Scare Tactics: How James Cameron Pitched His First Movie, “The Terminator”

James Cameron flew in his actor friend Lance Henriksen to break in and scare the production company right before his pitch.

This original art by James Cameron envisioned actor friend Lance Henriksen as The Terminator.

James Cameron and producer Gale Anne Hurd finally had a live one. A small production company in London was interested in The Terminator, and wanted the team to come in and pitch it.


Non-negotiable was the film's director. That would be James. Gale had warned that might make it harder to sell. Already, Paramount had expressed interest in the story, but didn't trust James, who'd just been fired from a $600,000 B-movie, Piranha II, as told in BLOCKBUSTER: THE STORY OF JAMES CAMERON.


James' good Randy Frakes encouraged him to stay strong. The Terminator was a great original story to launch his career, which could be far more valuable than a one-time payday for the story alone.


But this trip to London was the only interest. James knew this was his shot, and he had to make a big impact.


Fortunately, he'd had time to illustrate the storyboards for The Terminator himself. He asked his friend Bill Wisher to model leather jackets on the rooftop of an apartment building in LA, and he painted concept art of the T-800, with exposed chrome skeleton on one side, and the face of actor friend Lance Henriksen on the other.


But that was for the pitch. James wanted big impact from the very start of their meeting. So he asked Henriksen to dress up as The Terminator and storm into the Hemdale front office.


That scene is depicted in the fourth 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.



BLOCKBUSTER is 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.


Henriksen's acting talent was undeniable. His entrance frightened the staff, as his gold-foil teeth and black boots marched toward them. He had fake wounds on his face, and of course the trademark leather jacket.


Henriksen walked forward, as the panic escalated, and then promptly sat down in a chair, before James and Gale strolled in to greet the Hemdale executives.


They saw in James a visionary young director, and agreed to fund The Terminator.


That story is featured in Episode 4 of BLOCKBUSTER: THE STORY OF JAMES CAMERON, free on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and all other platforms.


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