I’ve had some people in the office bugging me about going to more “upscale” parties, and there was a party at the Malibu mansion of director James Cameron. It doesn’t get more upscale than that. He’s the guy behind a couple Terminator films, True Lies, The Abyss, and his biggest hit, Titanic.
I found out about it because my step-dad played Captain Smith in Cameron’s 3-D Titanic movie Ghosts of the Abyss.
April 15 wasn’t just tax day; it was the anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. A few days before, someone who worked on the film had planned a party at their house in L.A. Cameron found out and said, “Let’s have it at my place.”
I called Ken Callaway for help. At one of his parties, he had bottles of wine with really cool labels. He said, “You buy a bunch of bottles of ‘two-buck Chuck,’ let them sit in warm water for ten minutes, and peel the labels off. You can design your own labels on the computer. You can make up vintages that fit the theme of your party better.” I said, “And save a fortune on expensive wine.”
I asked him to make me a Titanic label, so I could show up with some wine to hand Cameron.
He called it Iron Jim’s Titanic Chardonnay. I had asked for the name “James Cameron” to be written in fancy calligraphy, but this worked. He also had a picture of the Titanic on it. On the sides, he described the wine, while using various film titles in the description. I told him to make sure he had the year the Titanic sank.
Not trusting L.A. traffic, I got up to Malibu an hour and 20 minutes early, so my girlfriend and I stopped at a café for coffee and pastries.
The party started at noon. We got there around 12:30, and I saw my parents pulling up.
I had to check in with the security guards at the main gate and at Cameron’s place. I parked on the street and watched in my rearview mirror as my parents drove in.
I asked my step-dad why he didn’t park on the street. “I’m in the movie, bud. We get special treatment.”
Cameron had a cherried out old Cobra. It was signed by Carroll Shelby on the dashboard. Speaking of autographed items, I brought the Usual Suspects DVD for Cameron’s wife to sign. She was the only female in the film.
Three huge black dogs ran over, and I thought this was the best security anyone could have — two security guards, three dogs.
They didn’t bark and were friendly. Cameron said “hi” and introductions were made. I handed over the bottle and he said, “Cool. Oh, it’s a 1912. I better not open this.” I saw him reading the sides of the label. He smiled and said, “Thanks. I’m going to save this.” I told Ken on the phone driving up that I wished he could be there with me. He joked, “As long as you let him know I have a few scripts...”
There were chips and salsa on a table at one side of the pool. There was a bar set up on the other side. I got a Coke from the bartender, who looked as if he was a Secret Service agent with his slacks and short haircut.
Since there were only a couple of people, I figured I’d take the opportunity to ask Cameron a movie question before he was swarmed with guests.
He was sitting in the shade talking with artist Ken Marschall. I waited for a break in the conversation and said, “This is probably going to be the stupidest movie question you’ve ever been asked.” Cameron smiled and said, “I doubt that. I’ve been asked a lot of weird questions before.” I said, “The movie Strange Days has a cover of the Doors song ‘Strange Days.’ Was that your original title for the movie or did someone at the studio decide to go with that? Since the Doors are my favorite band, I have to ask.”
He said, “Yeah, I came up with the title when I wrote it. But, we couldn’t get the song for the movie.”
“It was in there,” I said. “It’s just a really weird version. You can barely tell it’s the same song.”
Cameron replied, “Oh, yeah, I guess we did finally. For the longest time, we couldn’t get the rights. It was Point Break. We wanted to call that Riders on the Storm, but they were doing that Doors movie, so nobody else could get any songs.”
“So, it sounds like you’re a big Doors fan,” I said.
“Yeah, when I was in high school, they were the band.”
As people started to trickle in, I walked over and talked to a guy who works with Ken Marschall. I mentioned how the paintings I’ve seen of his in Titanic books look just like photographs. He laughed and said, “You should hear what some people say to Ken. They say, ‘I didn’t know they had color photography back then.’ He has to explain that it’s not a photograph but his painting.” He told an interesting story about the kind of art Ken does and how on movie sets Marschall will sometimes paint a brick wall that the actors need to stand in front of. He explained how it’s often easier to do that than to find a location and all the other hassles that go along with filming on location.
I told him I was going to get something signed by Cameron’s wife, actress Suzy Amis. He said, “Cameron is really good about signing stuff. One time I brought a Titanic poster, and he was late for a meeting. He was saying, ‘Do I have to sign it now? Can I sign it later?’ He then just signed it. I guess as long as you don’t say ‘Thanks. I can put this on eBay now.’”