By: Dominic Jones
With just 38 days until Star Wars: Episode VII The Force Awakens opens, director JJ Abrams is going to be a busy man! The publicity for the film has really been heating up lately, including this new interview Abrams did with Wired. Abrams discussed what went into writing the film, the music, the work currently being done (by others) on the rest of the trilogy, and more. We've picked a few highlights from the interview to feature below,
You mapped out the story with Lawrence Kasdan, who cowrote The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. He said recently that his own life experiences—and the span of time not working on Star Wars—readied him to work on this film. Were there moments from your life or your own work from which you drew inspiration?
Working with Larry definitely ties for first in terms of incredible experiences I’ve had with this project. We all take our experiences with us from one project to the next, but in this case, I never looked to draw from my past work. More than anything, I drew on personal experiences as cautionary tales, things that I didn’t want to do again. For example, I didn’t want to enter into making a movie where we didn’t really own our story. I feel like I’ve done that a couple of times in my career. That’s not to say I’m not proud of my work, but the fact is I remember starting to shoot Super 8 and Star Trek Into Darkness and feeling like I hadn’t really solved some fundamental story problems.
The collaboration, for me, was an education in storytelling and doing so with clarity, with efficiency, brevity—wit. It was a little like taking an extended master class. And because he’s also a director, he knew what I was going through in prep and in production, and he allowed for my needs. Sometimes those needs were practical, other times they were creative needs or feelings I had. But he was there to help that process, the same way I would have been if I had known he was directing. It was always about moving this thing forward in the right way, about making this movie the right way. I can’t say enough about him.
So I tried to not forget the mistakes I’d made, but I also tried to focus on things that I find inspiring about cinema. I asked questions like “How do we make this movie delightful?” That was really the only requirement Larry and I imposed on each other: The movie needed to be delightful. It was not about explaining everything away, not about introducing a certain number of toys for a corporation, not about trying to appease anyone. This has only ever been about what gets us excited.
One thing I know about you is that you love a mystery. You love to surprise an audience. How have you felt about those teasers—about revealing parts of the movie, necessarily talking about and marketing it, versus allowing the story to unfold on your terms?
I give credit to, and frankly surprisingly so, the incredible people at Disney, especially Alan Horn [chair of Walt Disney Studios] and Bob Iger [Disney CEO]. Bob’s been unbelievably collaborative and supportive of this entire process. When it came to marketing, I was expecting Disney to want to put out an overabundance of material. But they’ve been incredibly reluctant to do that. They want this thing to be an experience for people when they go to see the film. And I’m grateful for that.
There’s a really positive side to keeping quiet. You can protect the audience from spoilers or certain moments that, in a way, obviate the movie experience. But on the other hand, you risk being seen as coy or as a withholding shithead. That’s never my intent. Because Lucasfilm has been so engaged with the fans and so forthcoming about what they’re doing, it would have felt oddly inconsistent to not show anything until just before the movie came out. I actually personally pushed to have a teaser come out a year before, just because it felt like, as a fan of Star Wars, if I could see even the littlest thing I’d be psyched a year out. Why not? So we did.
But I don’t want to destroy too many illusions. We’re walking a tightrope. If you fall on one side it’s no good, because we’re showing too much. If you fall on the other side it’s no good, because we’re not showing anything and we look like arrogant jerks.
You can see how the universe gets so big so quickly, first toys and games and then Episode VIII and IX, with directors Rian Johnson and Colin Trevorrow coming aboard. I know VIII is Rian’s movie, but you’ve no doubt created story questions in Episode VII that have to be addressed. Do you know how the answers play out? Or are those moments still unspooling?
The script for VIII is written. I’m sure rewrites are going to be endless, like they always are. But what Larry and I did was set up certain key relationships, certain key questions, conflicts. And we knew where certain things were going. We had meetings with Rian and Ram Bergman, the producer of VIII. They were watching dailies when we were shooting our movie. We wanted them to be part of the process, to make the transition to their film as seamless as possible. I showed Rian an early cut of the movie, because I knew he was doing his rewrite and prepping. And as executive producer of VIII, I need that movie to be really good. Withholding serves no one and certainly not the fans. So we’ve been as transparent as possible.
Rian has asked for a couple of things here and there that he needs for his story. He is an incredibly accomplished filmmaker and an incredibly strong writer. So the story he told took what we were doing and went in the direction that he felt was best but that is very much in line with what we were thinking as well. But you’re right—that will be his movie; he’s going to do it in the way he sees fit. He’s neither asking for nor does he need me to oversee the process.
So: John Williams!
Oh my God! First of all, forget his talent and his achievement. As a person, he’s the guy you want to know more than anyone. He is the sweetest soul I’ve ever met. He’s like this jazzman who became one of the greatest composers of all time. He literally calls you “baby”! Like, “Hey, baby.” He calls me “J.J. Baby.” I waited all my life to meet someone who would call me that!
He works in pencil. You go to his home and listen to him play notes on the piano, and while you’re listening, you extrapolate what it will be like when you hear the melody with an orchestra. It is unforgettable, a truly miraculous thing to behold. He has every one of his scores leather-bound. I was like, “Do you mind if I …?” He goes, “No, go ahead!” So I pulled out the Jaws score, and sure enough, there it is, in pencil on paper: baaaa-bum, baaaa-bum. You’re like, “Well, that’s what he wrote!” It’s as if you’re hanging out with Mozart, who happened to score your favorite movies.
I know everybody knows this, but when you actually think about what he’s composed, it is as important as any work ever done on any of those movies. When you think about Superman and Raiders and Jaws and Close Encounters—which came out the same year as Star Wars—and then the Harry Potter movies? He is just superhuman. It’s unbelievable that he is as brilliant and yet as modest as he is. It’s just an amazing thing to get to know that guy.
The rest of the interview is fantastic, Abrams talks about the new cast, tells a funny story about Anthony Daniel's reaction to BB-8, and more. Head to Wired to read the rest. The also release some cool images, check it out below,
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