With Avatar: The Way of Water making excellent strides at the box office, there is significant curiosity as to how the movie came together. In an interview with Variety, Avatar: The Way of Water screenwriters Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver revealed how the whole franchise was planned almost ten years ago along with director James Cameron in a place they call “Avatar boot camp.” Based on their interview, it’s pretty safe to say that Cameron’s approach for writing the next installments of the Na’vi stories was as ambitious as the movies’ signature special effects.
Cameron’s idea was to have all writers band together and, after hearing his thoughts and reading his notes regarding the future of Pandora, each one would contribute and pitch ideas until they had the franchise mapped out all the way through the very end of the last installment.
Fellow screenwriters Josh Friedman (Snowpiercer series) and Shane Salerno (Armageddon) were also part of the team, and as the ideas started rolling in, three sequels ended up becoming four, and Silver explains how all the process came to be:
“We met for six months. It was so big and so exciting. But it was going to take the room to wrangle all this amazing material into three movies that would each be individual yet follow the saga of all these different characters in these expanding worlds… [James Cameron] had let himself just kind of jot down all his dreams and thoughts about different Na’vi worlds and possibilities of all these characters and creatures. So he hadn’t made himself organize it yet. The writers room was the time to organize.”
Organizing thoughts and structuring them out is always a great way to start. The problem was: Cameron and the team of writers were putting together a whole franchise, and Jaffa paints a picture of how chaotic the planning stage became – and why Cameron insisted that all of them work together exhaustively before assigning one movie for each of them to write:
“Once we kind of got a baseline of education, then the whiteboards were brought into the room and we started mapping out characters, members of the family, story arcs and so forth. There was so much material that a handful of really large whiteboards suddenly became this room full of whiteboards. I mean, whiteboards were everywhere, and then whiteboards that flipped over and you could write on the other side. […] When there was an outline or treatment for the first movie, we all contributed to it. We did that on each film. By the time we got to the last one, I think we had a mind-meld. One of us would come up with an idea and someone else would be simultaneously coming up with that same idea.”
Jaffa goes on to explain that Cameron made a point of not telling who would write each movie because the director was afraid that separating them might make the team not care as much about each other’s installments. So first he had them all join heads to figure out the concept and beats of the story, and once they were all in perfect sync, it was finally time to sort them out. Jaffa and Silver got the second movie (which was then split into Avatar 2 and Avatar 3), Friedman got to pen the penultimate installment and Salerno became responsible for sending the Na’vi off into the sunset.
The Past Becomes the Future
Of course, it will take a long, long time for us to see how all of that played out, since the next installments of Avatar are coming out every two years. We’ll only get to fully appreciate what Cameron and his group of four screenwriters came up with in that messy room with whiteboards when Avatar 5 comes out in 2028.
Avatar: The Way of Water is playing in theaters now. You can watch our interview with the franchise’s producer Jon Landau below: