James Cameron Once Did Work for ‘Dreadful’ Movies to Keep Himself From Starving

James Cameron may be known for hit movies like Avatar and Titanic. But the director had trouble making ends meet in the beginning of his career.

These hard times led Cameron to work for a couple of films he felt were just awful.

James Cameron’s first love was drawing

James Cameron attending the 109th Explorers Club Annual Dinner.
James Cameron | Brad Barket/Getty Images

Before he had his sights set on filmmaking, the True Lies director was an avid illustrator. So much so there was a period of his life where Cameron was doodling constantly.

“I was always drawing. I was drawing while I was on the phone. I was drawing when I was in class. And then when I’d get out of class, I’d run home and I’d draw,” Cameron said in an interview with Artnet.

After delving into filmmaking, he had less time for illustrations. But his years doing sketches wasn’t for nothing. Cameron was able to apply certain habits he had while illustrating to the process of filmmaking.

“I think there’s something disciplining about drawing things out yourself,” he says. “It forces you to make decisions,” he said.

Cameron further asserted that his early attempts at drawing taught him valuable lessons on storytelling. Although even back then he didn’t see himself seriously pursuing a career in illustrations.

“That wasn’t me,” he said. “Because I always put storytelling first. What I realized, when I looked back at most of the drawings and paintings, is that they all tell a story in one frame. And I think that I’ve benefited as a filmmaker by that impulse to pack a single image with narrative value.”

James Cameron had to do work for ‘dreadful’ movies

Terminator would help Cameron secure a successful and sustaining film career for himself. But the process of getting Terminator off the ground wasn’t an easy one. Especially since Cameron didn’t immediately see any financial gains while in the process of making the film.

Eventually, the Oscar-winner needed to find work in order to eat. This led to him collaborating for some of the worse films he’s seen.

“A year or so later, having written Terminator, waiting, waiting, waiting to get that picture started, I was starving and had to take some work. I worked as an illustrator doing posters for movies that were pure and utter cheese. They were so bad that most of them were direct-to-video. I couldn’t watch them they were so bad,” Cameron once said in an interview with Omni (via LDS Film).

The films may have lacked quality to Cameron, but he was able to make some good money doing art work for the movies. This helped sustain Cameron until the eventual release of The Terminator.

“These films were dreadful. They were for a couple of very small independent releasing companies that I think are now out of business. They paid pretty well. I could knock out a one-sheet painting in a day, day and a half and make a couple of grand for it. At my subsistence level lifestyle at the time, I could live for two months on that. I’d work for two days and write for two months,” Cameron said.

James Cameron sold ‘The Terminator’ rights for $1

Cameron initially made very little money when selling off the rights to The Terminator franchise. Initially, producers didn’t trust Cameron to direct the feature since he was a newcomer at the time. So Cameron could only shoot the project if he sold off the rights for a bargain.

He confided that it was one of his biggest regrets.

“I wish I hadn’t sold the rights for one dollar,” he once told Toronto Sun (via Business Insider). “If I had a little time machine and I could only send back something the length of a tweet, it’d be — ‘Don’t sell.'”

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