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How James Cameron Recorded Dialogue Underwater for ‘The Abyss’

Well, it wasn’t easy. But it’s James Cameron so what’d you expect?
The Abyss
By  · Published on April 17th, 2020

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There are difficult movie shoots…and then there’s The Abyss. You’ve got Ed Harris punching James Cameron in the face for keeping the cameras rolling while he was drowning. You’ve got Cameron punching a safety diver in the face for giving him a broken regulator. You’ve got a host of nicknames: “The Abuse,” “Son Of Abyss,” “Life’s Abyss and Then You Die.” This is the shoot that prompted the crew to sport the infamous t-shirt: “You can’t scare me, I work for James Cameron.”

They say the most difficult things to work with are: animals, children, and water. It seems Cameron took this as a challenge rather than a warning. The Abyss was largely shot — almost entirely, actually — underwater. Which poses an interesting question: how do you record dialogue at 55-feet below? Sure you could ADR it. But that’s not how James Cameron works. Instead, he built specially designed masks that showed off the actors’ faces, with fitted microphones to capture “on set” dialogue — as well as a host of diving equipment clicks, pops, and ticks.

You can watch a compilation of behind-the-scenes footage of how the film’s underwater dialogue was captured  here:


Who made this?

This video comes to us courtesy of the Dutch-based film historians over at Eyes on Cinema. Their YouTube and Twitter accounts are essential follows for anyone interested in behind the scenes footage, interviews, and other contextual cinematic ephemera. The footage for the above video appears to be largely pulled from the film’s making-of documentary Under Pressure: The Making of The Abyss.

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Based in the Pacific North West, Meg enjoys long scrambles on cliff faces and cozying up with a good piece of 1960s eurotrash. As a senior contributor at FSR, Meg's objective is to spread the good word about the best of sleaze, genre, and practical effects.