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“The potential of Hollywood in Asia is phenomenal”

He is best known as the producer of two of the biggest Hollywood blockbusters of all time, Titanic and Avatar. In India to promote Titanic in 3D, Jon Landau speaks to Sagorika Dasgupta on why a film like this connects with the Indian audience and lots more

Why release Titanic in 3D?

We believe there are a handful of films you have to see on the big screen. Titanic is one of them. People aspire to watch films on the big screen. There is a generation of movie-goers who have only seen Titanic at home. They have either seen it on VHS cassettes or their iPads, iPhones, or on their mobile devices. This film in 3D will now give them an opportunity to come to a theatre and be reminded of how special the movie can be. 3D really enhances the movie-viewing experience. That’s why we decided to release it in this format.3D is not about a window coming out of the screen; it is about a world coming out of that window. We had initially released a 7-minute trailer of Titanic in 3D and wanted to test the experience creatively. At that time, we felt we could give the audience an experience that they would remember for the rest of their lives.

Both Titanic and Avatar were huge hits. What is the turnout you are expecting from this film?

I have never really thought about that. I never think about that because that’s out of our control. I only worry about what’s in our control. And what’s in our control is the quality of the 3D conversion and the fact that we were able to take our time to make these conversions. We spent around 60 weeks converting the film. Also Jim (James) Cameron looked at every shot and scrutinised it himself. I would say that’s what was in our control. I believe we are putting forward the best possible version of this film for the public to decide what they want to do with it.

How much did the 2D-to-3D conversion cost?

The conversion costs were around $ 18 million and it took us 60 weeks to convert it. We got in touch with a studio in LA called Stereo D to do it.

It must have been easy to raise that kind of money, since both Titanic and Avatar were such huge successes.

You will be surprised to know that it was not easy at all. It’s never easy! When we took the decision to convert Titanic in to 3D, nobody had released a converted movie before. We started working on this plan about four to five years ago but we finalised the decision only two years ago. At hat time, none of the filmmakers were doing something like this. Movies that came out in 3D were the likes of The Lion King, and they were very different then. So we had to bring in the studio, show them the footage and convince them why it would work. They would go away, they would ask questions, we would then have to bring them in again, explain our vision to them all over again, and the whole process would just keep going back and forth. But now that they are on board, they are huge advocates and supporters of 3D.

It took a lot of time and research to make the Titanic 15 years ago. Did you have any idea back then that it would turn out to be such a blockbuster?

Nobody had any idea how the film would shape up then. When we were making this movie, our only goal was that if we were as successful as this film called Dancing With Wolves, which was a three hour long movie and was a huge hit and collected over $ 18 million at the box office, then we would have made it. Or else, both Jim and I would have had to look for another job somewhere else. (Laughs)

But no one imagined the success that Titanic would eventually enjoy.

How important is the Asian market for Hollywood?

The Asian market is becoming vastly important, for two reasons. One is the  immediacy, just for this movie. Two, collections-wise, it will be one of the largest markets in the next decade. It was already one of the largest in the last decade. The potential here is phenomenal and we have to recognise that we have to take time out to support the industry and we have to take our time to show people why there is potential here.

Many Hollywood filmmakers have said that, in the US, the movie-viewing pattern has changed, where people prefer to watch films online rather than go to cinemas. Is that one reason why Hollywood films are growing in the Asian market?

I think there is a misconception about whether people in the US go to the movies or not. I make a lot of presentations and visit a lot of universities to talk about cinema. And I talk in particular about three quotes from leading newspapers about the movie industry and how in the West, people are not going to the movies any more. Also how with home entertainment on the rise, people are avoiding visiting cinema halls, and how the exhibition industry will collapse in the US. Three quotes. They are from 1923, 1957 and 1983. So these are all outdated quotes. And the multiplex industry is still here and we will continue to be here. I think what has happened is technology has put us in a global market. No longer can you make movies just for North America. You have to make films that can be played to the world, films that can relate to the world thematically and conceptually.

Is that why you think Titanic in 3D will work? Because, when it released in India, the theme and treatment of the film were very Indian and included the song with the concept of a love story?

I think Titanic worked in India because the message from the movie was universal, a message of true love regardless of class. A message about how you act in the face of danger, a message about not relying on a machine to judge your successes but relying on people. Those are universal themes and people could relate to these humane themes. And that worked really well especially with the people in India. The idea of being able to find true love regardless of where your roots are, and where you came from, and more about where you want to go and how you get yourself there was really liked by the audience.

Have you watched any Hindi films?

Yes, but only a handful.

Are you familiar with Hindi films in 3D?

No, I have not seen any Hindi film in 3D.

Was the 3D conversion work for Titanic done in India?

Stereo D outsourced the work to a lot of places. But I am not sure which places.

How else do you plan to promote the film? Are you touring any other cities in India?

Yes, we are planning a strong promotion for the film in India. I will be going to Delhi and Agra too. We will have screenings around the country. This is going to be a word-of-mouth film, maybe. Since a lot of people already know about the film, when they watch it this time, they will realise that it is very different from the first part. And I’m sure that they will really appreciate the 3D conversion. I think all these apsects will drive people to the cinemas.

Tell us a little about James Cameron. What was it like working with him?

Working with Jim has been great because it challenged me every day. You wake up and, every day, you learn something new from him. Many people make the mistake of thinking that their learning process stops when they get out of school. It doesn’t. You can learn every day, and to me, I am much more excited about learning now than I ever was when I was in college. Jim forces you to learn so that you can challenge him on things and so that you can communicate with him in a much better way. And I think that’s great.

About your upcoming films… Is it true that both sequels of Avatar are being shot concurrently?

Yes. Both are being shot concurrently.

Will these also be big-budget films?

Yes. Both big budgets.

And in 3D?

Very much in 3D! But, you know, by shooting both these films together, it really brings the cost of the films down. If you need a particular set for Avatar 1, then again for Avatar 2 and for Avatar 3 also, why build it twice? We build the set just once and shoot all three films simultaneously. But we are planning to release the movies one year apart.

When exactly will the sequels hit the cinemas?

The release dates are still being worked out. We always tend to go beyond our release dates and then we usually get written about a lot for that. Titanic was supposed to be a July release but it got pushed to December. So we are yet to decide on a release date for both these films.

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