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The Mutiny That Nearly Destroyed James Cameron’s “Aliens”

James would later quip that the one thing that kept him going was knowing he'd one day drive out the gate of Pinewood and never come back.

Bill Paxton and James Cameron on set at Pinewood Studios in London.

James Cameron's crew had made T-shirts.

Emblazoned on them was an unmistakable insult to their director's drive in the early days of filming Aliens: "You can't scare me. I work for James Cameron."

It was the first film James had filmed in London, and he quickly learned he did not enjoy this experience.

Not only were there strict union rules that limited how much overtime he could approve, but there were peculiarities like tea breaks at 10am and 2pm that were quickly wearing out their welcome.

And James felt he was falling short of this film's potential — his first major studio film.

It was clear from the beginning the crew didn't like him much. He was making a sequel to a film by English director Ridley Scott — one of their own — and there was an overwhelming sense that this sequel was meant to squeeze more juice out of what Ridley had created, and by using this 31-year-old from Hollywood with one moderate success on his resume: The Terminator (which the crew had not seen, as it had not come out in the UK yet.)

James had made attempts early to hold screening of The Terminator, but most of the crew blew them off. James felt he needed to take charge quickly, and that meant replacing the people who were hindering his ability to create.

The story is featured in the opening scene of Episode 6 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.

Cinematographer Dick Bush was one of the first to go, after an argument about the alien nest being too bright — James had instructed it to be dark, but Bush felt it wasn't visible enough. Cinematographer Adrian Biddle would be brought in for the rest of the film.

And there was Derek Cracknell, the first assistant director who was essentially this crew's leader. He felt James was too strict, and when James threatened to fire him too, Cracknell and the entire crew walked off the set.

James and his wife, producer Gale Anne Hurd, discussed what to do. They couldn't take the film back to Los Angeles at this point. There was too much riding on this, James' first studio film. James would have to make amends.

You can hear more about the rise of James Cameron in BLOCKBUSTER, free on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and all other platforms.

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1 Comment

Jan 27

much of this is untrue. The Terminator came out in January 1985 in the UK, long before Cameron was filming Aliens there. While The Terminator was a moderate success in the US, it was a box office flop in the UK. It was Cameron's inexperience and arrogance at the time that caused these problems as he and producer Gale Ann Hurd (who was his wife at the time) were disrespectful towards the British studio system and what it entailed working there. Cameron obviously wanted to exploit the crew and have them working constantly for 12-14 hours a day, but British studio rules would not allow it. If Aliens had been filmed in the US, Cameron could well have exploited the…

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