James Cameron has always had a penchant for big-budget productions but very few of them have enjoyed the cultural impact of a project like the Titanic. An unforgettable cultural artefact from the 1990s, Cameron’s famous film retells the story of a historical disaster by presenting it in the form of a love story between a struggling artist and an aristocrat with a conscience.
Cameron’s romantic epic isn’t just about the magic of love, it also launches a fascinating investigation of the technological arrogance that humanity has always indulged in. The recipient of several awards including a whopping collection of 11 Oscars, Titanic is still cited as an example of how filmmaking morphs into a different art form when the scale is amplified.
While looking back on the production process, Cameron reflected: “I had dark hours on Titanic as dire as Piranha II. We missed the iceberg by that much. But I’m at my best when I’m neck-deep in ice water trying to work out how we’re going to keep the lights turned on when the water hits the bulbs.”
Adding, “Titanic was conceived as a love story. If I could have done it without one effect, I would’ve been happy. It was definitely a goal to integrate a very personal, emotional style with spectacle – and try to make that not be chocolate syrup on a cheeseburger, you know. The cathartic experience is what made the film work.”
In order to dive a little deeper into the extensive production process of such a gargantuan project, we take a look at some lesser known stories about the making of James Cameron’s 1997 epic Titanic.
Five stories from Titanic:
Leonardo DiCaprio did not draw the nude sketch
One of the most iconic scenes in the entire film, this one involves Leonardo DiCaprio sketching a nude portrait of Kate Winslet in a symbolic act of liberation. This moment has been immortalised in the memories of fans as well as the world of memes but in reality, it wasn’t DiCaprio who drew the portrait. Instead, Cameron took it upon himself to do the sketch because he wanted to make sure it was perfect.
In a discussion about the scene, Cameron said: “You know what it means for her, the freedom she must be feeling. It’s kind of exhilarating for that reason… It wasn’t by any kind of design, although I couldn’t have designed it better. There’s a nervousness and an energy and a hesitance in them. They had rehearsed together, but they hadn’t shot anything together. If I’d had a choice, I probably would have preferred to put it deeper into the body of the shoot.”
Kate Winslet got pneumonia
For particular scenes, the cast had to spend time in a water tank and were advised to wear wetsuits to protect themselves from the cold water which had been brought from the Pacific Ocean. However, Winslet declined the protection because she thought it would hinder her performance. By the end, she was diagnosed with pneumonia.
Winslet revealed that she sustained many injuries over the course of the production as well: “I would have so many bruises that the hair and makeup girls would come and say, ‘Oh, can we just photograph your arms?’ And they would photograph my deep bloody bruises.”
Continuing, the actress added: “But we were all like that. It was unavoidable, and it didn’t matter how much safety we had in place. Didn’t matter how brilliant our stunt coordinator was and how taken care of we were. It was completely unavoidable.”
Matthew McConaughey might have been Jack
The mere mention of Titanic invokes the image of Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet in our minds but that image could have been very different. According to Cameron, he was almost ready to accept Matthew McConaughey as Jack because of his fantastic work.
In an interview, Cameron explained: “I auditioned with Matthew, isn’t that weird? Never said that in public before. I auditioned with Matthew, which was completely fantastic. It just wouldn’t have been the whole ‘Jack and Rose, Kate and Leo’ thing.”
Chowder laced with PCP
There were a lot of obstructions in the production process of Titanic but the funniest one is definitely when a crew member decided to put PCP into the chowder that was made for the team. The psychoactive substance was consumed by almost everyone which made many hallucinate and some crew members ended up going to the hospital.
Set painter Marilyn McAvoy claimed: “The chowder was unbelievable. People were going back for second bowls. I really thought about going back because it was so good. And I think that was part of the problem: people ate a lot more than usual because it was so delicious.”
The film cost more than the actual ship
When the Titanic was sold back in 1912, the market value of the technological marvel was $7.5 million. For that time period, it was an extraordinary amount of money for a shipping vessel but humanity’s fondness for giant structures ensured its existence.
For a long time, since the release of Titanic in 1997, the ship has cost less than the budget of the film which was around $200 million. In 2021, the price of the real Titanic goes up to around $157 million after adjusting for inflation which means that the film still remains more expensive. Thankfully, it earned a profit of $2 billion.