to the actual existential issues, Sartre and Kierkegaard who came up with this philosophy, that say we don’t get our sense of personal purpose, from authority from government, from religion from our parents, we create it internally for ourselves. And I think, from that standpoint, from the perspective of existentialism, I think this is both a crisis and a critical turning point in consciousness, because now we have to ask, what are we here for? What are we here to do? And that is a lot to wrap you’re head around”.
Streaming Has Been More Disruptive To Writers And Actors Than AI
Hollywood and the film industry have recently been heavily disrupted by the well-publicised actors and writers strike. Whilst AI was named as the cause of the strike, Cameron said streaming is mainly to blame for the disruption within the creative industries.
“Streaming has been very disruptive to the entire group. Because there’s zero transparency with the flow of money because they’re not monetizing individual titles. It’s a subscription-based idea. They’re not selling tickets. So, you know, the monitoring logs have all been completely flipped upside down by streaming. And I think that [the strike] was absolutely critical for them to do”.
“ I don’t think it was so critical for them to make it about AI because I do feel like it probably would have been vetted to go through one contract cycle and see what the impact actually was, rather than it being an imagined fear. But people get these superstitious fears and I like to be very rigid and disciplined myself about what you really need to worry about and what you don’t”.
The Importance of Passion For Exploration
For Cameron, it was his passion for exploration that led and building new technology that led him to push boundaries in cinema.
“I didn’t go to the deepest place on earth to make my movies. I made the movie to get the money to make the sub that goes to the deepest place on earth. Everybody connects the dots in the wrong order. Because its the passion for exploration and innovation that gets you to exploration”.