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The ocean is to James Cameron as tacky gold fixtures are to Donald Trump: an obsession.

But luck wasn’t always on his side. After quitting his job as a truck driver to pursue filmmaking following a screening of Star Wars, Cameron fell under the wing of The Pope of Pop Cinema, Roger Corman. His first big film gig, as special effects director of the B-movie Piranha II: The Spawning, a film about killer piranhas, turned into his directorial debut when the original helmer, Miller Drake, was let go. But that film’s producer, Ovidio Assonitis, scrutinized his every decision before kicking Cameron out of the editing room, hijacking the film. As the story goes, while Assonitis was editing the film in Rome, Cameron came down with an awful bout of food poisoning, and during his delirium, had a nightmare about a cyborg assassin called a Terminator.

But it wasn’t until 1989’s The Abyss, about an underwater drilling team that encounters “non-terrestrial intelligence” deep underwater, that Cameron’s ocean infatuation was truly born. Since then, he’s stewarded 1997’s Titanic, which received a record 14 Oscar nominations—winning 11, including Best Picture and Best Director—and has filmed a number of deep-sea exploration documentaries, such as Ghosts of the Abyss and Aliens of the Deep, and once took a deep-diving submersible to the lowest point of the ocean, the Mariana Trench, where he discovered several new underwater species.

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Joel Ryan

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