Titanic: Twelve-years as the highest-grossing film of all time. Winner of eleven Academy Awards. But most importantly, the proud owner of one of cinema’s most bizarre behind the scenes stories.
It’s August 1996, and in Nova Scotia, the crew of Titanic reached the midway point of a night shoot. It’s there in the Canadian province that they had been piecing together the films’ framing narrative, the modern-day Rose’s retelling of her time upon the ill-fated ship. And it’s there that they took a midnight break filled with chowder-induced regret.
The set caterers served up the seafood broth with all of its usual hearty trimmings; veggies, potatoes, cream. Staples of any self-respecting chowder. One item not on the recipe that inexplicably managed to sneak its way in, however, was a load of the hallucinogenic drug PCP. And when the bell tolled chowder o’clock, the crew gathered round to lap it up.
Titanic head honcho (writer, editor, director, producer) James Cameron twigged that something wasn’t quite as it should be when his Director of Photography Caleb Deschanel started a “highly vocal” conga line. That’s multiple time Oscar nominee Caleb Deschanel, who would soon after leave the project altogether (to be replaced by Russell Carpenter). Cue fits of laughter, lots of anxiety, Cameron getting jabbed in the face with a pen, and a crew-wide trip to the hospital, where thankfully they’d get the all-clear after a cheeky nap. Then, like the absolute pros they were, they only went and finished off the nights’ work!
Apparently not one to be too perturbed by PCP laced chowder, Bill Paxton claimed to have washed his down with a case of beer. And as for the quality of the food? In a fascinating interview with Vice, painter Marilyn McAvoy described it as “unbelievable”…so…good to know that dinner wasn’t a total write off.
To this day the culprit remains scot-free. James Cameron seems to think it was a disgruntled, recently-fired crew member, but alas, there’s no evidence to support his theory. Nor is there any evidence to support my own theory that it’s within his PCP-fueled daze that Cameron decided it would be a good idea to name his Avatar MacGuffin “Unobtanium”, but it appears to be the only sensible origin for that particular choice.