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Fareed Zakaria GPS

Interview with Retired Admiral William McRaven; Interview With Academy Award-Winning Filmmaker James Cameron. Aired 10-11a ET

Aired April 02, 2023 - 10:00   ET



FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN ANCHOR: This is GPS, the GLOBAL PUBLIC SQUARE. Welcome to all of you in the United States and around the world. I'm Fareed Zakaria coming to you live from New York.


ZAKARIA: Today on the program, the indictment of Donald J. Trump. I'll give you my take on this historic moment.

And more than a year after Putin's invasion of Ukraine the battle for Bakhmut rages on. What are the lessons we can draw from Putin's protracted war and how can Ukrainians win this fight? I'll ask the military strategist who commanded many high-profile missions throughout his career, including the raid on Osama bin Laden. Retired Navy four-star Admiral William McRaven.

Finally, a very special conversation with one of the world's greatest film directors. I sit down with James Cameron to discuss the role of technology in movie making, his passionate work to protect the planet, and what he thinks explains the stunning global success of his movies.


ZAKARIA: But first here's my take. The news of Donald Trump's indictment has left me feeling torn. On the one hand, Trump is a walking advertisement for rich privilege. For decades, he has flouted rules, norms and even laws as he climbed his way to the top, brazenly convinced that the usual standards didn't apply to him.

His company was found guilty of tax fraud. He has been taken to court countless times for unpaid bills, and he has even stolen money from his own charities.

For those of you who saw Jon Stewart on GPS last week, that was the gist of his passionate argument. Jon is certainly right that the law should not care about the popularity of a person or the political effect of an indictment, and no one can really be sure what that effect would be in the long run anyway.

And yet this case is not simply one of the law in all its impartial majesty holding somebody to account. The prosecutor, Alvin Bragg, is an elected district attorney who ran a campaign for that office, boasting that he had helped sue Donald Trump over 100 times. Even so, once elected and after looking over the evidence, he is reported to have put the case on the back burner, which triggered a storm of criticism from his Democratic base.

He then reversed course and decided to pursue the case on a new basis if reported accounts are correct, which goes something like this. Trump's offenses to have violated New York state law by falsifying business records, but the statute of limitations for that misdemeanor has expired. So Bragg's office will argue that the misdemeanor is actually tied to a felony because it violates federal election laws.

But that violation is one that both Trump's and Joe Biden's Justice Departments looked at and decided against prosecution. That is, as many legal experts have pointed out, a novel legal theory.

I should note that Trump denies any wrongdoing.

Given the circumstances, this case has the feel of zealous prosecutors minutely examining all possibilities to find some violation of the law. This appends the notion in Anglo-Saxon law that you first have a crime and then you search for the criminal rather than first looking at the person and investigating to see if he or she has committed a crime.

Many Republicans have darkly prophesied that this is a watershed moment in American history and will unleash a torrent of indictments by state prosecutors against national politicians whom they dislike.

Perhaps. But they seem to have forgotten that they have been instrumental in developing this weaponization of the legal system. This week, the "Wall Street Journal" huffed and puffed, "As these columns have made clear, we believe any prosecution of a former president should involve a serious offense."

Really? The "Wall Street Journal" filled six volumes with over 3,000 pages of editorials endorsing the crazy Whitewater related investigation of a sitting president. For those who have forgotten Whitewater was a failed land deal in which Bill and Hillary Clinton lost money, which triggered a special prosecutor who found nothing he could use to prosecute them on that matter, but in the course of his investigation learned that Bill Clinton had had a sexual relationship with a White House intern which he then used to ask Clinton questions that he figured the president would answer dishonestly leading to a perjury charge.

That's a serious crime. The "Journal's" theoretical standard is the right one, however, and the truth is, Trump is likely to face just such serious charges soon. In Georgia, he could quite possibly be prosecuted for having threatened the secretary of state in order to find the 11,000 odd votes he needed to win that state.

And then there is the January 6th uprising in which he could easily be charged by federal prosecutors with an effort to overturn an election.

Trying a former president breaks centuries of precedent. But he should be tried if the offenses themselves are likewise president shattering and those election related ones are. Paying hush money to cover up an affair, however, is just not at that level. And I worry that the far more serious cases against Trump will get lumped together with the Stormy Daniels affair as just more efforts to find something to bring Trump down.

The rule of law is not pursued simply to punish people but to create a system of self-government that is widely viewed as legitimate and fair. The hush money case will captivate the country and of the rumors about the charges facing him are true Trump is probably guilty. But will it create more or less faith in our judicial system and our democratic system? That is the worry that leads me to conclude that this is a case of trying the right man for the wrong crime.

And let's get started.

The battle for eastern Ukraine was incredibly intense and bloody this week as Russia hammered its neighbor with all manner of munitions. In Bakhmut, the most hotly contested city in the region, Wagner mercenaries fighting on behalf of Moscow raised the Wagner not Russian flag near the center of the city.

Where does the war go from here?

Let me bring in my guest today, retired Admiral William McRaven. Before he retired from the military in 2014 McRaven led Special Operations Command, where he oversaw the U.S. Military's most elite combat units. McRaven has another terrific new book. It is called "The Wisdom of the Bullfrog: Leadership Made Simple (But Not Easy)."

Bill, welcome.


ZAKARIA: When you look at this Bakhmut situation, Zelenskyy had to make a very important decision, which was whether to hold the line here. There are a lot of people say militarily this is not significant, why devote so much space. He did it and he seems to have so far resisted the Russian advance. Was it worth it? Or was this a lot of Ukrainian manpower sacrificed for nothing?

MCRAVEN: Yes, I actually think it was the right decision, and again tactically when you look at it militarily, as you know about a month ago, his adviser said, look, we need to do an orderly withdrawal from Bakhmut because it's just not worth the cost of the soldiers we're losing. But I think what Zelenskyy looked at was, look, if we lose Bakhmut it plays into Putin's narrative that the Russians are winning.

And, oh, by the way, it will, you know, it will bolster Russian morale, it will probably unduly affect Ukrainian morale. It could also affect support from Europe and the United States. So while it is just a small tactical piece of ground, I think it has huge strategic implications. I think Zelenskyy understood this and I think it was the right call.

ZAKARIA: How does Ukraine win against an enemy that in the end of the day is sort of many, many times bigger? The firm's budget is 10 times bigger. The number of people Putin can call in so much larger.

MCRAVEN: So I think winning looks like ensuring that Russia doesn't achieve its goal. So when the invasion first started, of course there were these -- I mean Putin's narrative was we're going to take Kyiv, we're going to come in through Kharkiv, come up through Crimea, come in through the Donbas and we will essentially take Ukraine. Well, when that didn't work so well, then he moved the goalposts. And now it was about, well, we're going to build the land bridge from Donbass down to Crimea.


And now he is struggling to do that. So if the Ukrainians can prevent the Russians from actually building that land bridge, then I think what it does is it forces Putin once again to move the goalpost, and frankly, sooner or later, failure is going to be on the radar for everybody that's watching this. So they don't have to take back the Donbass. They don't have to take back Crimea.

I know they'd like to. What they've got to do is prevent the Russians from building that land bridge. And I do think they can do that.

ZAKARIA: And do you think the key for the West is just give them all the weapons they can get?

MCRAVEN: Yes, I'm a believer that we need to give them whatever it takes to win the war. Whatever it takes for them to be successful. Now, there's been a lot of discussion about, you know, do we, you know, help with the Europeans and give them MiG-29s, do we give them attack them for their HIMARS? You know, I trust General Mark Milley, one of the finest officers I ever served with and obviously Secretary Lloyd Austin.

Both of these gentlemen have incredible combat experience, so if they are kind of withholding the aircraft and withholding the attack them, so I've got to believe there's a good reason for that. But I think in general, the administration has kind of managed the war pretty well. Now what they've got to do is decide whether or not they want to win the war and all of that being the Ukrainians helping the Ukrainians win the war.

ZAKARIA: So much more to talk to you about. When we come back, I want to talk about China and the threat of a war over Taiwan with the admiral.



ZAKARIA: High tensions between the U.S. and China over Taiwan were only exacerbated this week by the Taiwanese president's stopover visit in America, with Beijing accusing Washington of conniving to support Taiwan independence separatist forces.

Retired Admiral William McRaven joins me again. Bill, you've heard people talk about this issue of who would win a war

over the Taiwan straits. If the Chinese would invade, does the United States have the capacity to, you know, to stall that and make that invasion failed? What do you think?

MCRAVEN: Well, one, I don't believe that China is going to invade Taiwan anytime in the near future. You know she's got enough domestic problems, and he has course focused on the economy. He has focused on building up his military because I think he realizes that he's not in a position to do an amphibious assault across the Taiwan straits if the United States is going to try to try to stop that maneuver.

And I do think we can we can prevent the Chinese from crossing the straits. But it's going to come at a very, very high cost. And the fact of the matter is we don't want to go to war with China. China doesn't want to go to war with us. So, you know, I know you've heard my position before on this, but I'm a believer that we need to hold the Chinese accountable on the Uighur. We need to hold them accountable on Hong Kong.

We need to hold them accountable when they violate the WTO. But at the end of the day, we need to find some common ground with the Chinese, find common ground on trade, find it on climate. Find a way to build a relationship with the Chinese because if we don't we're going to force the Chinese into the arms of the Russians more so than they are now, and this alliance between China and Russia will not be beneficial to anybody in the world.

ZAKARIA: But this is a very important thing you're saying because it seems to me that there's one issue on which there is bipartisan agreement in Washington, and that is be as hawkish as you can on China. And you worried that this could this could take us down a dangerous path for decades.

MCRAVEN: I do, and again I had an opportunity to talk to a senior member in the White House several weeks ago, who said we're talking more to the Russians than we are to the Chinese. And once again, I don't think that's a good path to move down.

You know, right now when it comes to the military, you know, quantity has a quality all its own. So when we look at the Chinese military, particularly their navy, they have more ships than the United States has. They're not in a position to really kind of take us on in the Pacific region. They've got three carriers and frankly they're having trouble finding pilots to demand the planes, but sooner or later they are going to get to the point where their military will in fact be as strong as our military in the Pacific region.

We don't want to find ourselves in the South China Sea getting into some sort of conflict that escalates itself. The way you prevent that is you create a dialogue. You make sure that we have some common ground so that when an event like that happens we're in a position to have a discussion to deescalate as quickly as possible.

ZAKARIA: You know, one of the areas that worries me a lot is the Chinese have as part of the this process of kind of bad and worsening relations with the U.S., the Chinese are really ramping up the strategic modernization of their nuclear arsenal that seems like going to the triple or quadruple the number of nuclear missiles, so then we end up in a situation where of the three leading nuclear powers in the world, two, Russia and China, are closely allied, and presumably, their missiles are pointed at us.

MCRAVEN: Right. Well, this is the one lesson, of course, that although there are many lessons, that I think China has taken away from Russia's invasion of Ukraine, is that the reason we haven't aggressively moved against Russia is the fact that they have a nuclear arsenal, and I think that's a good lesson to take away. But unfortunately as a result of that they are, as you point out, they're bolstering and building up their nuclear arsenal. And once again, we've got to find a way to find some common ground.

ZAKARIA: Stay with us. When we come back, Admiral McRaven has been called many things in his life. But one of the titles he is proudest of is Bullfrog. Find out all about it when we come back.



ZAKARIA: We are back with retired Admiral William McRaven. Among the many titles he's had is Bullfrog. It is an honorific given to the Navy SEAL, who has served the longest amount of time on active duty. McRaven was honored with the title in 2011 when he had 34 years of service in the SEALs and took over Special Operations Command. This all ought to help you understand the title of his new book, "The Wisdom of the Bullfrog: Leadership Made Simple (But Not Easy)."

You know, I've tried to think to myself -- this is your third book. It's the other ones have been number one "New York Times" bestsellers. What do people find -- your book is full of wisdom, it's often common sense, a good judgment, and I think what I find in them is we live in a meritocratic age where we think being smart is everything. You know, the best thing you can be is super smart and you know, super credentialed. A lot of this is about qualities other than intelligence.

MCRAVEN: Right. And, you know, to your point, Fareed, I was never the smartest guy in the room, so it was easy for me to write this book on leadership coming from that point of view.


But what I found in the great leaders that I served for, and I was fortunate to serve with a number of great leaders over my time in the military, and since then, it's really about the quality of the man or woman, the character and the sense of integrity, the sense of trust. Can you trust this leader? And that doesn't mean you have to be the smartest person in the room. But you have to listen to the rank and file.

You have to be a servant leader in the sense that, you know, you want to make the team successful. If you think as a leader that it's all about you, then you're probably not the right person to be the leader. And so what the book does is I've taken about 18, you know, mottos and creeds from the military over the last 1,000 years, and I've used those as guides for people when they're having leadership challenges.

So, you know, the chill motto is the only easy day was yesterday. And the implication there is, look, if you think all your hard days are behind you as a leader, you're mistaken. Every day is going to be hard, so come to work prepared to bring it, prepared to do the hard work. The British SAFs have a saying called who dares wins, and it's about assuming risk, taking risk. It's something --

ZAKARIA: That one I really liked because I think of people like me who are very credentialed, and, you know, we often don't take risks because you have a kind of easy, you know what I mean? If you've gone to like some fancy colleges, from fancy business school, you've got a safe job in consulting or you're not probably not going to be the guy taking the risk and becoming the entrepreneur, you know. And your example of that story is the bin Laden raid which was a very risky thing to do.

MCRAVEN: It was, but the one thing that I bring out in there is it's important to take risk, personal risk, professional risk, but you want it to be calculated risk. You know the one thing they never show on the movies or talked about in the books is that three quarters of our time as Navy SEALs are spent on a whiteboard doing the planning and the rehearsing. It doesn't make for a good movie.

But if you don't plan the risk out of it, if you don't rehearse the risk out of it, then you're going to fail on the mission. But you've got to be prepared to take those risks or you're just never going to make that leap in life that you need to make to be a great leader, or I think a great person.

ZAKARIA: In that story you have -- there's another motto you used, which is, you know, a famous one. No plan survives contact with the enemy. But you point out that that became crucial in the bin Laden raid, that having a plan B and plan C.

MCRAVEN: Absolutely. Well, as you know, plan A did not work out so well. I mean, as soon as the first helicopter came in, it lost lift. It careened off into the animal pen. And now the second helicopter landed outside the compound. So all of a sudden the entire plan that we had built, plan A, had gone to hell in a handbasket.

Now we had to execute plan B and plan C and plan D. And -- but we had planned accordingly. So we were prepared to flex as we needed to in order to accomplish the mission. That was the, you know, three quarters of your time spent on the whiteboard making sure you had a secondary plan.

ZAKARIA: You know, the most important chapter, I wouldn't say the most important, but there's a lot in here about character and about integrity. And you took the very bold step of actually criticizing Donald Trump on those grounds. Do you worry that we've lost a sense of respect for those values in the country? MCRAVEN: No, I mean, I think people still value honor and integrity,

at least the people that I spend time with, I know they do, and we should expect it from our leaders. Whether it's, you know, leaders, you know, of the president of United States or whether it's leaders at the state or the local level, we should expect our leaders to be men and women of good character. They should be trustworthy. They should listen to the people that they serve.

This is what's important in leadership and again, the great leaders I've worked for in the past have shown this character. This has been the most important quality of any leader is integrity.

ZAKARIA: You get the title of the book comes in part from a class (INAUDIBLE) where he says everything in war is simple but the simple things are difficult.


ZAKARIA: And it seems to me that your book shows, you know, the most uncommon thing in the world is common sense.

MCRAVEN: It's common sense. It is that.

ZAKARIA: Admiral McRaven, pleasure to have you.

MCRAVEN: It's my pleasure, Fareed. Thanks.

ZAKARIA: Next on GPS, from the big screen to the bottom of the ocean to the plains of Asia and Africa. I will bring you an extraordinary conversation with a man whose interests encompass all these areas. I will sit down with the world's most successful movie director, James Cameron, for very special interview when we come back.



ZAKARIA: You know him from his groundbreaking blockbuster films, "Titanic," "The Terminator," the "Avatar" series. His movies have won over 20 Oscars and are some of the very highest grossing and most expensive films of all time.

But James Cameron is much more than an Academy Award-winning filmmaker. He's also a scientific explorer, engineer, environmentalist and pioneer of new technologies. His innovations have descended to the bottom of the ocean and soared into space. Cameron's latest documentary series "Secrets of the Elephants" dives into the lives of those majestic and mammoth animals. It will premiere on April 21st on National Geographic.

Cameron's commitment to sustainability also inspired a move to New Zealand, where he and his wife live on an organic farm. We sat down recently here in New York.


ZAKARIA: James Cameron, what an honor.

JAMES CAMERON, ACADEMY AWARD-WINNING FILMMAKER: It's a huge honor to be on your show, Fareed. Thank you.


ZAKARIA: So, if you look at the four highest grossing films in the history of the world you've made three of them.

CAMERON: Yes, it turns out that way.

ZAKARIA: And what's extraordinary to me is, I mean, each of these has grossed more than $2 billion but they do it all over the world. They do well everywhere.

I was in India when "Avatar" --

CAMERON: The new one, yes.

ZAKARIA: -- the new one came out. And India, you know, is consumed with Bollywood movies. Hollywood has very small presence --

CAMERON: Historically, yes.

ZAKARIA: -- except "Avatar" was everywhere.


ZAKARIA: So, my question to you is, what is it that you have found that appeals just so many people?

CAMERON: The things that I care about are trying to reach people emotionally, but I also am very visual, right? And, you know, I get a lot of ideas from dreams and things like that. And I think that taps into the subconscious that we all kind of share, if you believe that kind of Jungian view of life, but I also think about that global market. And I think I don't want to do stuff that's just based on kind of current memes and current little cultural, you know, kind of ideas and trends. I want to -- I want to go back to sort of classic ideas. Almost back to Greek tragedy and things like that. Things that affect everybody.

So, for example, the new "Avatar" film is about family and bonds that we all share in any culture, any religion, any language group around the world. "Titanic," you know, about love and sacrifice and duty, which are things that, for example, you know, maybe in Asia, you know, mean a lot to people. So, even though they had a language barrier to surmount to watch the film, it meant something to them.

You know, so I try to just tap into universals of human experience. Beyond that I could get very specific about visual effects and things like that, but I think it's that -- it's that universal sense of who we are as human beings.

ZAKARIA: You said you think about the world audience, a global audience. CAMERON: Yes.

ZAKARIA: Do you think it helps that you live in New Zealand? You know, you've got -- you're sort of out of America.

CAMERON: I think it's interesting to live outside. I lived in Los Angeles for 47 years. I grew up in Canada before that. Now, that I live in New Zealand I think it's interesting to look back on American culture and society and politics and so on from an outside viewpoint and get a morning paper that sees it in a very different way. I think -- I think it's healthy and I think more Americans should do that, you know, look into the bubble from the outside.

I mean, I think if you think about it in a in a broader sense, that's how the "Avatar" movies work. They asked us to see through the eyes of nature through these blue people back at ourselves and our sins against nature that we collectively as a civilization are doing. Because I don't -- I think maybe one in 1,000 people that goes to an "Avatar" movie actually roots for the humans, you know, but we're a human audience rooting against ourselves. If you think about it in a strange way through these kind of aspirational characters that really represent the best of us or the way we imagine we can be or maybe the way we used to be thousands of years ago.

ZAKARIA: Do you think -- you know, I think about this because when you look at Asia, which is modernizing and urbanizing so fast --


ZAKARIA: -- they are many ways despoiling the environment even more. And yet --


ZAKARIA: -- the movies do very well in Asia.

CAMERON: Yes, I think we suffer collectively from nature deficit disorder, and we all need to reconnect. And I think because we were less urbanized when we were kids, certainly my age and maybe even the next generation behind me, we long for that sort of thing we had as children where we were -- we were down on the grass. We were down on the soil. We collected birds and butterflies -- I mean, butterflies and flowers and things like that.

We don't get that anymore. Our lives are so urbanized. I mean, we're here in New York right now. It's hard to even imagine that, you know, and you just look out at that technical landscape. I think we long for it.

And so, people see something that they -- that they want in their -- in their dreams. You know, there's -- I think there's something that's very kind of primitive about it and primitive in us, atavistic, right, that we -- that we long for. And I just hope we can reconnect with that because, you know, our urban life is devastating nature in order to support it.

ZAKARIA: How does the subconscious work as best you can tell? Because you were saying you get a lot of your ideas from dreams.


ZAKARIA: You're appealing to people in a way that they don't think of themselves, I think, a lot of people as having this nature deficit disorder. They might just going around there. But somehow, you know, it does feel like you're tapping into that.

CAMERON: Right. Well, I do think -- I do think we have certain innate programming that's at a very deep level, much lower than higher brain function. And I think our subconscious when it's operating, either in the background during the day or at night, where it sort of takes over, is sort of -- it's sort of processing internally in a way that -- scientists don't really understand dreams and the psychological purpose that they serve.


I think they're kind of like a generative A.I. You know, I think they're making imagery from a vast data set, that's our entire experience in life, and it's just making imagery. And then another part of our brain is supplying a narrative that goes along with it.

And the narrative doesn't always make much sense, you know, but we're storytelling to ourselves all night -- all night long, or at least during REM sleep, you know. And I'm not a dream expert. I want to say up front or a neuroscientist, but I think this is what's happening. And we're trying to make sense of the world because we don't really remember like a videotape. We remember stories like strings of beads.

You know, I went to a party. OK, I remember where it was. That's a bead, but you don't -- you can't play back a whole tape of the whole thing. I'll remember this as an image, a picture of you and some of the topics that we talked about, but I won't be able to play it back like a videotape. And if I do play back, you know, a recording of it I'll go, yes, we said that. That was cool or not or embarrass myself. I wish I could take it back.

ZAKARIA: So, Billy Joel said to me that he gets a lot of his music from dreams and that, you know, he'd get up and -- or even later on, he realized it's always the core, which was for him always the melody, the harmony, not the words. The words were a later add on.

CAMERON: Interesting.

ZAKARIA: What do you -- explain how your dreams work.

CAMERON: It sounds to me like for him it's musical. For me, it's images. Images and -- you know, so just a bunch of random, sometimes very surreal images, sometimes beautiful, sometimes terrifying. And I have lately been thinking that there's a little bit of -- it's not just the picture. There's a little metadata running underneath it that's telling me what the picture means.

You know, so, for example, "The Terminator" was based on a single image of a chrome skeleton emerging out of fire. But the metadata said it used to look like a man covered in flesh and the fire burned it away. And so it's a -- it's actually a story segment and you start putting those story segments together and then starts to turn into a story you want to tell to other people. And I think storytellers sitting around the campfire in a cave 50,000 years ago were doing the same thing.

ZAKARIA: And so, when you get those images do you say to yourself -- you know, first of all, just mechanically do you write it down? Do you --

CAMERON: Write it down sometimes or actually draw it. You know, I remember the --

ZAKARIA: You have a background as an artist.

CAMERON: As an artist. Yes, a figurative artist. Yes, exactly representational. You know, illustrator, I guess, would be a better -- a better term. But, yes, I used to love to draw and paint and that's right.

I still do but not as much because now in my current level of work in film the film is my painting. The film is my art. And I get to work with the very best, you know, illustrators and design artists in the world, so I don't do it as much as I used to. I work through them and they're better than I ever was so it's OK.

ZAKARIA: But movies are a strange kind of art because it's partly an art, but partly there's a lot of technology. I mean, look at and you could see there's just so many cameras around. There's some lights and sound and --

CAMERON: And computers --

ZAKARIA: -- and you really embrace the scientific part of all that.

CAMERON: Yes, I love the -- I love the tech. I love the engineering. My mother was an artist and my father was an engineer. And so, you know, it's genetic writ large.

You know, I love the tech and I love creating new tech. You know, when I was at the -- I was at the advancing wavefront of CG as it started to sweep through, and this was going back 30 years now. But, you know, "The Abyss" was the first CG character that was a soft surface character. We had this kind of water tentacle that formed faces. And then that went onto the liquid metal guy in "Terminator 2," and from there it progressed to other things. "Jurassic Park," which I didn't do, Steven Spielberg did it, but then you know it built very rapidly.

We could see the future was coming that it would be -- that it would CG so I like the tech side, but it's not -- the irony is not lost on me that we use literally petabytes of storage and all these computer monitors and everything to make a movie about the most naturalistic state of the human experience. You know, and albeit they're blue aliens, but we're really celebrating that kind of indigenous wisdom keeper kind of -- kind of idea using all this technology --


CAMERON: -- and loving it.


ZAKARIA: We will be back with more of my interview with James Cameron. Stay with us.



ZAKARIA: And we are back with the Academy Award-winning filmmaker, explorer and inventor, James Cameron.


ZAKARIA: Let's talk a little bit more about technology and engineering, because I mean, after you made the first "Avatar" film the obvious thing given what a huge hit it was, was to make a sequel. And no, you made a submarine --

CAMERON: I made a submarine, yes.

ZAKARIA: You know, and it took years for you to do that.

CAMERON: Yes, I was actually doing it in the background of finishing "Avatar." It was a seven year project to build the sub, and it overhung the delivery of "Avatar" by another couple of years. So, that film came into the marketplace 2009 and '10. And by 2012, we had a finished sub that we were out diving in the deep trenches in Papua New Guinea and then ultimately the Challenger Deep.

ZAKARIA: So it's -- so it's almost one way to think about you as, you know, a kind of explorer technologists, inventor who's -- I mean, that seems to be motivating you a lot and then --


ZAKARIA: -- and then you become a movie maker.

CAMERON: Yes, kind of. That's true. Well, I think a key aspect of exploration is coming back and telling the story. You know, I think that the best explorers are also good storytellers and good recorders of the image.

Shackleton took big eight by 10 camera with them, and some of those plates are so famous and iconic that they schlepped with them against all odds. And if you know the Shackleton story, I'm sure you do, incredible odds that they fought to get back but they brought back the pictures, you know.


And the pictures coming back from the moon that the first Apollo landing, you know, crew brought back are so important and so iconic for us. So, yes, it's not a big stretch for me from filmmaking to exploration. I just shift my filmmaking to documentary mode.

You know, and I found documentaries to be pretty challenging. You know, you spend a lot of time in the editing room on a documentary.


CAMERON: Because there's no script, you know. And with ocean exploration, the ocean didn't get your script, so it doesn't exactly show up at 9:00 a.m. to do what you want it to do. And so, you get a lot of random footage and you never know quite if you've got a story or not, until you get into the cutting room, and then it emerges. And it might take a year or more to cut a good documentary.

ZAKARIA: Tell me about being vegan and how it relates to your admiration for nature.

CAMERON: Well look, nature is threatened by a lot of different things simultaneously. And here's a really interesting thing. So if you think of it like a Venn diagram and you've got deforestation here, loss of habitat, biodiversity loss, you know, carbon in the in the ocean that's causing reefs to degrade, and in the atmosphere that's causing climate change, the center of that Venn diagram that connects all of those things and is common to all of them is animal agriculture. Because, you know, water pollution and all these things.

So, I knew that years ago. And I thought, well, too bad we have to eat. We have to eat meat to be healthy, right? And then I saw a film called "Forks Over Knives," which dispelled that myth. And then that took me to "The China Study" and I read that very, very thick, dense book, lots of graphs and things like that. A lot of double blind studies. And really drilling down on the data.

I realized that that film wasn't right. We don't need animal protein. In fact, it's very deleterious for our health, but I was approaching it from a sustainability standpoint. And I thought, wow, one elegant solution. We just stop.

So, my wife and I talked -- Suzy and I, and we just -- we just went -- I hate to use the word vegan because I think it's off-putting. People think it's kind of a hippie, new age kind of -- kind of thing, as opposed to a whole food, plant based diet, which requires no animal whatever, anything, cheese, milk, meat, fish any of that. And I've been on that for 11 years, so I just wanted to be like a guinea pig and experiment and see for myself. The same thing as exploration. I want to go to the bottom of the ocean and see for myself.

ZAKARIA: You could do anything you want, but you want to make more "Avatar" movies. What is it? Is it that, you know, this is part of a continuing project?

CAMERON: It's an ongoing project and I decided to make it a kind of an epic project because I like big challenges, and I'm written out through the end of "Avatar 5" were shot or finished shooting through the end of "Avatar 3." Actually, a bit into four. So, this is a big kind of epic cycle that I feel I have to complete. I also looked at it long and hard. Like you said. I didn't go right to shooting the sequel. I took time out. I did a sub. I did some other things. I did a lot of work with indigenous communities around the world because they had responded to the messaging in "Avatar" and drew me into their -- to their world. And I thought, OK, I can do some good here.

And I start to realize, I think, I can do more good with another "Avatar" movie than getting caught in 1,000 small local battles where I'm not an expert. You know, there were people already on the ground. So, I formed a foundation called the "Avatar Alliance Foundation" to fund some of these NGOs to fight these battles. And then I started to leapfrog ahead to do some more "Avatar" film because I figured I just need to keep on with that messaging about how we need to connect with each other, how we need to reconnect with nature, how we need to defend her.

You know, I think of it in the story as a kind of a female deity because we all have a mother and we understand that we're dependent on that mother so it's a natural -- and that natural symbology comes out of so many different indigenous sources as well.

ZAKARIA: That's a wonderful way to very elegantly and simply summarize. It seems to me your life's message which is, we need to connect with each other --


ZAKARIA: -- and connect with nature.

CAMERON: Exactly. Our empathy will save us, you know. But empathy is a double edged sword because typically we cast the circle of empathy too close and that creates an in group that we fight for, and an out group that we fight against, you know. So, we need to expand that spotlight of empathy to the people that are just like us around the world, especially the ones that are suffering because of climate change, and some of the other degradations.

We can do it. You know, movies can help. You know, education can help. You know, and just our own will to survive can help.

ZAKARIA: But for you, the battle isn't finished until we have extended that empathy to the whole world.

CAMERON: Exactly. We need to think of ourselves as the indigenous people of planet Earth and we're all part of the same tribe.


You know, they have -- they have a saying in New Zealand, which is the team of five million. And so, when the -- when the virus hit the team of five million worked together, and they wound up with the vaccination rate of, I think, 96 or 97 percent as opposed to, you know, better than somewhere around 66 percent in the -- in the U.S.

So, that that team spirit, you know, and you can extend -- they extended their empathy bubble out to five million people in the whole country. And that doesn't happen here, and it doesn't happen in a lot -- in a lot of countries, but it happens there. So now the question is, can we push it another -- a couple of orders of magnitude farther out, you know, and see our -- see our commonality everywhere?

ZAKARIA: James Cameron, pleasure to have you on.

CAMERON: Well, that went fast and it was great. Thanks.


ZAKARIA: Thanks to all of you for being part of my program this week. I will see you next week.

Don't forget, if you miss a show, go to for a link to my iTunes podcast.