Study Guide

Titanic Behind the Scenes

  • Director

    We've pretty well covered this in the "Screenwriter" section, since James Cameron did double-duty on this film. Check it out.

  • Screenwriter

    James Cameron

    You're probably not going to catch writer/director James Cameron working on a small art house feature. His career has been all about writing and directing big budget, super splashy action/adventure movies…and you've probably heard of most of them.

    His resume, which includes writing, directing, and editing, is basically just a laundry list of some of the greatest and/or most beloved blockbusters of all time. Aliens? Wrote and directed. Terminator 1 and 2? True Lies? Avatar? Same deal.

    Cameron started out majoring in physics at California State University before getting interested in screenwriting. He scored jobs on film crews, and it wasn't too long before he was writing and directing his own films (source).

    As you may have noticed, a lot of Cameron's films have a sci-fi bent—which kind of makes sense, given his early interest in physics, right? Of course he's a little geeky.

    Titanic might seem like a departure from all that, but not so fast. Even with that film, you might have noticed that Cameron spends a lot of time exploring the mechanics of what happens to the boat—you know, how/why/when it sinks. Viewed from that angle, you could say that Titanic actually kind of fits into Cameron's overall science-y body of work.

    There's plenty of geeky science talk about the physics of the boat's sinking—and let's face it, the ocean is as scary/deadly in this film as any alien.

    Cameron remained so interested in the whole story of Titanic—and the science behind exploring the wreckage—that he worked with his brother to create new technology for filming it, which is how the documentary Ghosts of the Abyss (2003) came to be (source).

    Yup, that's right—Cameron also does documentaries from time to time.

    Speaking of Cameron's geek credentials, he's still just as interested in science off-screen. As a committed environmentalist, Cameron has gotten super interested in solar power, even installing panels outside his studios.

    Oh, did we forget to mention the studios?

    Yeah, he has his own production company, Lightstorm Entertainment, which was one of the producers of Titanic as well as several of Cameron's other films. Anyway, Cameron is so into solar power that he wants to make the upcoming Avatar sequels the first films that are entirely produced using solar energy (source).

    So, yeah—producer, writer, science and technology geek, film innovator, documentarian. Is there anything James Cameron can't do?

    Sure, he's so known for having a nasty side that it actually has its own name ("Mij," which is "Jim" backwards) (source).

    But really, how many high achievers in film and literature are known for being pussycats? You can't deny the results—and you've got to give Cameron some points for consistently standing up for his beliefs and vision, which included an early commitment to putting women in lead action/adventure roles when others weren't super interested in that kind of thing.

  • Production Studio

    Twentieth Century Fox, Paramount Pictures, Lightstorm Entertainment

    A few different production companies had a hand in Titanic's titanic success. First of all, there was Twentieth Century Fox, which has been specializing in hocking big budget, high-grossing fare for several decades.

    As a matter of fact, James Cameron's other major blockbuster, Avatar, also came out of Twentieth Century Fox. Not enough to impress you? Well, some other examples of their work include The Martian, Lincoln, and the Taken series.

    Yeah. Twentieth Century Fox goes big or goes home.

    Paramount Pictures was also involved on the production side, and it has a similarly blockbuster-heavy resume that includes the Transformers and Iron Man movies and World War Z. It's not just all action movies, though—they're also responsible for bringing movies like The Wolf of Wall Street to market.

    We could keep listing examples, but there are just too many. Like Fox, Paramount is a powerhouse studio with a long and varied list of successful, acclaimed films.

    Finally, there's Lightstorm, which is James Cameron's own production company. Surprise, surprise: its films include a lot of Cameron-directed fare, including Avatar, The Abyss, and True Lies. Also, they produced Strange Days, which was directed by Cameron's then-wife, Kathryn Bigelow. It's not Paramount or Fox, but it's pretty impressive nonetheless.

    Bottom line: Titanic is pretty typical of the productions for all three companies…because it was insanely successful.

  • Production Design

    Big-Budget Bonanza

    The movie features a shipwreck and other related life-ending events (for example, people jumping from the ship, getting trapped under funnels, or careening down the ship when it tips up vertically), so you won't be surprised to hear that some special effects were involved in the filming.

    However, it hardly shows, and Cameron's film (including the effects) look pretty much just as though he filmed the events happening in reality.

    Of course, that's in large part due to Cameron's commitment to making use of realistic, large-scale models and sets and non-digital effects. So, for example, when he showed water crashing through the glass dome onto the grand staircase, that was actual water destroying the actual set—which meant Cameron had only one chance to get the shot right (source).

    So, that's the kind of thinking (and probably a lot of planning) that allowed Cameron to make his film seem realistic, even with all the digital effects.

    It's also the kind of thing that probably contributed to the film running way over budget and making studio execs nervous. But they shouldn't have feared: Titanic was the highest-grossing film ever made until Avatar squashed its box office record a decade later.

  • Music (Score)

    If you grew up in the '90s, there's a decent chance you sobbed out your heartaches to the Titanic soundtrack. There's also a decent chance that you shared a slow dance to Celine Dion's chart-topping Titanic song, "My Heart Will Go On."

    James Horner, who created the Titanic soundtrack, had a pretty impressive ability to infuse his music with emotion, and his Titanic soundtrack pulses with all the feels:

    • Excitement: When the ship sets sail—and there are no icebergs in sight—the music soars along with the characters' sense of possibility.
    • Adventure: For example, when Rose and Jack are frolicking together below deck, the music romps as well.
    • Romance: When Jack and Rose are frolicking in, er, another way, Horner's score softens.
    • Urgency and danger: When the ship's crew spots the iceberg, the music abruptly changes as well, clanging and thundering along as people work together throughout the ship to get her to turn.

    In some films, the soundtrack just fades gently into the background, but not in Titanic—music plays a huge role in taking the audience along for the ride, emotionally speaking. Given that the soundtrack was so memorable, it's no surprise that it sold a whopping twenty-seven million copies.

    Horner collaborated with Cameron a few times—on Titanic, Aliens, and Avatar—and they were believed to be working together for the Avatar sequels as well.

    Unfortunately, Horner died in a plane crash in 2015, so those further collaborations were not to be. The legacy he left behind, though, was pretty, well, titanic (sorry, we had to do it at least once).

  • Fandoms

    People love Titanic so much that they want it to draw them like one of its French girls. They promise to never let go. They say that Titanic saved them…in every way a person can be saved.

    And we're only exaggerating a teensy bit.

    Titanic had enormous popular appeal, so there are a whole slew of fansites devoted to the film and its stars. For just one example, check out this guy, which reports on everything from James Cameron's activities to fan theories/analyses of just why Jack and Rose couldn't both fit on that floating door at the end of the movie (although Mythbusters proved that they totally could have).

    Of course, there are also fandoms for the ship itself. There's a reason Cameron could drum up interest in 1997 for a boat that sank back in 1912—people are bananas for the story of Titanic.

    In fact, one Titanic superfan, a billionaire in Australia, has commissioned a full-sized seaworthy replica that is set to sail in 2018—but this time, it'll have all appropriate safety provisions (including the right number of lifeboats) firmly in place (source).

    If that's not an example of super fandom, we don't know what is.