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June 06, 2011

Interview: J.J. Abrams

After a recent phone interview with J.J. Abrams,TFA student Mike Eisenberg (Film + Broadcast 2011) discusses the Super 8 writer/director's first truly original project.

Super 8

J.J. Abrams has quickly established himself as one of the hottest filmmakers of this generation, with a direct link to the hearts of entertainment fans. But his latest work may be his first genuinely original idea.

Stemming from his love of movies as a child, Abrams set out to make a movie that explored the energy of his youth. As the director puts it, “I wanted to do a movie that revolved around a kind of revisiting of my childhood of being a kid making Super 8 films.” But that wasn’t enough for Abrams. “When I hit upon the idea of combining that notion with another one that I'd had, which was about this thing that escapes from a train car en route from Area 51, I thought, well, that's suddenly – not only is it – is it a bigger idea and has some spectacle to it, but it also allows the kids, who are making this you know scary zombie movie, suddenly become in a way characters in a much more real and more terrifying, scary movie.”

In his head, the film seemed to work. But it wasn’t until Steven Spielberg jumped on board as a producer that the movie really took shape. A huge influence on Abrams as a child, Spielberg gave the director the keys to his nostalgia and the result is a movie that taps into everything that made Spielberg’s classics great fused with the elements that make modern sci-fi movies exciting. But in these days of quadrilogies and sagas, there is little room for original concepts. After all, it seems like Hollywood doesn’t like to take risks anymore.

With Abrams’ tremendous track record, he somehow convinced Paramount to give him a chance. “I was very lucky in that Paramount let me make a movie that had neither you know a sequel – of course, there's a number after the name, so maybe it sounds like a sequel with "Super 8" – but this is one of those you know stories that doesn't have a star in it that people know about, though I suspect that might change with some of these actors… and I'm the guy who did "Mission 3" and "Star Trek," you know reboot, so I am as responsible for and guilty of that as anyone.”

As with any J.J. Abrams project, mystery surrounds it. Everybody is wondering exactly what monster the movie will present and what it will do to the young characters involved. And as always, Abrams is keeping his mouth shut. But he was more than willing to open up about how personal Super 8 is to him.

Super 8 was obviously very much an autobiographical piece sort of in the beginning, even though it goes crazy places that I never got to go as a kid.” Few directors carve out a piece of themselves for the worldwide audience to observe, but Abrams has done just that. His other films always had a personal side as well. “The truth is that there's very little difference in terms of how I approach any project, because I just try and approach it from a place of being interested in the character, the premise, the world.”

The success of other original ideas, like 2010’s Inception, could open up the door for even more genuine films. But right now, Super 8 is behind the wheel. Abrams has already succeeded by simply getting this film made, but the question that remains is whether or not audiences will enjoy a movie that feeds off their nostalgia and presents something brand new at the same time. Few directors have challenged audiences like that in recent years.

Super 8 opens worldwide in theaters and IMAX on June 10th and stars Elle Fanning, AJ Michalka and Kyle Chandler. It was directed by J.J. Abrams and produced by Steven Spielberg.

Super 8 Poster

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