What Does It Take To Succeed?

I don’t think James Cameron is the best director in the world.

I don’t think he’s even in the top 100 (UPDATE: OK, he’s about number 54).

I have no urge to watch a single one of his movies right now (I did see Avatar the other day).

His plots are derivative.

Much of Titanic was dreadful.


I just can’t wrap my head around what he is able to do.

In Hollywood a hell of a lot of very desperate, very clever people are trying to make big films that please a lot of people and make a lot of money. That’s all they are trying to do, all day every day. Amongst them, James Cameron has written, produced and directed the two biggest films in history (Avatar’s final gross is still shooting up, but it took in more money in 17 days than The Dark Knight did in its entire run. And The Dark Knight is the fourth biggest-grossing film of all time).

He took incredible chances with the technology that created both Titanic and Avatar (and let’s not forget how amazing parts of The Abyss and all of Terminator Two were), chances that could have bummed him out of the business. But they all came off better than anyone could have expected. He seems to have the ability to create stories in an incredibly complex medium that are more popular than anyone else’s. And whether you like them or not, they touch and impress more people than anything you have ever done, or ever will do. But how does he do it? What is it about him that makes him so much better at a game that some really smart people are trying constantly to win?

The bad news for those of you that want to emulate him is that he was bullied at school and he seems to hold a grudge about this that drives him like a bastard:

“If you ever go to a 25th high school reunion, make sure that in the previous two months you’ve made the world’s highest-grossing movie, won 11 Academy Awards and become physically bigger than most of those guys who used to beat you up. I walked up to them one by one and said, ‘You know, I could take your ass right now, and I’m tempted, but I won’t.’

So, do you need a bit of adversity to butt up against in order to get the motivation to spend your life trying to cancel it out?

Are successful people driven by a need for mass love and approval to replace that which they did not get when young?

Can you have a happy, easy youth and still find it in yourself to be one of the best, or will the good times eventually dissipate the fire?

I suppose the annoying thing is that you can’t choose any of this. Either you’ve got it or you don’t. But then perhaps an un-bullied, joyous childhood is a good trade off for a slightly less driven life. And of course, bullying etc. can send you off in the other direction to spend your life metaphorically cowering in a corner.

So, no real answers.

I guess that makes this my first really pointless post of 2010.

But don’t worry; there are many more on the way.

UPDATE: A post on the reasons behind Avatar’s success.

UPDATE 2: Arthur Kade’s take on the same question.