“I was wasting my last breath of air”: James Cameron Punched Safety Diver and Swam to Save His Life After His Worst Nightmare Came True During a Underwater Shoot

"I was wasting my last breath of air": James Cameron Punched Safety Diver and Swam to Save His Life After His Worst Nightmare Came True During a Underwater Shoot
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When we talk about filmmakers who have been associated with the habit of coming up with films that gain massive numbers at the worldwide box office, James Cameron is one of the names that is meant to come up. Three of his films are in the top 10-grossing movies of all time. Hence, there’s no question that he is one of the most important and influential filmmakers in the movie industry.

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James Cameron
James Cameron

James Cameron has a unique filmmaking style with a keen eye for detail, assisting him in building a spectacular world that looks no less than magic. Though he has made limited films in his illustrious career, all of them are massive hits. However, his career almost came to an end when he was filming a special edition sequence of his seldom-seen 1989 film, The Abyss.

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James Cameron Almost Knocked on Death’s Door

James Cameron appeared at the Los Angeles genre festival, Beyond Fest for a Q&A session about The Abyss. While talking about the film, the Avatar director casually mentioned via Variety, how he had almost died shooting the film. Cameron stated how 34 years ago he was “being pulled in different directions,” and how he wanted to make his film stand out from other sci-fi films of that time.

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A still from The Abyss (1989)
A still from The Abyss (1989)

Hence, he came up with the idea of shooting underwater scenes, 30 feet down in an abandoned nuclear power plant in Gaffney. While describing the complicated process, he shared how the safety team was there to ensure to safety of his cast, but none of them were assigned to save him, in case things turned south.

“We had the ‘angels,’ which were the safety divers that were right there, and each one was assigned to one or two of the actors and just kept them in sight the whole time. [But] they weren’t watching me. We were working 30 feet down. For me to be able to move the camera around on the bottom I wore heavy weights around my feet, no fins, a heavy weight belt around my waist.”

Behind the scenes of The Abyss
Behind the scenes of The Abyss

James Cameron continued that he got a warning on how his tank was low on oxygen, and how after one breath, there would be nothing in the tank, while the crew prepared underwater. He tried to call Al Giddings, the director of photography, but he had a diving accident so he was “deaf as a post,” and was fighting for his life.

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“When the tank gets low, you get a warning that you’re about to run out of air. Well, this thing had a piston servo regulator in it, so it was one breath… and then nothing. Everybody’s setting lights and nobody’s watching me.”

“I’m trying to get [underwater director of photography] Al Giddings attention on the p.a. but Al had been involved in a diving accident and he blew out both eardrums so he was deaf as a post, and I’m wasting my last breath of air on an underwater p.a. system going ‘Al… Al…’ and he’s working away with his back to me.”

Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio and Ed Harris in a still from The Abyss
Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio and Ed Harris in a still from The Abyss

James Cameron continued that he managed to remove the gear but met another obstacle as the ‘angels’ didn’t check the regulator before sticking it in his mouth, so he took a deep breath full of water, after purging it again, he “took another deep breath… of water.” Cameron resorted to desperate measures, as he did not have any way of telling the angels that the regular way wasn’t working so he punched him in the face to survive.

“At that point it was almost check out point and the safety divers are taught to hold you down so you don’t embolize and let your lungs overexpand going up. But I knew what I was doing. And he wouldn’t let me go, and I had no way to tell him the regulator wasn’t working. So I punched him in the face and swam to the surface and therefore survived.”

The Abyss is one of the films by James Cameron that didn’t meet commercial success immediately, as it earned $90 million at the worldwide box office. 

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James Cameron is The Audience’s Man

In a separate interview with Variety, James Cameron alongside renowned director, Denis Villeneuve, discussed what’s it like to work on massive projects, and their influence on special effects. The Terminator actor stated how the viewers interpret the world they create, and the logic behind them.

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“This is what I ask my writers to do with me the Avatar sequels. There’s a whole mesianic through line in these stories on my side, probably inspired by Dune. And the idea that there is a scientific explaination for every single thing that happens, but you don’t have to accept it. You can also accept it at a level that doesn’t require explanation. There’s some sense of a higher order. A higher meaning”

James Cameron mentioned that despite writing logical explanations and the reasonings behind why things occur and happen, he has made it a point to remind himself that it’s okay if the audience rejects such explanations.

Also Read: “I had never seen something like that”: David Fincher Almost Directed ‘The Blade’ Only to Leave Project for $327M Movie That Became Denzel Washington’s Biggest Regret

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Source: Variety

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Written by Tushar Auddy

Tushar Auddy, Junior Content Writer. He has been in the entertainment industry for 3 years and is always on the lookout for a captivating story. He is a student of Linguistics and currently pursuing his Master's degree in the same field. He has a passion for literature that runs deep and loves nothing more than getting lost in a novel for hours on end. When he isn't reading, you'll find him capturing the beauty of language.