At 44 years old, J.J. Abrams is now a palpable force in the entertainment industry.
He has directed only two feature films in his over 20 years in Hollywood. “Super 8″ is Abrams’s first foray into directing a film not in an established universe.
His two previous features, “Mission Impossible III” and “Star Trek,” have grossed almost $800 million worldwide, and his success on television is becoming legendary, with hits like “Lost” and “Fringe” leading the forefront of his endeavors.
In his latest film, “Super 8,” Abrams had the chance to fulfill one of his lifelong dreams of working with Steven Spielberg.
“It was such a privilege working with him. He was a hero of mine when I was a kid, and to get to collaborate with him was you know surreal sometimes, and other times just wonderful,” Abrams said.
With “Super 8,” Abrams was able to direct an original concept for the first time, not playing in established universes like “Star Trek” and “Mission: Impossible III.”
“There used to be a time when that was what movies were, which were just original ideas and things,” Abrams said. “And certainly every film you know has its origin, its inspiration.”
Abrams was able to thrive with a unique concept, and make a movie outside the normal Hollywood parameters.
“It doesn’t have a comic book or superhero attached to it, so I think it’s probably a harder thing to get that kind of movie made. Luckily, Paramount was excited about this idea and let me make the movie the way I wanted to make it,” Abrams said.
But in a summer filled with sequels, Abrams was concerned about the originality of “Super 8″ and it’s acceptance by the audience.
“I would argue that in the summer of massive redwood trees of ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ and ‘X-Men’ and ‘Green Lantern’ and ‘Hangover,’ you could just keep going down the line, ‘Transformers,’ there are very, very few movies that are coming out this summer that aren’t based on something else or sequels to something else,” Abrams said.
In fact, according to BoxOfficeMojo.com, 2011 has set the record for the most number of sequels to come out in a year. In 2011, there will be 27 sequels hitting theaters, three more than in 2004, the previous rec0rd-holder.
“I’m thrilled and proud that ‘Super 8,’ is an original script, I’m also terrified that it’s going to get lost in the shuffle of giants,” Abrams said.
When developing “Super 8,” Abrams decided on a period film, set in 1979.
“The original idea was that I wanted to do a movie that revolved around a kind of revisiting of my childhood of being a kid making Super 8 films. And at first I thought it was, and I sort of ended up coming up with a bunch of characters, whom I loved and thought there could be a story for,” Abrams said. “And 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.”
Finding young actors who could portray the drama that Abrams wanted in “Super 8″ was difficult, and he ended up with several unknown actors in the film.
“It was tough, because there was a kind of desire to have kids that felt like kids and not like professional actors playing kids,” Abrams said. “The wonderful thing about finally finding Joel Courtney, Riley, and Elle [was that] some of these kids had never been on the set of anything before, had never acted at all. But all of them were real soulful, thoughtful, kind kids.”
Ultimately, it was the chance to work with Steven Spielberg that set this project above others, in Abrams’s eyes.
“[Steven] was always honest, thoughtful, wise beyond even my expectation. And the key to his genius, I think, is that he is simultaneously incredibly astute and wise about the ways of the business and the ways of story and the ways of filmmaking, and he just seems like you know sort of the oracle of ideas,” Abrams said. “At the same time, he is a little goofy kid. Like he’s – it’s the greatest thing.”
The influence of Spielberg is evident in “Super 8,” with Abrams himself admitting to a “Spielberg-feel” in the film during an interview with the Los Angeles Times in February.
“I think everyone in whatever they do has their influences, and certainly Steven is one of my greatest influences,” Abrams said. “I feel like my goal in any of the projects I’ve been involved in, has never been to try and copy another director’s work. In the case of ‘Super 8,’ it was based on a time in my life, which itself was so influenced by [Spielberg's] films. It was impossible to disconnect that feeling, that spirit of those ‘Amblin films.’ So in a way it was never meant to be an homage to those movies. It was meant to be a revisiting of that time in my life with, of course, a crazy bit of genre thrown in.”
Ultimately, Abrams is not concerned with how his style of film-making may be interpreted.
“My style, whatever it is, it’s always a response to what that project needs or what that story needs, whether I’ve written it, co-written it, or I’m just directing it,” Abrams said.
“Super 8″ opens in theaters nationwide on June 10.