J.J. Abrams interview: Super 8

JJ Abrams spares us a few minutes to natter about Super 8, which arrives in UK cinemas this week...

It’s finally here! Almost. Super 8, one of the films of the summer, opens in the UK this week, a full two months and a bit since it first enthralled American audiences.

Like a throwback to the days of yore, when distributors thought no one outside of North America watched films, we’ve had to wait a long time for it. But, and this is a good but, it’s worth the wait. Every day of it.

It was back in June that Den Of Geek was granted an audience with the man called they call J.J. Abrams. The press junket for Super 8 took over most of the first floor of London’s Dorchester Hotel, swathes of PR people marching back and forth among corridors so long and labyrinthine that it would be no surprise if a small child on a tricycle, or identical twin girls, appeared at any moment.  Or Jonah Hill and Russell Brand turned up and made a Kubrick reference.

And the thing about press junkets is they’re pretty much a conveyor belt. You go in, someone with a forensic eye for measuring time cuts you off just as soon as you’ve started (well, four and a half minutes in, if we’re counting), and then you’re out again. 

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So, this is four and a half minutes with J.J. Abrams, a man who made television cool again (I’m thinking Alias, though, not Lost), Star Trek films worth watching, even without the Shatner in them, and who’s just given us the best 80s Steven Spielberg film you’ll see since Spielberg stopped making 80s Steven Spielberg films.

The characters are great in this film. Which one is closest to you when you were growing up? Were you the bossy director, or the shy behind-the-scenes guy?

I feel like I was never as confident as the director kid in Super 8, I was sort of more the- I feel like I’m more the other kid, Joe. I was the kid making the movies, but I also was the kid who loved to blow stuff up. And I was never as smart as the kid Preston, or as stupid as Martin. So, I was somewhere in the middle of all of them, I think.

And is that you as a director now? The character Charles is almost fearless in trying to get the perfect shot, doing anything it takes to get what he needs for the film. 

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It’s funny, because the kid who plays the moviemaker in the film said that he was watching what I was doing and just tried to copy that, which made me laugh, because I had no idea he was doing that. [laughs] I think that he’s kind of this bull in a china shop. He just has a lot of confidence and does what he wants to do.

I don’t feel that way at all. It was funny. I think what I was really trying to do was to use his natural personality to sort of demonstrate a kid who, all he cares about is making these movies. That’s really his primary thing. And the main kid, Joe, really hasn’t found his voice yet, and he’s a follower. And he’s sort of following this kid as he’s making these films.

What’s great is looking at Joe’s room in this film. It’s filled with incredible memorabilia, a Krakken doll, amazing movie posters. Was that your room growing up?

It’s funny, both of the kids’ rooms that you see felt so eerily familiar to me. When I was on the set, in those rooms, all the little set design details were like sense memory flashbacks to my childhood. It was very strange. But some of those things, whether it’s toys or models or games or books, they were just things that felt really familiar in my room or my friends’ rooms, when we were growing up.

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And there’s a real nostalgia in this film, not just for the time, the late 70s/early 80s, but for an age of moviemaking as well. Do you ever wish you were making films in that time, that you didn’t have the luxury of CGI? Is that a challenge you would have liked to take on?

I think that the idea of- I love technology. I think that what we’re able to do now in terms of effects in film is amazing. However, my favourite kind of visual effects involve model-making and miniatures that used to be used in movies and are rarely used now because they construct everything in a computer.

The idea of film- We shot Super 8 on film, and I love and prefer film. I’m obsessed with all means of filmmaking, whether it’s digital or film, I like it all. But for me, there’s a kind of look that film has that’s just fantastic. Part of it is that it’s almost not as clear and crisp as digital, and because of that,somehow it almost activates part of your imagination, sort of filling in the blanks in a way. 

Digital’s often so completely pristine that, in a weird way, there’s nothing left to imagine. You sort of see everything almost too well, in a way. So, I love- Personally, I love film.

And I also am incredibly grateful to the artists who made some of these visual effects. The sequences in this film could never have been made if we had only adhered to techniques and resources available in the 70s. So, I’m in a place where I love what technology can do, and I also really miss a kind of old fashioned form of filmmaking.

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J.J. Abrams, thank you very much.

Super 8 opens in cinemas this Friday.

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