JJ Abrams: I called Spielberg and he said yes

Lost creator JJ Abrams’s new film Super 8 was produced by Steven Spielberg. He explains what it was like to work with the man who inspired him to make movies – and why he’s proud to be a geek – Published on The Guardian, by Katie Puckrik, August 1, 2011.

Much has been made over the connection between JJ Abrams, director of Super 8, and his hero – and Super 8 producer – Steven Spielberg. Both view the world like wide-eyed, overgrown boys, and in their most beloved work (Abrams’s Lost, Alias and Star Trek; Spielberg’s ET and Close Encounters of the Third Kind) blend the wonder of the supernatural with the tender harvest of the human heart. Coincidentally, both also kicked off their film careers at the age of 12 by making 8mm home movies. Spielberg was after a Boy Scout photography merit badge, while Abrams’s focus was his lifelong obsession with special effects … // 

… Terrifying, funny and transportive are apt descriptors for Super 8, Abrams’s first film as both director and writer. Using his adolescent auteur experiences as the jumping-off point, the story follows a group of children in the summer of 1979 as they set about making an 8mm zombie film. Our hero is Joe, a 13-year-old struggling with his mother’s sudden death in a factory accident, while he assists his friends’ film by designing monster makeup and exploding model trains.

Make-believe careens into chilling reality one night during the youngsters’ shoot at an old train depot, when they witness a horrifyingly violent crash, followed by what seems to be the escape of a malevolent presence from one of the mutilated carriages. In the aftermath, eerie phenomena occur, the military descend, people start to disappear and Joe fights to save the ones he loves.

“When I called Steven, it was an instinct to work with someone who was a hero of mine since I was a kid, and I had no idea what the movie was,” admits Abrams. “All I had was the title, and knew this could be a movie about a group of kids making movies, and he was the one person I knew who had done this the way I had, who could help a movie like that get made. So I called him, and he said yes.”

But curiously, Super 8 is not the first time Abrams has worked for his hero. When he was a teenager, he was profiled in a newspaper article about his participation in a young film-makers’ festival in Los Angeles. In a coincidence straight out of a movie, Spielberg read the article and hired Abrams and a friend to repair some 8mm reels that he had knocking around from his own teenage movie-making days … //

… In addition to the premiere of Super 8, Abrams has a full platter of projects: the Mission: Impossible film he’s producing; the upcoming TV shows, Alcatraz and Person of Interest, which he is consulting on; Fringe, the ongoing supernatural thriller series; as well as a comedy series he is developing – a new direction for him. And then there’s the next Star Trek film, which he’s keen to direct (”The idea of someone else saying ‘action’ to those actors in those characters on that set makes me jealous,” he says), though nothing is decided.

As man who continues to frolic on his boyhood playing fields of magic and movies, Abrams represents the outsider who lives in his head. Does he feel responsible for perpetrating the new supremacy of the geek?

“No.” Abrams shifts impatiently in his armchair. “First of all, the definition of geek has changed. When I started, a geek was an undeniable loser: long-necked, trips over his own feet, a complete outcast. And now geek means someone who likes science-fiction. When I was a kid, it was a huge insult to be a geek. Now it’s a point of pride in a weird way. I feel very lucky to be working in a business and to be part of stories that are embraced by people who fit the current definition of geek. And also maybe the occasional athlete.”

Super 8 is released on 5 August. (full long text).

Links:

The Steven Spielberg Filmography on wikipedia.

When writers are confronted by a national trauma … Nordic crime writers have long occupied a critical role in the national debate on extremism. How will they respond to the Utøya massacre? The Guardian, by Brian Oliver, July 31, 2011.

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