James Cameron’s Problematic Directing Style Explained by Avatar 2 Star

By Aeron Mer Eclarinal Updated:
Avatar 2, James Cameron

Avatar: The Way of Water director James Cameron has long had a reputation for being difficult to work with due to his obsessive and perfectionist tendencies, causing some problems on the productions he led.

During the filming of the first Avatar, lead star Sam Worthington revealed that Cameron stapled cell phones to the wall with a nail gun if he heard them going off, with the actor telling Entertainment Weekly that "he [nails phones] above the exit, so you always remember when you go out."

The crew members for Cameron's 1989 sci-fi adventure, The Abyss, printed and wore t-shirts that said, “You can’t scare me, I work for Jim Cameron,” a playful knock on Cameron being difficult to work with.

According to the New York Times, The Abyss lead star Ed Harris even refused to promote the movie due to his anger over the "physical torment and the autocratic ways" of Cameron on set. 

Even during Avatar: The Way of Water's production, Cameron spoke his mind even when what he had to say could be seen as controversial. On one day, the director demanded Sigourney Weaver to stop being so "insecure" on set, a piece of advice that Weaver ultimately appreciated.  

And now, a different remark has been given about Cameron's authoritarian approach to filmmaking.

Zoe Saldaña Supports James Cameron's Directing Style

James Cameron, Avatar Behind the Scenes
20th Century Studios

As per the recent issue of D23 Magazine, Avatar: The Way of Water actress Zoe Saldaña opened up about James Cameron's tough directing style that has proven to cause problems on his past productions.

While admitting that "all of the rumors are true," the Avatar 2 lead star pointed out that "[Cameron] will be tough on you because he's toughest on himself," while also offering high praise to the director:

“He’s an extremely collaborative director. Yes, all of the rumors are true. He will be tough on you because he’s toughest on himself. But he is the most inquisitive, curious, inventive, scientific artist I’ve ever met. He builds everything using his hands, using every brain cell, and hes always expecting you to be honest and to be committed. I love that. I really respect that level of work."

James Cameron, Avatar Behind the Scenes, Sam Worthington
20th Century Studios

The much-talked-about director addressed the controversy in an interview with Slash Film, with Cameron noting that he "could've listened more" while also saying that he would've improved the nature of the working relationships he had with his cast and crew members if he chose to go back in time: 

“I could’ve listened more. I could’ve been less autocratic. I could’ve not made the movie more important than the human interaction of the crew.” 

The outlet also revealed that Cameron calls himself a “tinpot dictator,” and he doesn't think of himself as cruel, just demanding.

Circling back to Saldaña in the latest issue of the D23 magazine, the Avatar 2 actress described Cameron as a "true feminist," even admitting that it's the one thingbthat she's most proud of from all her experiences with the director:

“Another thing about Jim is that he’s a true feminist. There are a lot of men, especially in this industry, who want so badly to believe that they are feminists. But the moment they are tested or challenged by a woman's intelligence, or a woman’s strength, or a woman’s questions, they don't really match up to that ideal. And James excels. I’ve never felt anything but respected, challenged, and really seen, heard, and appreciated for my work and for my value not just as an artist, but as a woman. From all my experiences with James Cameron, that’s what I’m most proud of.”

Did James Cameron's Directing Style Affect Avatar 2?

There's no denying that James Cameron has experienced a vast amount of success throughout his stellar career, but his tough directing style has also made headlines through the years. Although he appears unapologetic for his approach, Zoe Saldaña's latest comments gave a whole new perspective on the matter. 

Cameron being tough on his cast, crew, and particularly himself means that he wants overall success for their final work. 

It is unknown if stress or fatigue are factors on why his behavior becomes too extreme sometimes (hence the nail gun incident), but at the end of the day, cooler heads would have eventually prevailed. This is further proven by the fact that the cast returned to help make Avatar 2, combined with Saldaña's high praise of Cameron. 

At this point, it would all boil down to how the cast and crew would take Cameron's "tough" directing approach on set, but everyone would get past this once Avatar 2 achieved similar success as its predecessor and hearing the response from fans around the world. 

Avatar: The Way of Water is set to premiere in theaters on Friday, December 16.

- About The Author: Aeron Mer Eclarinal
Aeron is a news/features writer and Content Lead for The Direct who has been working for the site since March 2020. From writing about the inter-connectivity of the Marvel Cinematic Universe to having an extended knowledge about DC TV's Arrowverse, Aeron's expertise has since expanded into the realm of reality TV, K-drama, animated, and live-action shows from Netflix,  Disney+, Prime Video, MGM+, Peacock, Paramount+, and Max. When he isn't writing and watching all things MCU, Aeron is heavily invested with the NBA (go Celtics!) and occasionally watches thrilling matches in the WWE.