‘Titanic,’ ‘Avatar’ Producer Before James Cameron Was 63

Jon Landau, the Oscar-winning producer who brought James Cameron’s dreams to life by overcoming extreme logistical challenges to bring the filmmaker’s film to life Titanic And Avatar blockbusters to the big screen, has died. He was 63.

Landau’s son Jamie Landau confirmed his death to The Hollywood ReporterHe died Friday in Los Angeles. No cause of death has been released.

Landau, the son of producers – his father was nominated for an Oscar – produced films such as: Honey, I shrunk the kids (1989) and Dick Tracy (1990) before spending approximately five years as an executive at Fox, where he oversaw production of Die Hard 2 (1990), The Last of the Mohicans (1992), Mrs. Doubtfire (1993) and Cameron’s True lies (1994).

If Cameron had a problem with Arnold Schwarzenegger’s True lieswas told by then-Fox Filmed Entertainment head Peter Chernin, “Don’t call me, deal with Jon,” Landau recalled in a 2011 interview. He spent four months on location in the Florida Keys with the director.

When Landau decided to leave Fox to return to producing, he said he had offers from three directors to collaborate on their next projects. He decided to go with Cameron, who wanted to make a film codenamed “Planet Ice.” That would of course Titanic (1997).

Landau oversaw the 100-day construction of Fox Baja Studios, the 100-acre oceanfront complex in Rosarito Beach, Mexico, that housed massive film sets, the world’s largest film tank and five sound studios, one of which was roughly the size of a football field.

He had to rewrite the entire production schedule of the film when it was determined that the construction of the exterior of their RMS Titanic would take two months longer than planned. Meanwhile, the film’s original budget of $120 million had ballooned to over $200 million.

“There was a lot of pressure during filming and during post-production and pre-release,” Landau told the Los Angeles Times in 1998.

Fox, which financed the film with Paramount, “was very tough, but rightly so. And I was the one who I think suffered the most. It was very difficult because I wanted to please all three masters: the studio, the director and the film. And my job was to balance that … not to lose sight of that.”

It all turned out well when Titanicwhich premiered on December 19, 1997, spent an incredible 15 consecutive weeks at the top of the box office and grossed $1.84 billion worldwide in its first round, easily surpassing the previous record holder Jurassic Park (1993). Subsequent releases over the years have grossed $2.3 billion at the box office. (Read THR(The original review from ‘s here.)

The love story/disaster epic also took home a record 11 Academy Awards — Landau and Cameron shared the Best Picture prize — along with a record 14 nominations. Onstage at the Shrine Auditorium on Oscar night, Landau may have set a new record for the most people thanked.

Oscar winners Producer Jon Landau and director James Cameron backstage at the Oscar for Best Picture 'Titanic' presentation during the Academy Awards Show on March 23, 1998 in Los Angeles, California.

Jon Landau and James Cameron celebrated their Oscar for Best Picture for ‘Titanic’ backstage at the Shrine Auditorium in 1998.

Bob Riha, Jr./Getty Images

Avatar (2009) brought its own set of impressive obstacles.

Cameron had written a roughly 100-page treatment in 1994, but the visual effects technology to adequately bring Pandora’s Na’vi inhabitants to the screen (at least in Cameron’s mind) didn’t exist. It would take the filmmaker, New Zealand’s Weta Digital and others years to get to that point, with principal photography not set to begin until 2007.

With an official budget of $237 million (some estimates put it at over $300 million), Fox’s Avatarmade in 3D, premiered in London on December 10, 2009. With an initial gross of $2.7 billion, it surpassed Titanic to become the highest-grossing film of all time (with re-releases, it now grosses $2.92 billion). (Here’s THR(original review by.)

Thirteen years later came Disney’s Avatar: The Way of Water (2022), with its elaborate effects, underwater shots, pandemic challenges and $2.3 billion gross. The two Avatar films collectively won four Oscars, with Landau and Cameron earning two additional nominations for Best Picture.

“If one of Cameron’s superpowers is the depth of his focus, that focus is made possible in part by Landau being somewhere nearby, an AirPod sticking out of his ear, simultaneously having a phone conversation with Burbank about a deadline and a personal conversation with a crew member in Wellington. [the New Zealand home of Weta] about another,” Rebecca Keegan wrote for a THR cover story in 2022.

“I’ve seen an evolution in him,” Landau told her of Cameron. “Jim learns from all of his experiences. He looks back and says, ‘This worked, this didn’t work, how can I make it better?'”

As Landau was halfway through this sentence, Keegan wrote, “There was a loud knock on his office door and Cameron came in, Kramer-style. ‘Did he tell you we’re an old married couple?’ I don’t want to say nice things in front of him — it’ll go to his head — but I have a feeling there’s no problem we can’t solve.”

Landau was born on July 23, 1960, in New York City. His parents, Ely A. Landau and Edie Landau, owned movie houses in Manhattan, founded the American Film Theater, and produced more than a dozen films, including Long day’s journey into the night (1962), The Pawnbroker (1965), The iceman is coming (1973) and The chosen one (1981).

(In 1971, Ely received an Oscar nomination for the documentary King: A Filmed Account…Montgomery to Memphis. After his death in 1993, Edie had a long-term relationship with actor Martin E. Brooks.)

Landau played football at his Bronx high school before he and his family moved to LA’s Brentwood neighborhood in his junior year. He helped set up The chosen one while studying at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and after graduating, he returned to New York in 1983 to work as an assistant production manager, primarily directing traffic for a TV movie of the week.

When that happened, he was offered the opportunity to do some filing work in accounting. “I had no interest in accounting and no interest in filing at all, but I said yes,” he noted. “I read everything I filed. I don’t know if I should have, but I did. I learned [a lot] in those two weeks.”

He then became production manager at Beat Street (1984), a breakdance film, and Key exchange (1985), a romantic comedy, and as a production manager on F/X (1986), Manhunter (1986) and Mr Right Make (1987).

Landau got his first producer credit on Paramount’s Campus man (1987), and then co-produced two Disney films, Joe Johnston’s Honey, I shrunk the kids and Warren Beatty’s Dick Tracy.

In 1989, when he was just 28, he was hired to oversee physical production at Fox. “I really saw this as a great opportunity to see how the industry works from the inside,” he said.

Landau rose to executive VP at the studio, while also overseeing Home alone (1990), Aliens 3 (1992), Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie (1995) and the Cameron-produced Strange days (1995).

When Cameron made an early version of Titanic with him, Landau said he “fell in love with it. It wasn’t just the script, but the idea that this could be the last time an epic, old-fashioned movie is made, with hundreds and hundreds of extras — that aren’t digital.”

Jon Landau and James Cameron attend the hand and footprint ceremony honoring Avatar The Way Of Water filmmakers James Cameron and Jon Landau at the TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, California on January 12, 2023.

Jon Landau and James Cameron attend a hand/footprint ceremony celebrating ‘Avatar: The Way of Water’ in Hollywood in January 2023.

Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images

Titanic was intended as a one-time job, but Landau would soon join Cameron’s Lightstorm Entertainment.

“It was through that experience with Jim that we built a greater mutual respect and bond with each other, [when he said]“Wait, instead of going off and doing your own thing, why don’t you join Lightstorm? Come on in and we’ll do stuff together. … What better filmmaker could I have that not only makes great films but also challenges you every day?”

The sociable Landau, a great salesman, traveled the world to promote the potential of Avatar in 3D to the operators. “When we started, we would have been happy if there were 1,000 theaters worldwide that could show a movie in 3D,” he said. “I think we ended up with close to 5,000 screens.”

Later on, The path of water would bring moviegoers back to theaters in the wake of the pandemic. In THRDavid Rooney wrote in his review: “The expansive, biodiverse world-building draws you in, the visual spectacle keeps you mesmerized, the passion for environmentalism is thrilling, and the warfare is as visceral and exciting as any moviegoing audience could wish for.”

“What I’m most proud of, as a film lover and a moviegoing lover, is that our film has illustrated that in this post-pandemic or pandemic era — whatever you want to call it — there is still the potential to get people out of their homes to go to this incredible experience called movies,” he said. THRIt’s Mia Galuppo.

“And I don’t believe there’s anything else like it in the world. As producers, as directors, as studios, as exhibitors, we have a responsibility to continue to preserve that experience for generations to come.”

At Lightstorm, he and Cameron also produced Steven Soderbergh’s Solar system (2002), the war documentary Beyond Glory (2015), and Robert Rodriguez’s Alita: Battle Angel (2019). They also continued to insist on the Avatar franchise, with sequels planned for 2025, 2029, and 2031.

In addition to Jamie, other survivors include his wife of nearly 40 years, Julie, who once worked as a film accountant; another son, Jodie, a singer, composer and percussionist; his sisters, Tina Landau, a theater director, and Kathy Landau, executive director of the Manhattan arts organization Symphony Space; and half-brother Les Landau, a director of Star Trek series.

You wonder how Cameron will continue without his right hand man. After all, “James comes with the big dreams,” Landau said The Jewish Magazine in 2010, “and it’s my job to make those dreams come true.”

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