Director James Cameron’s Adventurous Filmmaking Nearly Killed Him on the Set of ‘The Abyss’

If there’s one thing James Cameron is known for, it’s going the extra mile —no matter how dangerous or controversial — for the sake of his movies. This has led to many actors calling him out for going a step too far or being ‘genuinely frightened’ by him in Kate Winslet’s case.

James Cameron smiling in front of a white background
James Cameron | Michael Tullberg/Getty Images

His adventurous filmmaking isn’t only life-risking for his actors, though. The Terminator director also often puts his own life at risk, with one incident on the set of The Abyss almost taking his life by drowning. Believe it or not, this adventurous quality you see in his films is often mirrored in real life!

‘The Abyss’ was shot underwater for at least 40% of the film

If you’ve ever seen The Abyss, you know that the film’s entire premise is centered around the deepest depths of the ocean and discoveries made while down there. What you may not have known, however, is that the underwater film was actually captured underwater for 40% of the film (according to the book Focus On: 100 Most Popular American Science Fiction Films, via Google).

This means that many of the scenes with leads like Mastrantonio and Ed Harris required the actors to learn how to dive to capture their scenes underwater in real life.

The book also reported that the cast and crew of The Abyss set aside a week together to train for underwater diving in the Cayman Islands before filming began. This was very important since the production company experimented with gigantic water devices to replicate the film’s setting in the Bahamas with a controlled environment. 

They even designed a communication system that allowed the actor’s dialogue to be recorded and Cameron’s direction to be heard by the actors while underwater.

Cameron punched a safety diver to get to safety

You may have already heard about the incident while filming Titanic when Winslet revealed that she almost drowned because her coat snagged on a gate. She also said she “didn’t want to be a wimp” when Cameron pushed for the scene to continue.

Cases like this were common on the set of Cameron’s films, but it wasn’t only his actors that were often put in danger. 

According to Syfy Wire, the director himself almost died on the set of The Abyss when “the AD who was supposed to monitor the director’s oxygen levels [while he was at the bottom of the enormous underwater set] was suddenly off the clock, and Cameron knew he had to get to air quickly.”

The publication reports that Cameron had to get out of his gear as quickly as possible and race to safety. This included his helmet, leaving him completely exposed to the water. This was when things started to take a turn for the worse before getting better.

“A safety diver went to help by offering him the spare breathing regulator, but it was faulty, and Cameron ended up accidentally sucking in a lot of water,” Syfy Wire continued. “Cameron struggled to get free, but the safety diver assumed he was distressed and kept a hold of him until Cameron punched him in the face.”

Fortunately, the Avatar director was able to get out of the nearly-tragic incident without any real harm. It didn’t even ruin his love for exploring the oceans in real life!

In real life, Cameron voyaged to the bottom of the Earth — setting a record

Despite almost drowning to death more than 30 years ago, Cameron was more than thrilled to dive deep into the ocean in real life. In fact, he announced on Twitter in 2012 that he “just arrived at the ocean’s deepest pt. Hitting bottom never felt so good. Can’t wait to share what I’m seeing w/ you @DeepChallenge.”

At the time, he was referencing his descent into the Mariana Trench. And wow, did he not disappoint when sharing it with fans!

The entire experience was captured via Cameron’s own samples and filming while underwater. According to National Geographic’s report, the adventurous director is the “first person to reach he 6.8-mile-deep undersea valley solo [before] surfacing about 300 miles (500 kilometers) southwest of Guam.”

Their report also noted that the controversial director spent hours “hovering over Challenger Deep’s desert-like seafloor and gliding along its cliff walls” before ascending in just 70 minutes. 

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