Titanic shouldn't have worked. Over budget, over schedule, running way too long and unsure of whom it was selling itself to, James Cameron's legendary and romantic retelling of the doomed ocean liner's first (and final) voyage went on to become one of Hollywood's greatest success stories. But the narrative during the film's production was that it was going to be a disaster of Cleopatra levels, with the ambitious director of The Terminator and The Abyss biting off more than he could chew by recreating Titanic's tale. So, how did he help orchestrate the coverage of his own movie, and manipulate the press to start giving his movie better coverage? The way Cameron tells it, he did this:
I pitched the concept that the best way to deal with the negative press was to take a step back. To move away from the crescendo of ridicule and let them fall on their face. They could only sustain the negative story so long. By December it would have long ago run its course, and they'd have to come up with something new to make ink. That something might just be the fact that the film was actually good, and worth all the drama of production. My example was the martial art of aikido, where you use the opponent's own momentum against them to take them down. The press were attacking so aggressively that the only way to throw them was to step back and let them go flying past, and fall because of their own inertia.
This account comes from straight from James Cameron himself, who penned this letter to THR's Stephen Galloway for a book he's writing on Paramount chief Sherry Lansing -- who was instrumental in helping fund Titanic when Cameron was laboring on bringing the movie to the big screen. And in hindsight, it worked. In context, Cameron says he was getting hammered, for racing to meet special-effects deadlines so that Titanic could open in July, as intended. What eventually happened was that the movie was delayed -- not unlike another set of movies that Cameron's currently working on -- finally opening on December 19, 1997 in the U.S., where it held on to the top spot at the box office for a staggering 15 consecutive weeks.
Again, even there, James Cameron takes credit for holding out on the U.S. press, so that they couldn't continue to hammer a movie that they hadn't yet seen. The uber-confident blockbuster filmmaker recounts, in this letter to Stephen Galloway:
We did two premieres outside of the US, where they had no jurisdiction, being only the domestic distributors. The first was in Tokyo, to open the Tokyo International Film Festival. This was to completely sidestep what we saw as a negative and biased U.S. press. So the first reviews, the first thing anyone heard about the finished film, was coming out of Tokyo and it was resoundingly positive. ... Reviewers in the U.S. had to put away their prejudice and poison pens and judge the film on its own merits.
James Cameron is speaking in hindsight, but also showing real disdain for the American press. Now, he did endure waves of unfavorable articles talking about the pending disaster of his Titanic, and he enjoyed the last laugh as the movie went on to break box office records and claim an obscene number of Academy Awards. But is this glance back at the strategy behind the marketing of Titanic heavy doses of gloating, or a welcome snapshot into the grueling production cycle of a massive Hollywood hit. I think it's a bit of both, and that's just fine. We understand, Mr. Cameron. We have a love-hate relationship. Just keep making your movies, and we'll keep covering them. Our hearts will go on and on.