Filmmaker James Cameron grew up 500 miles away from the nearest ocean, in the Canadian province of Ontario. But in recent decades he has become part “mer-man,” as his friend Sigourney Weaver describes him, plying ocean waters for a variety of documentary projects and even setting a diving record in a submersible vehicle when he plunged to the depths of the Marianas Trench.
As executive producer of the National Geographic documentary series Secrets of the Whales, Cameron helps expand our understanding of the ocean’s most majestic inhabitants.
“I went into it as a learning opportunity,” Cameron said during an appearance at Deadline’s Contenders TV: The Nominees awards-season event. “I think we all, collectively, on the show learned a great deal, not only about how to interact and photograph these amazing creatures but also just about their behavior—things that either weren’t known at all… or things that were known but hadn’t been photographed.”
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Secrets of the Whales, nominated for three Emmys including Outstanding Documentary or Nonfiction Series, Outstanding Cinematography for a Nonfiction Program, and Outstanding Narrator for Weaver, explores the remarkably human-like social and family relationships within a variety of species: humpbacks, sperm whales, beluga and narwhals, and orcas (aka killer whales).
“Some of the latest and greatest science that’s been published in recent years is revealing that whales have very rich cultures, these ancestral traditions that they pass on. They’re not so different than ourselves,” producer Brian Skerry said. “They isolate within genetically identical species based on language; they have a preference for international cuisine—the same animals are deciding to eat different things in different parts of the world; they have parenting techniques; they sing songs, have singing competitions, if you will. … The fact that this is all based on science but is revealing these human-like characteristics in these charismatic animals, is really a bit of a game-changer.”
Narrating the four-part series also presented a learning opportunity for Weaver, who has worked with Cameron going back to Aliens in 1986, extending through Avatar (2009) and its upcoming sequels.
“When Jim called and asked me to narrate, first of all, I was thrilled. … Because I know he has such profound admiration and love for whales, I knew it would be tremendously exciting,” Weaver said. “It was quite a different job, this narration, than what I’ve usually been asked to do. Usually you’re asked to give a sort of straightforward matter-of-fact presentation. In this case… [the directors] wanted me to be more of a storyteller, but at once also be very familiar with these families and it’s as if I’m telling you, the viewer, almost confidentially, ‘Hey, you won’t believe this, but this is what’s happening here. ’”
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