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How James Cameron Learned to Thrive At Roger Corman’s B-Movie Factory

Cameron often worked seven days a week, and sometimes slept on a cot in the renovated lumber yard turned film studio.

A bearded 26-year-old James Cameron working on concept art for Galaxy of Terror (1981). See closeup below.

There was perhaps no better sandbox for an aspiring filmmaker in the early 1980s than New World Pictures, the scrappy little production company led by Roger Corman specializing in ultra-low budget films.

So when James Cameron interviewed for a production assistant job, and showed his short film Xenogenesis, which he'd made with friends Randy Frakes, the crew saw someone both talented and hungry to prove his skills.

Over the period of roughly three years, James went from a truck driver to production assistant, art department model builder, painter, art director, production designer and finally second unit director.

He was eager to take charge, eager to overdeliver, and eager to seize the next opportunity, friend Randy Frakes recalled in an interview with BLOCKBUSTER series creator Matt Schrader.

James' rapid rise through the ranks of Roger Corman's B-movie studio is depicted in the second episode of BLOCKBUSTER: THE STORY OF JAMES CAMERON — the award-winning "biopic podcast" series, starring The Walking Dead's Ross Marquand, from filmmaker and journalist Matt Schrader.

James' designs impressed Roger Corman from the start, who found in James someone he could trust with enormous amounts of responsibility — for as long as he stayed at New World Pictures, at least.

Original concept art from James Cameron's art department on Galaxy of Terror (1981).

After 1981's Galaxy of Terror, opportunity came knocking. James accepted a job to direct a sequel to Piranha, with producer Ovidio Assonitis, after witnessing James improve a wild special effects shot.

The moment is featured in Episode 2 of BLOCKBUSTER, free on Apple Podcasts and Spotify, and all other platforms. BLOCKBUSTER is winner of Adweek's Creative Podcast of the Year, and earned two Webby Honorees and NYF Radio Awards, including for Best Podcast Miniseries.

Assonitis flew James to Jamaica, where he'd be filming Piranha II with its star Lance Henriksen — one of the only people from this period in James' life who would become a friend and help build the momentum for The Terminator.

That story is featured in tomorrow's Episode 3 of BLOCKBUSTER: THE STORY OF JAMES CAMERON. You can subscribe and listen to BLOCKBUSTER free on Apple Podcasts and Spotify, as well as all other platforms.

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