You’ve all heard of him and if you haven’t, where the hell have you been? James Cameron is one of the most successful Directors in the film industry and a lot of people aspire to be like him.

How did James Cameron get his start?

But how did James Cameron get his start?

How did James Cameron get his start?


James Cameron was born in Kapuskasing, Ontario, Canada – August the 16th 1954. He didn’t take the usual route into film as he studied Physics at university later switching to study English but left college in 1974.

After leaving college early he picked up a number of odd jobs including truck driving and becoming a janitor as he studied special effects in filmmaking in his spare time.

Once he finished studying special effects he managed to get his first short film Xenogenisis funded by a consortium of dentists. This is how he learned how to write, produce, and direct a film in order to get it completed.

After this James Cameron went on to act as a production assistant on the 1979 movie “Rock and Roll High School”. James Cameron then went onto start a job at Roger Corman Studios as a miniature model maker. This job led him onto working on the films: Battle Beyond the Stars, John Carpenter’s Escape from New York, Galaxy of Terror, and Android.

He finally went on to direct his first feature movie in 1982 for the movie Piranha II: The Spawning – He was the special effects director for the prequel.

James Cameron was offered the chance to direct as the initial Director Miller Drake left due to ongoing friction with the head producer. Albeit a bit of chance, his previous years of hard work and perseverance allowed him to be in the position to inherit this opportunity.

However, the opportunity left him being criticised by the world’s media as Pirahana II: The Spawning was deemed a massive flop.

We think it’s a great segway into how James Cameron became a successful Director and a few tips on how to navigate the film industry.

Lessons on how to be a successful Director by James Cameron

Luck is not a thing

Luck is not a longtime strategy when it comes to succeeding in the film industry. Yes, it does play a part, but to get that luck you have to have earned it.

For instance, James Cameron worked hard for years to get a role as a production assistant. He then was promoted after studying after hours to a special effects assistant, then moved up the special effects ladder.

He then got the opportunity to become the Director of Piranha II: The Spawning after the original Director left. Yes it was a bit of luck that the Director left, but to be in the position to take over as Director he worked years for.

The way to grow your career is to keep learning, creating projects yourself, offer to help out on sets and grow your experience. Opportunities then will come calling and you’ll feel a little lucky, but actually it was all the hard work you’ve put in paying off.

Story is key

Story is Key

The story is the key factor in any film, forget all the cool effects and expensive cameras, if the story is weak, your film will flop.

You need to take your audience on a journey. Keep them on the edge of their seats, leave them wanting more. The art of storytelling is far more valuable than anything else.

If you have an amazing story, don’t let it put you off making it if you don’t have the latest filmmaking kit. The story will outshine any cool intro.

Why is this film important?

When you are offered a role as a director, make sure you sit down and really understand why the story must exist.

You need to really focus on the story and work out why it’s important. Why will the audience be interested in the story? It’s key to building a strong stand point as you develop the film further and mould it.

In his early career, James Cameron was both noticed by the audience and potential financial backers by Cameron’s understanding of why the story must exist. This intrigue and intensity James Cameron displayed showed his passion for filmmaking and drew a fanbase.

Watch James Cameron’s full interview here.

How do I become a Film Director?

How do I become a Film Director?

To become a film director, there really isn’t a set pathway. A lot of film directors make their way to becoming a film director through a different route. For instance, as we spoke previously, James Cameron worked as an assistant for the art director and found his path through that medium, there’s no set way.

The main thing to do is to ensure you immerse yourself in the filmmaking world, create opportunities for yourself and get together a showreel.

Showreels seem like a catch-22 position as it’s hard to get one together if you have no experience. Ways to do this are to write, produce and direct your own short films. You could also enrol in film school and here you’ll create films from start to finish.

This will provide you with enough material to promote yourself. Begin to enter into film festivals and set up a Vimeo account to showcase your work.

Another few tips to consider are:

  • Sign up for a filmmaking class.
  • Take a filmmaking degree.
  • Evening classes.
  • Offer to work on student projects.
  • Start as a runner.
  • Work up through the levels. (Runner, 3AD, 2AD, AD).
  • Look at working on commercials, build your portfolio.
  • Direct on short films.
  • Write, direct, and edit your own projects.

READ MORE: How to become a film director