Did James Cameron Really Get His Big Break Electrocuting Worms?

James Cameron
How did James Cameron break into Hollywood? Well, he charged some producer's imaginations. 

We all imagine our big break in Hollywood coming from something special. People learning our names and loving our work But more likely, our breaks come from people seeing the work and dedication we put into all our efforts. 

Not just the successes on the big and small screen but also the boring work. 

Like when you are filming b-roll of worms. 

James Cameron is one of my favorite filmmakers. He's a genius and one of the most innovative people working in cinema. It's hard to think about the days before he was the living legend. But in the book Crab Monsters, Teenage Cavemen, and Candy Stripe Nurses: Roger Corman, King of the B Moviepublished in Grantland, we learned the real story behind Cameron. 

Roger Corman gave Jame Cameron his big break. He was in production design, VFX, and directed the second unit on Battle Beyond the Stars. Corman and Cameron were close, and he trusted Cameron to control all the special effects on his b-movies. 

On Battle Beyond the Stars, the shooting was on a tight schedule. And Corman had brought a bunch of Italian movie execs to set to see how he was making money in Hollywood. They happened to be there on a day where James Cameron was getting pickup shots. 

 

Cameron had risen up in the Corman world, as he says in the Corman book, by modeling a spaceship. "I thought, okay, it's Roger Corman. He does girls-in-bamboo-cages movies. What is he selling? He sells tits! So I designed a kind of Amazon warrior spaceship—basically a spaceship with tits."

The design impressed Corman, so Jim Cameron got more responsibility. 

On the day of the set visit, he was shooting a severed arm that was supposed to be covered in worms. 

But one problem...the worms were not moving. they were lifeless and boring. 

Cameron had a problem. The schedule was tight so he couldn't waste time or money going out and buying new worms. So what was he to do? Here's where it helps to be smart. See, Cameron new the slime in the scene would conduct electricity, and the fake arm was on a metal plate and rubber mat to ground it. So Cameron hooked up a battery to the plate and sent electricity through the plate, into the arm, through the slime, and into the worm's bodies. 

This charge made the worms move and briefly zapped them back to life. 

The sound sucks in the clip below, but you can see the shot he got. 

After Cameron wrapped, he was greeted with rounds of applause not just from the crew but the producers watching. Cameron says, "What I hear back later is they go off and talk and say, 'If he's that good with worms, I wonder what he can do with actors!'"

The producers had a movie they needed a director for...Piranha 2...James Cameron accepted the job and the rest is history! 

He struggled a lot along the way but was able to use the clout he got from one movie to get others and turn his career around.

What's your favorite inside Hollywood story? Let us know in the comments!      

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2 Comments

Hey Jason, is it possible that this story was brought to light thanks to the brilliant Season Two of the "Blockbuster" podcast? They literally just did an episode on this exact moment. If so, maybe you can give them some credit and some love!

July 10, 2020 at 8:47AM

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You're confusing two different movies...
Yes, Jim Cameron rose fast up the ranks with Battle Beyond the Stars.
The worm business was as 2nd Unit Director on the film Galaxy of Terror.

In between all that he was part of the crew that provided the VFX for Escape From New York. He was also friends with many of the VFX guys from ILM as they came by while they were shooting Battle. Many of those guys were friends of the Skotak Bros.

July 17, 2020 at 11:28AM

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