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Russell Carpenter, 67, is working with James Cameron on the first two of his planned four Avatar sequels, but the cinematographer, who will be honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 32nd American Society of Cinematographers Awards, is still best known for his Oscar-winning work on Titanic.
Most of Cameron’s 1997 epic was shot at Fox Baja Studios in Mexico, where?an enormous set of the Titanic was built. “It was just a few feet shorter than the real Titanic,” recalls Carpenter. “What was extraordinary was that as much as it looked like a real ship from one side, the other side was a total mishmash of scaffolding, lumber, cabling and wiring.”
The ship set had around 650 portholes, and each needed a light — on top of all the other lighting needed to illuminate?a 100-foot-long vessel. He says, “It was such a jumble back there that some of our electricians would get lost and someone would have to come in and find them.”
As for the iconic scene during which Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet kiss on the ship’s bow, Carpenter says much of it was actually shot indoors. “We filmed for a short time on the bow of the ship, but the sunset faded quickly,” he says, adding that they then moved the section of the bow to a studio with a painted backdrop where they shot most of the close-ups. “Working with Jim is working with someone who raises the bar very high,” says Carpenter of embarking on the Avatar sequels. “It might make for a few restless nights, but ?I enjoy that challenge.”
This story first appeared in the Feb. 14 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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