Titanic: The Real Story Behind the Infamous 'Glub, Glub, Glub' Headline
On the Mexican set in 1997 for Time, The Hollywood Reporter's Kim Masters recounts the drama, budget woes and blown deadlines that had the town running scared and media calling "failure."
Mechanic had his issues with Cameron, too. With the director quickly running over schedule and over budget, he fought to impose control. Mechanic says it's not true, as many believe, that Cameron would not speak to him -- he did, sometimes well above a whisper. Under mounting pressure to contain the cost, Cameron started to give up his fees in increments. He yielded some, for example, to pay for Kathy Bates to play Molly Brown.
Meanwhile, it became clear that Cameron never would make the early July release date. He agreed to have the movie ready for release by the end of that month, but finally, the film was pushed to the 1997 holidays. As the delays and costs kept rising, Mechanic was feeling abandoned by his boss. Chernin had greenlighted the movie, but News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch was bitterly blaming Mechanic for the buckets of money that the movie surely would lose. (Around that time, I saw Mechanic at a party on the Fox lot, and he pointed to his chest, joking grimly, "I feel like there's a bull's-eye right about here.")
With the film still unfinished that summer, Murdoch went to Cameron's Lightstorm offices in Santa Monica to watch a rough cut and see where all the money was going. But as the mogul settled in his chair, there was a malfunction and the projector wouldn't work. Tom Sherak, then a top distribution executive at Fox, quickly arranged for Murdoch to see the upcoming Sony Pictures film, Air Force One, an action film starring Harrison Ford as the president, instead. Only the following day did Murdoch and then-wife Anna see Titanic. When the lights came up, Mechanic says, Murdoch turned to him and said, "I can see why you like the movie, but it's no Air Force One."
Finally, on a morning in October 1997 -- a year after my set visit -- members of the press were invited to Paramount to see the film for the first time. If I had only sipped the Titanic Kool-Aid on the set, I swilled it at the screening. Whether you think Titanic is a work of genius or an overrated melodrama with big effects, it was obviously a huge emotional movie that was going to deliver massive box office. A few days later, I went on television -- I think it was MSNBC -- to talk about the movie with a reporter from Entertainment Weekly who had not yet seen it. He expressed the standard doubts, but I said the movie could be a huge hit. I didn't want to sound like a 14-year-old with a crush, I said, but Leo DiCaprio was about to become a gigantic movie star.
Still, no one suspected what was about to happen. Just days before the film's Dec. 19 opening, I weighed in again in Time and quoted Mechanic as stating that Fox could not make money on Titanic. "It's hard to be responsible for it," the always blunt Mechanic said. "But I might not ever be near another picture this good. It's not a question of best movie of the year. It's a question of best movie of the decade."
Mechanic says now that Titanic "was Dances With Wolves plus 25 percent" -- a hefty three hours and 14 minutes. He believed the film would be "the most successful three-hour-plus picture in history," but the studio still would lose a little money.
Titanic opened to $28.6 million -- and then it played and played and played. It shattered records and, of course, the Academy made Cameron The King of the World. DiCaprio went on to become a male muse to Martin Scorsese, and Winslet, after a best actress nomination for Titanic, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Little Children, won the Oscar in 2009 for The Reader.
Cameron, after a 12-year break, returned with Avatar, another film that had many skeptics who wished they could retract their words. Like Titanic, it shattered records, grossing $2.8 billion worldwide.
That would seem to dwarf the breathtaking $1.8 billion that Titanic grossed in the end -- only it wasn't the end. With its 3D rerelease, a next chapter is about to be written.
Fox and Paramount Execs Shared the Risk
Sherry Lansing, then chair of Paramount Motion Picture Group, initially had doubts about casting and budget, eventually insisting that her studio's investment be capped at $65 million.
Says Lansing: "Cameron invited John Goldwyn and me into his editing room at his place in Malibu on a Sunday afternoon to show us part of the movie. I had never seen anything like this. Finally I said, 'I better call my husband because it must be about 6 and I'm supposed to meet him at 7.' Jim said, 'Sherry, you'd better call your husband. It's 9 o'clock.' I couldn't believe it. Time just froze."
Jon Landau, Cameron's producing partner in Lightstorm Entertainment, stood beside the director during the demanding shoot and contentious battles with Fox executives, who feared a staggering loss.
Says Landau: "We saw Rupert Murdoch in the hallways of Fox during postproduction. Jim and I said to Rupert, 'Guess we're not your most favorite people right now.' Rupert didn't miss a beat. He said, 'I'll wait until I see the movie, and I'll let you know.' When he saw it, he was the first one to say, 'It'll get to $1 billion.'"
Titanic 3D Aims for New Records
When Disney's The Lion King was rereleased in 3D in September, it established a new benchmark for a successful 3D reissue, racking up $168.5 million in worldwide box office. But when Titanic, newly updated in 3D, steams back into theaters April 4, it could beat those numbers, since the movie has continually rewritten the record books. While other movies converted to 3D have missed the mark visually, Cameron insisted that would not be the case with Titanic. A new 4K master of the film was created, the conversion process took 60 weeks, and it cost $18 million. Cameron argues it's not the splashy sinking sequences that benefit the most from the added dimension. Previewing footage from the film in October, he said, "I totally believe 3D is an enhancement for the dramatic scenes -- not just the big action." -- Gregg Kilday
How Cameron Found His 'Old Rose' Inspiration
While on a visit to the small town of Ojai, north of Los Angeles, in 1997, my husband and I learned that it was possible to visit the home of noted ceramicist Beatrice Wood. She had been born in 1893 to a society family she defied by pursuing a life in the arts. Wood lived in Paris and New York before moving to Los Angeles in the early 1940s. Taking a ceramics class at Hollywood High School, she launched a career that brought her recognition from the Smithsonian as an Esteemed American Artist. In 1948, she settled in Ojai and lived there for the next 50 years.
She was 104 when we arrived to view her pottery. While she stayed out of sight, we were greeted by an older gentleman, who we were given to understand was a particular friend of hers. As we looked around the quiet house, I suddenly had the oddest feeling of deja vu. Titanic hadn't yet been released, but I had seen it at a press screening. I whispered to my husband, "This looks like a scene from Titanic!"
"We have heard about this movie!" the elderly man said. "That gentleman was here!"
And in fact, Cameron had met Wood, borrowing her story for his fictional Old Rose, played by Gloria Stuart in the movie. Wood (who was not on the Titanic) didn't seem to mind. Days before her death in March 1998 at 105, she even named Cameron as the recipient of the fifth annual Beatrice Wood Film Award. -- K.M.