Arts & Entertainment

THE TERMINATOR Club Scene Breakdown

James Cameron

Lesson time 17:09 min

James breaks down the club scene from The Terminator, walking through, shot by shot, how he built relentless tension.

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Topics include: Converging Storylines and Relentless Tension


[DANCE MUSIC] [OMINOUS MUSIC] JAMES CAMERON: In this scene, what you have is the convergence of three separate plotlines. So that was a structural motif that was used for that film. We follow in a third-person omniscient way, jumping back and forth, between three storylines-- Sarah, introducing her and getting to know her and presumably like her to some extent. And then we see the Terminator arrive through time. We don't know it's through time, but we sort of know he's come from somewhere, and see him start hunting down and killing-- brutally killing people with her name. So even though they haven't met, and the two storylines haven't converged yet, there's already an interrelationship between those two storylines. Kyle Reese comes through time same way. Although his arrival is much messier and rougher on him than it is on the Terminator, we can make the assumption he has come from the same place. He is from whatever that world is. So there's already a connection between the two of them. And we don't know if he's a good guy or another bad guy. He certainly acts very, very sinister. But I think we innately sense that he's probably a protagonist. And he goes through getting weapons, getting clothes, doing the same things the Terminator does, just in a different way. He's more furtive. He doesn't hurt anybody. The Terminator just bulldozes through whatever to get his objectives. So they're contrasted to each other. So even though they're clearly both soldiers, they're both sinister, the Terminator is the more is the more disturbing of the two. And they're both stalking Sarah. Terminator's is moving toward her in this relentless fashion, Reese is following her. So is he-- we don't know if he's a protector, or if he's a good guy, if he's a bad guy. But we feel a relentless sense that the three storylines are converging. [DANCE MUSIC] The music is pounding. So she sits down. She's nervous. [DANCE MUSIC] And-- [DANCE MUSIC] --Terminator walks in. [DANCE MUSIC] The music tells me, I'm in the same club. I'm at the door of the club. He's there. He's in the room with her. The killer that we've seen brutally kill two other people in his hunt for her and kill the gun shop owner to get the weapons to do so is now in the room. So it's going to happen. It's going to go down. So we've just started the clock on our chess move. We've just started the clock. And the audience knows it. And they know that this is the beginning of a thing, a set piece, if you will, a scene. It just started. The second you put them both in the same room, or in the same space, you've just said to the audience, all right, guys, it's on. Right? Now what's going to happen? So the jeopardy just shot up. The jeopardy's been slowly building. It just shot up to a new level. [DANCE MUSIC] Terminator moves in his very machine-like like fashion searching. Right? The clerk tells the bouncer to stop him. He just cru...

About the Instructor

From The Terminator and Titanic to Avatar, James Cameron has directed some of Hollywood’s biggest blockbusters. Now, for the first time in his 40-year career, he opens up about his process. Through behind-the-scenes breakdowns, James shares his approach to developing ideas, storylines, and characters; harnessing technology; and worldbuilding on any budget. Explore the innovation and imagination behind epic moviemaking.

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James Cameron

Academy Award–winning director James Cameron teaches you the tricks of the trade and shares his approach to epic moviemaking on any budget.

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