Titanic 3D – Interview with producer Jon Landau

Jon Landau won an Oscar and a Golden Globe for producing Titanic in 1997, he talks about the adventure of bringing it back to the big screen

Jon Landau is a former studio executive at Twentieth Century Fox, who went on to win an Oscar and a Golden Globe for producing Titanic in 1997. He has since produced Solaris and Avatar, and is currently working with James Cameron on the sequels to the latter.

On the eve of the re-release of the 11-time Oscar winning Titanic in 3D, Landau chatted to movies.ie about the process of converting the movie, his memories of the original shoot, getting Kate and Leo back on board, and whether other Cameron classics will get the 3D retroformat treatment any time soon…

Q: Can you give us some sense of the process of converting Titanic into 3D?
A: The skill of it is that every shot in the movie is now a visual effects shot. It’s a 194-minute movie, and there are 24 frames per second, and we look at every frame to work out the stereo depth. We can do that because everything is digital now, as opposed to 1997.
We took 60 weeks to do the conversion. It’s not a technical process; it’s a creative one that uses technical tools. We had 450 people working on it, at a cost of $18m. That’s more that some movies cost to get made from scratch.

Q: James Cameron has a legendary reputation for being a perfectionist. How was he not tempted to change things?
A: Jim says, ‘I’m not a perfectionist, I just do it until I get it right’. From a cut standpoint, the movie is going to be presented in just the same way as it was in 1997. We were tempted to change a few things, but it’s not about finding what’s different, but rather experiencing the movie as it was really intended to be experienced in the first place.

Q: How did you first meet James Cameron?
A: I was a studio executive, and I first met him at an all-hands marketing meeting for True Lies (1994). Jim walked into this meeting, and he wasn’t entirely happy that the studio wanted to be involved in the filmmaking more than before. He was introduced to me, and he said, ‘Jon, I understand that we’re going to get to be pretty good friends. Or bitter enemies’.

Q: What are your memories of shooting Titanic back in the mid-1990s?
A: I remember reading the script – before I knew that I’d be involved with it – and thought, ‘This could be one of the last times that an old-fashioned Hollywood epic is made, where we’re not relying on digital technology’. We went out there and built a set that was 800ft long. We had thousands of extras on a daily basis, and the trials and tribulations of that process took a toll on some people. But the success of the movie is a testament to everyone’s hard work, not just one or two people.

Q: What do you think is the effect on audiences of seeing movies in 3D rather than 2D?
Q: If you do the 3D properly, the audience will be more engaged with your narrative. For us, 3D is a window into a world, not a world coming out of a window. You can’t interrupt the suspension of disbelief that you ask of an audience going to see a movie. Everything plays at a heightened state in 3D. I think when things work, they work better, and if things don’t work, it looks worse.

Q: In terms of the actual look of the movie, what’s more/less challenging about conversion that actually filming in 3D? And how do you determine when the look is ‘right’ afterwards?
A: Number one, the conversion process is much more difficult. Why people today don’t film and then convert is because it’s so painstakingly time-consuming. The most difficult scenes are not the obvious ones. We have a dinner scene in the movie that was very hard to convert because there’s so much detail. You could scan across a table and have 12 different glasses, and each one of them has to be put in the right three-dimensional space.
You have an infinite amount of depth, so the question is where do place or emphasise that depth? Close-ups are very hard too. Faces have depth already, so if you put in too much depth people look bloated, and if you don’t put in enough the noses look flat.

Q: There’s a sense that the trend for 3D is starting to wane. Can Titanic buck the trend?
A: I think that’s a misconception. If you look at the global numbers for 3D movies they’re bigger than they ever were. I think what we have now – and the smart way to approach it – is to give people a choice of what they want to go see. With that in mind, Titanic will be re-released in 3D and 2D.

Q: There were rumours that Leonardo diCaprio and Kate Winslet were initially sceptical about being involved with the re-release?
A: I screened for Leo in Australia and he couldn’t be more enthusiastic. Kate saw the footage soon afterwards, and from everything I understand she’s excited too.
They were kids when the movie first came out, and their faces were probably the most recognisable in the world for months after the movie opened.
I think what part of it comes down to is that it’s very unusual to have a movie re-released. We’re not asking them to do a whole ton of marketing or publicity. We understand that they have other priorities and professional commitments today.

Q: Are there plans to convert any more Cameron movies into 3D?
A: I think when we’re done with the next two Avatar sequels, that’s something we could entertain doing, whether it’s True Lies, Terminator 2 or Aliens. I think Jim would like to do that.

Words – Declan Cashin

Titanic 3D is released on April 6th