James Cameron’s movie sets had a reputation for getting a bit, er, ‘intense’ – and the crew used to make T-shirts that reflected this.

Even though he says he’s mellowed as he’s got older, the legend of James Cameron’s movie sets very much lives on. For all I know, he’s currently in a sanguine place making his assorted Avatar sequels, sipping green tea, perhaps partaking of a bagel, maybe even reading a bit of poetry in the half hour before he has to get to the set.

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But in days of old, the set of a James Cameron movie was by reputation something of a tough place to be. On three separate occasions, Cameron has directed the most expensive movie in the world, each time pushing technology and the people around him to do things that weren’t considered possible. Infamously, his demanding nature got a point where what’s believed to be an angry crew member spiked the Titanic food table with PCP. Many cast and crew, Cameron included, had to be rushed to the emergency room for treatment.

The assorted crew on Cameron’s productions adopted some degree of dark humour to get through the demands of their boss, to the point where they took to wearing T-shirts to register their feelings.

The first time this came to pass was on the Pinewood set of 1986’s Aliens.

It’s pretty well known now that Cameron didn’t much care for the working day of a unionised British crew, and by the end of the shoot, many in the crew didn’t much care for James Cameron.

In fairness to Cameron, there was a sense of who on earth is this when he turned up to make the film. Then in his early 30s, here was a relatively unknown American director making a sequel to an-already classic film by a British director (Ridley Scott of course).

Several crew were replaced by Cameron as filming continued, and there was an animosity running through the production. And thus someone had the idea of having T-shirts made. It resulted in some members of the crew wearing shirts adorned with the slogan ‘you can’t scare me, I work for James Cameron’.

Little did they know it’d start a mini-trend.

When Aliens proved to be an Oscar-nominated hit, Cameron’s currency in Hollywood rose further, and he was able to mount what was then his most ambitious project to date: The Abyss. The incredibly testing shoot for that one reportedly didn’t dampen Cameron’s demeanour, although the fact that Ed Harris came close to it being his last film gives an idea as to just what a taxing production it was.

This time, the crew responded with a slightly less personal shirt: ‘Life’s Abyss, and then you dive’.

If the T-shirts of The Abyss were tamer, then the stresses of making 1991’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day offered a lot more inspiration. In this case, as The Terminator Fans reported, a T-shirt was made for select members of the film’s crew, that brought together several choice phrases that emanated from Cameron’s mouth during the stressful filming of the movie. Don’t read too close if you don’t like your language fruity…

By now, a tradition had been set, and it was one eagerly taken up by the crew of Cameron’s next venture, 1994’s True Lies.

Already notorious for being the film where the director reportedly screamed at Arnold Schwarzenegger “do you want Paul Verhoeven to direct the rest of this mother (‘funster’ – Ed)” on the set of this one, the crew became used to their director’s bellowing. They responded with their own homage to Aliens, with shirts again saying “You can’t scare me – I work for Jim Cameron”.

The king of the James Cameron Movie Set T-Shirt productions though was 1997’s Titanic.

This one ran over schedule and over budget. The hours it sometimes took to reset a scene tested the patience of what from the outside seems not a very patient man to the limits.

Furthermore, the long production allowed more time to come up with a range of different shirts. As per the December 1997 issue of Premiere magazine, the choices on offer were numerous. Take your pick from…

  • Jim’s a hands-on director and I have the bruises to prove it
  • No animals hurt during the making of this film, but the actors were tossed around like Styrofoam cups
  • Don’t get creative, I hate that
  • Waiting on lipstick? I say we just tattoo their lips
  • It’s a timing thing, I don’t care if it has any organic emotional reality or not
  • You either shoot it my way or you do another ‘funstering – Ed’ movie

In the prolonged period between Cameron’s Titanic taking home 11 Academy Awards (including three Oscars for the man himself” and him embarking on Avatar nearly a decade later, there seemed little sign that Cameron’s by-now legendary temper meltdowns had, well, tempered.

One story from the film suggests that if a member of the crew’s mobile phone went off on set, he’d nail gun it to the wall. The source of that story? The man himself, in subsequent interviews. Just imagine him on Christmas morning if he got the wrong coloured socks off Santa.

Signs are that he’s mellowed as he’s moved in the second half of his 60s, and there isn’t too much chatter of crew T-shirts on the Avatar sets.

Then again, perhaps all concerned are too scared to pick up their mobile phones and order one…

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