“The first test screening for Titanic was at the Mall of America in Minneapolis. [Director-writer James] Cameron flew there ahead, ostensibly to test the audio systems, while producers Jon Landau and Rae Sanchini and 8 or 9 20th Century Fox executives rode in on the corporate plans.

“Cameron had roped off seats for himself in the theatre. He likes to sit in the middle of the audience, but not next to an audience member who might reognize him and definitely not next to an executive, so Sanchini was his buffer. He had also rigged the audio so he could ride the volume the whole time — anything to focus on but the anxiety.

“Cameron almost always projects an image of complete confidence around studio brass. Some of the time, he’s faking. That day he was terrified. His reputation, Fox and Paramount’s money, peoples’ jobs were all riding on the fact that Titanic [had to be] better than good. “He said, ‘Someday I’m going to die at a preview screening of one of my films. I’m just going to have a heart attack and die. I know it. This where it’s gonna end for me,’ Sanchini recalls.

“When the lights went down he whispered to Sanchini, ‘We’ll know in the first few minutes if this has all been worth it.’ The movie started, with its sepia-treated titles and the deep-dive footage of the wreck, and the audience was wooden. No reaction. ‘We’re fucked,’ Cameron whispered to Sanchini. ‘It’s all over. There’s no point.’ But by 10 or 15 minutes in, the crowd started responding — a special-effects transition from the wrecked Titanic to the pristine one drew a ‘wow!’ and Leonardo DiCaprio earned some chuckles.

“The film seemed to get over some kind of hump with the audience, and Cameron exhaled.

“When the focus group leader interviewed the crowd after the film, it came out that the audience thought they were going to be seeing Great Expectations. That’s what they had been told, for reasons of security. They thought the first few minutes were a trailer for Titanic.” — a passage found on page 222 and 223 in an uncorrected galley of Rebecca Winters Keegan‘s The Futurist (Random House), due on 12.15.