By Andrew S. Harper
“James Cameron will be in the media tent in five minutes,” a media coordinator whispered.
This is it, I thought as I grabbed my Sony XDCAM and checked my camera settings. DC can be an interesting place to work. Filming the events on the 40th anniversary of Earth Day for MySpace Celebrity gave me a sense of pride. I’ve always been drawn to the outdoors and preserving the planet. Helping others across the globe get a glimpse of the day through our team’s camera lenses into this historic day was an honor.
While studying filmmaking at CDIA at Boston University, Cameron’s name came up often. Although this was well before the success of Avatar, his name was etched in Hollywood as one of its great directors. As an undergraduate in the 1980s at University of Maryland, films like Aliens, The Terminator and The Abyss were a topic of discussion over a stale beer at the local watering hole.
Later Cameron’s success with Terminator 2: Judgment Day, True Lies and in 1997 with the blockbuster Titanic, with a worldwide gross of over $1.8 billion, sky-rocked him to being a huge powerhouse in Hollywood.
Cameron came through the tent door with a smile. His faded jeans hinted at a humble man unaffected by his success. He made jokes to the media as he entered, as if we weren’t really there to see him but a real celebrity. But when asked by MySpace Celebrity actress and host Sulinh Lafontaine about his reasons for making Avatar, his tone became more serious.
Cameron’s deep passion for the health of the planet emerged in the five to 10 minutes we spent with him. He spoke about the importance of climate change education and his wife’s efforts in forming an environmental school. It became evident through the experience that he is just a regular guy, who happens to love the planet and wanted very deeply to make a difference through the lessons of Avatar. He also believes we can do the same in our own way. It just so happens his way is being master storyteller through the art of film.
During the short interview, I was torn between two related professions, do I film video or do I take stills? Photography was my first love, but I was a filmmaker now. But old habits die, hard. I had brought my old Nikon D100 camera as a bonus and knew our client would want photographs documenting the interview. I decided to do both.
Later in the evening, Cameron emerged onstage to the roar of the crowd. He challenged the audience to educate themselves through reading important scientific works on climate change, then to spread the seeds of wisdom intelligently.
Our day was filled with many opportunities to film other interviews with actress Suzy Amis, Cameron’s wife, who quietly said they’d taken the train down from New York with Sting and his wife. For a moment I thought, I would have liked to be a fly on the wall during that conversation. Sulinh asked if they had ever talked about collaboration together. Suzy said that they had. Who knows, maybe Sting will be part of Avatars sequel. It was nice to hear they took mass transit.
As the day rolled on, our team, Drew Loughlin, Alexi Karastelev and I, corralled Avatar’s Giovanni Ribisi, singers Bob Weir and Jimmy Cliff and Hardball host Chris Matthews for their comments on Earth Day.
The rally was topped off with an appearance from Sting. His proud wife, Trudie Styler, introduced him with her thick accent, and like a star-struck teenager shouted, “Let’s give it up for Sting!” Sting appeared and sat on a stool, with a raspy tone and the gentle plucking of a beautiful Spanish guitar, he began to sing, “We forget how fragile we are.” The verse made eerie sense to me. I guess this was his message in a bottle.
My back ached from standing all day, the muscles in my arms felt like they were going to explode, but I ignored the urge of my arms to shake with the pain of stale adrenaline. I struggled to hold the video camera that grew heavier throughout the day, because this, next to our interview with James Cameron was the second most important few minutes of all. I had to get good clean footage.
Being in the pit again and filming Sting from only a few feet away, brought back memories of my college days providing security for him in DC and Philadelphia. I felt like saying, “Hey Sting, I’ve protected you from screaming fans on more than a few occasions, the least you can do is give me one quick interview.” It was not meant to be. He waved to the crowd and said goodnight, then ducked out of sight to a waiting limo.
Like anyone else in the audience would be, I was thrilled to have such an opportunity. This career is the best I could have chosen. I was thankful for my filmmaking education at CDIA. To me, today it was being used for a greater good. Maybe someday, I too, will make an award winning film. But at 45, the days of my youth are behind. But I now know my heart is in environmental storytelling. So I must do what I can and make the difference in my own little way as the year’s progress, just like Cameron would want.
Andrew Harper is a freelance producer for 60iMedia Productions, LLC, in Rockville, MD (www.60iMedia.com)
Sulinh Lafontaine is an actress and freelance TV host residing in both Los Angeles and NYC. (www.SulinhLafontaine.com)