|It started in 1985 when Robert
Ballard found the Titanic. James Cameron saw the National Geographic special, done
in 1987, and new he wanted to make a movie using underwater submersibles and ROVs
(remote operated vehicles). The result was The Abyss. He also made a note to do a
movie, told from the perspective of a survivor, in present day, about her experiences
aboard the Titanic.
Cameron had worked with Al Giddings on The Abyss and was invited, by him, to the premiere of Treasures of The Deep, a special done for CBS. It was after the showing that the two discussed the possiblity of diving to the wreck to film the underwater footage for the movie. Al thought they should use models, but Cameron was adamant about actually diving to the wreck.
The next thing you know they had gotten their visas and were on their way to Russia. They were meeting Dr. Anatoly Sagalvitch about using the Russian ship, Akademik Mstislav Keldysh, and its two submersibles, Mir 1 and Mir 2. The Russians are very protective of the Keldysh and the Mirs, but Sagalevitch recognizes the opportunity of money and exposure, which will keep his floating lab going. After seeing the ship, Cameron and Al joined Sagalevitch for a dinner and that is when Sagalevitch decided to allow Cameron to use the ship for his movie.
Cameron kept Titanic a secret until mid 1994, nearly two years after meeting with Sagalevitch, when he called his brother, Mike, to inform him of his plans to film the wreck. He also told him that he needed a special camera housing developed that could be attached to Mir 1 and sustain 6000 pounds per square inch of pressure and still have a 325 degree pan and a 175 degree tilt. Mike ended up building a housing that could stand almost 13,000 pounds per square inch of pressure, wanting to make sure an implosion didnt occur, which most likely would kill his brother and the rest of the crew in the sub.
In March, 1995, Cameron met with Tom Jacobson, then president of production at Fox. After some convincing, Fox agreed to fund the dive, essentially committing them to the film. Cameron immediately began work on the "scriptment", which is basically a novel that tells the story in great detail. The scriptment was 169 pages, when it was finished.
For the dive, Cameron had the camera housing built, a ROV, and various lights that would be used to light up Titanic. Most of the equipment didnt arrive until the last minute, which left little or no time for testing. On September 4, 1995, Cameron set out for the Titanic. On September 5, Cameron had a deep dive test, the camera and outboard lights worked very well, but the freestanding lights didnt work and the ROV was sluggish. They reached the site of the where the Titanic sunk on September 7.
On September 8, Cameron made his first dive to Titanic. It did not start out well. After the 2 hour 45 minute free fall to the bottom, it took Mir 1 2 ½ hours to find the wreck. Mir 2 found it almost immediately and used the time to recover and position the light towers that were launched. As it turned out, the light towers would not be usable, due to a miscalculation made by the manufacturer. As Mir 1 was approaching the Titanic, Cameron could see the wall of rivets on the right. Sagalevitch was piloting Mir 1 and didnt see it, thus he didnt react in time to miss the hull. They ran into the hull. Trying to recover, they go higher towards the railing, which they had to swerve to miss. Needless to say, Cameron was not impressed with his piloting skills. Sagalevitch landed Mir 1 on the deck and had no idea of where he was, on the ship. Cameron had memorized his model of the Titanic and quickly figured out where they were. He told Sagalevitch to turn around and go about 15 or 16 feet and they should see hatch number one. Sagalevitch didnt believe him, but was finally convinced to try it. Cameron was correct, and was not questioned again.
The next challenge was controlling the movement of the subs, so Cameron could film them. Film was a precious on each dive, as the camera could only hold enough film for 10-12 minutes of footage. After all the film was used, they ascended to the surface. After reaching the surface, Cameron was frustrated with the crew and the way the first dive went. Cameron convinced Sagalevitch to allow Giddings to go in Mir 2 to coordinate the lights and also to have an English speaking person in Mir 2.
Then next dive took place the next day. Dive two was less eventful, but Cameron grew more frustrated with his lack of control over the positioning the submersibles. After returning to the surface after dive two, Cameron held a dive-briefing meeting. In this meeting Cameron had the two pilots, of the subs, move the model subs the way Cameron wanted them to when they were at the bottom, giving them a better idea of what he wanted.
Dive three started promptly at 8:30, on September 10. Cameron directed the fall of Mir 1 and when they reached the bottom, they were 30 feet from the bow of the ship, starring at what looked like a freshly bulldozed pile of sand. They decided not to come as close next time, because if they came down on the ship, they could get lodged in some place, and would still be there. They got some better footage on this day. That night, back on board the Keldysh, Cameron turned in early, taking time to reflect on the dives, and the events that happed on that night in April. He decided from that point on, he would land the subs on the deck for lunch and reflect on the emotional part of Titanic. He wanted to capture the emotion of the dive on film and if he didnt stop to take it in, it would not show through in the film, which meant they were wasting their time.