The production of "Titanic" has gotten plenty of attention for its record-setting $200 million budget, but as the film's scheduled July 1997 release date approached, the public's attention was equally as locked onto the schedule delays as much as the ballooning costs. After principal photography expanded to an unprecedented 160 days, representing over a month of additional shooting, filming finally wrapped on March 23, 1997 and post-production could enter full swing.
By April, The New York Times was reporting a strong likelihood of postponement based on Cameron's comments that even August 1 would be "grueling but do-able." In May, it became official. The release date moved from July 2 to December 19, bringing an end to his streak of summer box office dominance, with "Terminator 2" and "True Lies," and converting Cameron to prefer December releases, as adopted on the "Avatar" franchise.
Among the causes of delays was a contagious flu that spread throughout the cast and crew, as well as a mix of colds and kidney infections, contracted while shooting in waist-high water on the coast of Baja California. These disruptive plagues are not to be confused with the incident involving P.C.P.-laced chowder during early shooting in Nova Scotia that afflicted nearly everyone on set, including the director, and left multiple individuals hospitalized.
Remarkably, these challenges arose after filming itself had been pushed back due to the longer than expected lead time involved in constructing a 775-foot replica of the ship and replacement of the original director of photography with Russell Carpenter, who would team up again with Cameron on "The Way of Water."
The greatest contributor to setbacks, though, was not the illnesses endured, but Cameron's perfectionism. Fulfilling his vision on the planned schedule, according to Cameron, would have demanded that he defy the laws of physics.
In a 2017 interview with Entertainment Tonight (ET), Cameron looked back at his time shooting "Titanic" as a one-step-forward, two-steps-back experience:
"The logistics just piled up so much that for every day I shot, I got two days behind schedule, which is not even mathematically possible."
It did not help that Cameron has admitted to filming between 8-10 takes per shot on "Titanic," asserting Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio's performances became richer each time the cameras rolled. What makes the film is exceptional is how often moments between the two leads are set to a backdrop of dozens to hundreds of other actors dressed in historically accurate clothing and putting in just as much effort as the stars. Certainly, coordinating all that took time.
Actress Frances Fisher ("Unforgiven," "The Lincoln Lawyer," HBO's "Watchmen"), who portrays Rose's mother Ruth, gave a personal account of what it was like on set when she told ET, "Even the very last background player in the back of every shot was dressed completely authentically. Down to our underwear, everything was real." In addition to being a nightmare for his costume department, Cameron explained that bringing this level of veracity to each frame meant, "dealing with thousands of extras and big logistics and keeping people safe."
With deadlines drawing near, CEO and Chairman of Fox Filmed Entertainment, Bill Mechanic traveled to Mexico to propose cuts in the filming schedule, to which Cameron responded, "to fire me, you'll have to kill me." Upon reflection, Cameron conceded his $8 million directing fee in exchange for royalties, and Fox split the costs with a less-inclined Paramount. As an undertaking rivaled by the construction of the Titanic itself, it's nothing short of a miracle that Cameron found a way to make the math work.
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