×

James Cameron Embarks on ‘Mission OceanX’ Exploration Series With National Geographic (EXCLUSIVE)

James Cameron is heading back underwater in “Mission OceanX,” a series for National Geographic that will follow a groundbreaking ocean exploration mission. The “Titanic” and “The Abyss” director is no stranger to the deep, having dived down to the Mariana Trench in a submarine in 2012, among other aquatic missions.

“Mission OceanX” will follow the maiden voyage of the Alucia2, a next-generation exploration ship belonging to underwater exploration organization OceanX. BBC Studios’ vaunted Natural History Unit and OceanX are co-producing for Nat Geo, but Cameron said in an exclusive interview with Variety that he is pushing the team to take a different approach from regular blue-chip natural history series by getting under the skin of the people and the mission.

“We want it to be character-driven,” Cameron said during a break from shooting the new “Avatar” movies. “One of the things I have pushed everybody towards, maybe even a little bit to the extent [that] they are outside of their comfort zones, was to make it kind of reality TV, meaning I want to follow these people. I want to know how they think; I want to understand their passion as explorers and as ocean scientists…that burning curiosity.”

Nat Geo is launching a social-media campaign to rename the Alucia2, which is expected to head to the Indian Ocean with its new moniker in mid-2020. It will carry highly qualified marine biologists and experts, but any discoveries will only be known when it is in the field.

“That’s part of the excitement – you go out there and you don’t know what’s going to happen. The ocean hasn’t read your script and there’s no Take 2,” Cameron said. “It’s not going to render down to some perfect shooting schedule.”

The thrill of the unknown is another reason for taking a character-led approach. “You are going to have adversity and psychological challenges. The crew will be disappointed, the explorers will be disappointed,” Cameron said. “But for every moment there’s a setback or challenge, there’s going to be that moment of discovery. You want to take the audience on that rollercoaster journey, because that’s what exploration is all about.”

Cameron said the approach to filming “Mission OceanX” was inspired by Jacques Cousteau, a pioneer of underwater filmmaking. “Cousteau did it first,” Cameron said. “It’s not a new model. It’s just a model that has been forgotten, but we knew his crew and what drove them and we were interested in them as much as what they were seeing and finding.”

He added that the message of conservation would come naturally as viewers became more involved with the OceanX mission. “Not only is the ocean enormous and mysterious, it’s also finite and we’re having an increasingly damaging effect on it,” he said. “The way a show like this can work is it [will] make you love and respect the ocean that we have.”

The “Avatar” shooting schedule will not allow Cameron to be on board the Alucia2 for the full expedition. He will fly in at key moments – and said he expects to get in the water.

Along with his team he has helped develop some of the filming tech that will be used, which includes cutting-edge remote cameras, low-light cameras, and critter cams. On-board capabilities will enable footage to be edited at sea, allowing Nat Geo to tease footage and findings ahead of the series going out.

Cameron is co-producing with OceanX and BBC Studios for Nat Geo, which just scored three Emmy noms for “Hostile Planet.” OceanX founder Ray Dalio is among the exec producers, as is Geoff Daniels, Nat Geo’s EVP for global unscripted entertainment.

Daniels told Variety that he expects a coordinated global launch for the show, although dates depend on finalization of the expedition plans. When the series does go out, it will be on Nat Geo in the U.S. and on its channels internationally, in 171 countries.

Cameron hopes to inspire a new wave of underwater explorers. “We are all a bit complacent now. We think everything has been understood and explored,” he said. “One of the key goals of the series is to inspire up-and-coming explorers and filmmakers and scientists in same way I was inspired by Jacques Cousteau. I want to pass that on.”

Nat Geo, which is now part of Disney, is expected to lift the curtain on the series at its summer TCA session on Tuesday.

Popular on Variety

More TV

  • Disneyland

    Disney Shares Slip Amid Reported Whistleblower Allegations of Inflated Revenue

    Sandra Kuba, a former senior financial analyst for Disney’s revenue operations unit, says she has filed a series of whistleblower tips with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, alleging that the entertainment conglomerate repeatedly and systematically overstated its revenue for years, according to a MarketWatch report, by as much as $6 billion in a single [...]

  • Bob Bakish Joe Ianniello

    ViacomCBS Sets Board Members; Bob Bakish, Joe Ianniello New Deals Disclosed

    ViacomCBS has unveiled the 13 members of its board of directors and details of new employment contracts for president-CEO Bob Bakish and CBS chairman-CEO Joe Ianniello. The disclosure came Monday in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, six days after Viacom and CBS at long last set an all-stock merger agreement valued at [...]

  • Carrie Underwood, left, and Reba McEntire

    CMAs Make Hosting Change: Brad Paisley Exits, Dolly Parton and Reba McEntire Are In

    The CMA Awards have had the most consistent hosting situation of any music awards show in television, but 11 years after installing Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood as the reliable faces of the telecast, even ABC and the Country Music Association have decided it’s time for a switch. Come Nov. 13, Underwood will return for [...]

  • Ava Max iHeartRadio Wango Tango, Portraits,

    Megan Thee Stallion, CNCO, Ava Max to Perform at VMAs Pre-show

    CNCO, Megan Thee Stallion and “Sweet but Psycho” singer Ava Max (pictured) have been added to the performer lineup at this year’s MTV Video Music Awards. The three will take the stage during the VMAs’ red carpet pre-show, hosted by Terrence J and Nessa. Zara Larsson will join the two hosts as a special correspondent. [...]

  • Stacy Rukeyser

    Netflix Orders Dramedy Series 'Sex/Life' From 'UnREAL' Showrunner

    Stacy Rukeyser has landed a series order at Netflix with the dramedy “Sex/Life.” The series is based on the book “44 Chapters About 4 Men” by BB Easton. The series is described as the story of a love triangle between a woman, her husband, and her past which takes a new look at female identity [...]

  • Paramount Television Adds Three to Executive

    Paramount Television Adds Three to Executive Team

    Paramount Television is continuing to add to its executive ranks. The studio has tapped Brian Segna as its new senior vice president of development, along with Kate Gill and Nicole Harjo, both of whom are joining as vice presidents of development. The trio will all report to Jenna Santoianni, executive vice president and head of [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content