From “Avatar: The Way of Water.” - Photo via Dylan Field at Lightstorm

College students navigating their stressful lives often think about where their degree will take them, but one may not realize just how different life will be after they graduate from college.

This was especially true for 1995 graduate of Rowan University Tara Bennett. As of today, she has worked with Marvel Studios co-writing with Paul Terry to create “The Story of Marvel Studios: The Making of the Marvel Cinematic Universe” and working with James Cameron and Jon Landau to write her book, “The Art of Avatar: The Way of The Water.” 

Bennett has created a name for herself as a writer, producer and adjunct professor. She has become a New York Times bestselling author with experience writing for many movies and TV shows. 

She relocated to Los Angeles in 2014, meaning all of her classes are taught remotely, but she continues to help her students in whatever way she can. In one of her classes, she instructs students to create a pilot for a show. It is sometimes challenging, but she applies the mentoring she received to her teaching so her students get the best possible real-world experience.

On March 16, I was able to interview Bennett on her latest book, “The Art of Avatar: The Way of The Water.”

Q: What was it like working with James Cameron and why was this book written? 

A: I talked to James [Cameron] before for other interviews and for other projects and so with this project you know it was James Cameron. He was in New Zealand most of the time because that’s where they shoot the films and post-produce them. Then there was Jon Landau, who was his right-hand man and producer who I would work day-to-day [with]. But, everything that we did was vetted by John and James…I proposed the idea of how the book should be done and [then] they approved that. It’s all a process of trying to be creative with an idea to make something, especially in the book world, that feels a little bit different. There has been such a long [time] gap between the first Avatar and this Avatar that it felt like you couldn’t talk about the design of the second film without an explanation to people who weren’t in Avatar’s parent-production company. So when “Avatar: The Way of the Water” came out in December, it was the culmination of a very long period of all of these artists working on the second film. I needed to tell that story so people could get context and understand it.

Q: How long did the process of writing this book take?

A: Well, it took about a year. A lot of people think movies are locked in and they very much aren’t, especially a movie like this… I would do a lot of interviews with the production designers, costume designers and their teams. They would go through lots of their work explaining their process, how they came to figure out the designs that Cameron wanted and kind of shaping that.

Q: Do you have any future things that you’re hoping to work on?

A: I write by myself but I also write with my writing partner Paul Terry. We have another smaller project that is coming out that we worked on together. That’ll probably be announced later this year. Right now, I don’t have a book that is just authored by myself, but there are always properties out there that I am looking at.

Q: What hardships could RTF majors or Rowan students in general face in their journey?

A: I always try to tell people if you have to have your day job to take care of stuff, keep that, but immediately start looking for side projects that you could be working on. So whether that’s staying close friends with the circle that you graduated with or your creative friends, keep making things in your free time. Whatever it is that you love, start making those projects yourself, and there are people out there that are always looking for great short films and great storytellers. I can’t tell you how many people in this business have started by making short films that have gotten into festivals. Take as many opportunities as you can. Go out and network when it feels uncomfortable and push yourself outside of your comfort zone.

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