Five years ago, Andrew Wight, James Cameron’s long-time collaborator, brought him an idea based on an expedition he’d lead to explore a remote cave system beneath the Nullarbor Plain in Australia. During the trip, a freak storm caused the cave entrance to collapse; leaving 15 people trapped underground.
A rescue mission was mounted and everyone survived the harrowing ordeal. Cameron loved the idea and along with writer John Garvin, Wight crafted a classic coming-of-age story about a young man who is at odds with his father before the ultimate test of survival brings them together.
“Though Wight and Garvin had their genesis for Sanctum from Wight’s life experience, we didn’t want to recreate the almost ill-fated trip as a documentary. Rather than tell the exact story, it was far more exciting to use the essence of the experience and look at what happens to people when they are in a difficult environment and under extreme pressure,” points out Cameron, adding that Sanctum is a story of survival and self-discovery of a group of people who get trapped when on an expedition in the wilds of Papua New Guinea.
Wight and he had previously been on some great adventures together, during which they had dived deep into the ocean to discover never-before-seen parts of the ocean floor and marine life for Aliens Of the Deep. “We dove the Titanic (for Ghosts Of The Abyss) and the Bismarck,” reminisces the three-time Academy Award-winning executive producer of Titanic and Avatar.
Alister Grierson landed the enviable offer to direct the film because Cameron and Wight had really liked the young Australian’s debut feature debut, Kokoda (2006). It was the true story of a platoon of soldiers lost in the New Guinea jungles during a pivotal World War II battle in 1942. “We were looking for someone young, but not a novice. We wanted someone who had already made his first mistakes. Someone with a vision who knew how to accomplish it. Kokoda was a very strong first film, and Alister presented himself as a director with a real opinion,” says Cameron.
After they had decided he was the ideal candidate, Wight and Cameron spent some time with the director to gauge his intentions. It was a trial by submersion that sealed the deal for him. “Andrew took Alister cave diving and scared the crap out of him. He kept it together and came out with a real understanding for caving,” reminisces Cameron. “His biggest dare though was to learn how to work with 3D.”
‘Aamir Khan is on top of his game’
Cameron reminisces about his India visit
I was honoured to share the stage with Aamir Khan when I visited India last year,” asserts Cameron. “He is on top of his game and it was his birthday the following day. He chose to attend the session with me foregoing his birthday celebrations.”
‘An epic father-son story in 3D
The reason why Sanctum will be memorable for the Avatar director
Sanctum has a strong father-son relationship which appealed to Cameron. “The 3D element is the icing on the cake. Although I do think that when audiences see the film in 3D, it will open up a world that they haven’t experienced. But basically, Sanctum is a father- son story, a rite of passage about a young man learning lessons from his parent and the environment and on his way to he becoming a man,” reasons the acclaimed filmmaker, adding that five years from now he’d like people to remember the film as an epic father-son
relationship story that was brought to life in 3D.
Underground waterfall and scuba diving
Challenges faced by the cast and crew while filming
Papua New Guinea is home to some of the most amazing underground environments in the world. There are flowing rivers, gushing waterfalls, stalactite; vast caverns. Things you could never imagine unless you’ve been there. To replicate them on a small scale was an tough task but production designer Nicolas McCallum was ready for it.
“The biggest challenge for Nicolas was simply to get everything built and ready in the allocated time,” executive producer James Cameron admits. “He also had to be mindful of the 3D process and to give enough depth and height to the sets. Besides re-creating a series of underground caves, he also had to build an enormous “underground” waterfall to match the specifications set forth by Garvin and Andrew’s script.”
For director of photography Jules O’Loughlin, the biggest hurdle was lighting the cave system. “It was an alien environment with no natural light whatsoever; all the light is brought in by the characters in the film,” points outs Cameron.
The cast went through a lot of physical preparation and endurance during the shoot. Richard Roxburgh, who plays a master diver, and had to learn to dive in a scuba diving boot camp. Most of the members of the cast that included Rhys Wakefield (who plays 17-year-old Josh), Ioan Gruffudd (as financier Carl Hurley), Alice Parkinson (as Carl’s girlfriend), Victoria and Dan Wyllie (as Crazy George) had to learn scuba diving, re breathing and rock climbing. A few even had to learn base jumping.”