November 22nd, 2011
10:03 AM ET
J.J. Abrams may have made his name in television with series like "Alias," "Lost" and "Fringe," but he's had a succession of hits on the big screen. He delivered the most recent this past summer with the coming-of-age sci-fi film "Super 8," just released on DVD and Blu-ray.
Abrams told CNN that this was his most personal movie to date. "It was definitely very familiar to me as a kid growing up in that time making those movies," he said of the story, about a group of filmmakers in their early teens. "I loved the magic trick of moviemaking, the expression of it, whether it’s makeup or visual effects. There was something about doing it that felt like real life sort of paled in comparison."
Abrams considers himself "lucky" to have found such a talented young cast – including Joel Courtney and Elle Fanning – because they made the characters believable.
"The thing that made me choose these particular young actors was their combination of honesty, humor and innocence that when you talk to a professional actor you’re missing," he explained.
That relatable aspect was what attracted him to some of his favorite movies growing up.
"I was always a big fan of science fiction and monster movies," he said. "Scary movies like 'Alien' or 'The Exorcist' – those were all movies that if you describe the story, you roll your eyes. But then you see them [and] they’re done with such respect for the audience. Those kinds of movies spoke to me, [the kind] that combine the crazy and the incredibly relatable and emotional."
Like so many film geeks, Abrams grew up idolizing Steven Spielberg, and called working with him on "Super 8" an "insanely surreal thrill."
One sequence that stood out to many viewers over the summer was the spectacular train crash that sets the wheels of the plot in motion. "The intent was not to make the most realistic train crash, but to make the train crash that the kids perceived as happening. It was the experience they were having as opposed to documenting a crash," he said. "The fun was that it could be hyper-real and more spectacular."
As he has for years, Abrams has many projects coming up, the biggest being the sequel to his 2009 blockbuster "Star Trek," due in theaters in 2013.
"We’re obviously working on [the script] as you always continue to, but we start shooting in mid-January," he said, noting that the entire cast is back for the next voyage of the Enterprise.
"We’ve got, I think, a pretty amazing story that Damon [Lindelof], Alex [Kurtzman] and Bob [Orci] wrote. A script that is full of emotion and adventure, and I just can’t wait to get back on the floor."
Abrams also addressed his next high profile series, "Alcatraz," which is coming to Fox in January. The show recently made news when its executive producer and showrunner, Elizabeth Sarnoff, stepped down from that role.
Of the tweaks being made behind the scenes, Abrams said the team is recognizing "the way to take what was already good and to make it truly great."
"Usually in TV, you just don’t have the time to make adjustments when you see something you want to course correct," he went on. "You’re usually forced to course correct in episode 13 or 15, and by the time you realize what you want to do, it’s been on for a month, and you’re so many episodes ahead, that you have to do it as fast as you can. The beauty in this situation is we haven’t even premiered yet. So we have the ability to go back and make some adjustments to make it all click together. I can’t wait for people to see the show and I think it will speak for itself."
Abrams always draws a crowd at San Diego Comic-Con, but "there are other conventions I get a real kick out of. Things like Monsterpalooza, a smaller yearly event that is a total blast. I love that kind of stuff. So if that makes me a geek, I wear the badge with pride."
So what makes the director of "Star Trek" geek out?
"It's the weirdest thing. Do you know the Wacom tablet? There’s a thing called the Inkling they have coming out [that] you can draw with on a piece of paper and it records it and puts it into a computer. As a serial doodler, the idea of being able to doodle things that I can actually then put into the computer is hugely exciting to me. Plus, it turns hydrogen into a metal, which is pretty cool!"
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