Even the “king of the world” has to start somewhere. While many know James Cameron today as the director of the record-breaking blockbusters Titanic and Avatar, in 1981 his only claim to fame was directing the low-budget horror flick Piranha II: The Spawning. Stilted by a lack of money, a cheesy script and numerous shifts in authority, the conditions behind the scenes turned out to be much more horrific than the actual film itself.
It was during this miserable production, however, that James Cameron fell ill in Italy and suffered a nightmare involving a damaged mechanical skeleton dragging itself through explosions, kitchen knives in hand. This image stuck with Cameron, and slowly but surely he started concocting ideas for a film that would eventually become The Terminator.
Unsurprisingly, Piranha II did not amount to any success for Cameron, and upon his return to the United States the director found himself with little to no money. As he wrote the first draft of a film inspired by his nightmare, Cameron was not able to afford a permanent residence, staying with various friends for short periods of time and living in his car when he finally started working on the actual screenplay. He borrowed elements from shows and books like The Outer Limits and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and fleshed out the idea of a robotic skeleton inside of human flesh who goes back in time in an attempt to hunt down the mother of humanity’s only savior.
Of course, nobody expected the film to become the success it is today, including Cameron’s agent, who hated the idea. Cameron fired his agent, and despite being homeless sold the rights to his film for a dollar in exchange for the opportunity to direct the film himself. The rest, of course, is history.