Hey FOOLS! Prester John and I had the wonderful opportunity to meet JJ Abrams, director of Star Trek and creator of TV shows such as Alias, Felicity, Fringe and LOST. We were seated on the roof of a hotel over looking Sydney Harbour. It was a beautiful day and the perfect place to meet someone I hold in such high regard. To just explain BG is biggeoff, PJ is Prester John, OF is the Other FOOLS joining us on the roundtable and obviously JJ is the man himself JJ Abrams. We considered posting the audio for all to listen to but it was pretty hard to hear at times so we thought we'd just transcribe for you. So enjoy the last of our Star Trek interviews.
BG: In terms of the Star Trek franchise is this something you actively pursued or was it something that was offered to you?
JJ: They asked if I'd be interested on working on Star Trek as a producer when I was mixing Mission Impossible III and as someone who was not a fan of Star Trek I was intrigued immediately by the idea of doing a Kirk and Spock story and finding a way into that history, cause my gut was that it had been done so many times in so man iterations but if you're going to do Star Trek you should go back to Kirk and Spock and what made Star Trek, Star Trek but I didn't know it well enough to know how to do it or what that would mean. So I called Bob (Roberto Orci) and Alex (Alex Kurtzman) and Damon (Damon Lindelof) and Brian (Brian Burke) and the five of us started working together and Burkie, Brian Burke, had never seen an episode ever and Bob was a massive Trek fan, Damon was a fan too. So we had this range of people who loved it and then people who couldn't care less and when we had a story that we all loved it was the best way to obviously check some balances to know it was well worth pursuing and then when they wrote the script, I read it and knew I would be envious of anyone who directed it, so I found myself saying well if I have a chance I should do this or I am an idiot.
OF: When you did a pep talk when you completed where you spoke about you killed a rubber shark with Kirk in a Roy Scheider moment, when you were looking over the whole cannon of Star Trek what were the rubber sharks and what were the Roy Scheider's that you saw with this?
JJ: Well I think it was more like rubber boulders than rubber sharks in Star Trek, you a lot of the resources that they had back in the day really it made it almost impossible for that series to deliver on the adventure that it promised. So I knew that I wanted to, as much as possible, to deliver a fast paced, action filled and urgent story in that world and there was so much that you really needed to keep, the beauty of Star Trek is it isn't like "Oh! It's crap, we've got figure out what to make..." there so much that is wonderful there, I mean the dynamics of the characters and the relationships that because we were doing a Kirk and Spock movie the rest of the family story, those characters are spectacular and the sort of archetypes, that paradigm of that group on the bridge was wonderful. There are tons of things that you knew, you don't want to change the Enterprise so much that it doesn't look like the Enterprise, you don't want to mess with things like the communicator, tricorder, phaser, the Starfleet logo, the general look of the uniform. There are just certain things that there are a lot, I guess my point is, there are a lot of pillars that made Star Trek even for a non fan stand up and still work and be undeniable, so there are a whole lot of things that felt like they should and must be kept alive and then the things that weren't quite as good, for me, really in terms of telling this beginning, middle and end story was just not a way in, I wanted to know why I should care about these characters as opposed to just the assumption that you'll care about them because they're there.
OF: One of the things that I was admiring last night (at the premiere of the film) was the quality and emersiveness of the sound effects. How much time and effort actually went into the film?
JJ: Terrific! I'm so glad you bring that up. No one else has talked about that yet. We had a mix of this movie, we had a wonderful crew working on the sound of it and we had a mix of the movie that was done and essentially the movie was locked and I went to Japan and did some of the pre press stuff to try and get people to go see Star Trek again and while I was away I watched the movie again and I thought it not quite there yet, we ended up doing another mix that we locked a couple of weeks ago that to me is night and day what the mix was originally, having said that there was even another stage earlier where at a certain point after we saw the first mix we realised that the sound effects we needed a little bit more umph, we had a great guy named Mark Statinger who did sound but we knew that the movie's so big that we just needed to bring someone else in to kind of help out a little bit, so we called Ben Burtt who is the icon of sound design and someone I've been a fan of forever and we all know of him hitting the tension wire on the antenna to get the sound effect of the blaster, you know this is a guy who is just a legend and he came in as a huge fan of Star Trek and it was fascinating watching him analyse the original sounds and what they were, so we're even going to do a short piece about this I’m hoping for the DVD that's basically Ben analysing what the original Star Trek sounds were how he recreated so many them for this movie. We didn't use any of the original ones we recreated them, you know the squeak when the doors slide open he was pretty sure it was a sneaker on a cork floor, it's so funny but anyway the work that was done was a tremendous amount of work but for it was the sound and the music it was obviously at least half the experience and it just wasn't as good as it needed to be and took another pass and I just feel like, of course there are always going to be things I thought we could do that better, I just felt like it went up exponentially from where it was, we replaced music queues, we moved some things around, we did a lot of stuff and the sound effects design and the mix that they did to hear someone bring it up is just wonderful because I was there to see all this work that they did and it's a lot and they're deserving of this interview so thanks for bringing it up.
OF: There was a delay in releasing the film, it was meant to be released at the end of last year but it is released now (actually May). What are some of the decisions that effected this?
JJ: It's like closet space, we had the time and we used the time for some other reasons that we had, we used the closet space until it gets filled, we would have been done, it wouldn't have been as good but we would have been done and maybe if we had known we had to be ready for a Christmas release perhaps we would have accelerated some of the work we did and had the same experience but just earlier but the delay was simply because Paramount having watched daily's felt that it was a better if seen as a summer release than a Christmas release and ultimately it was a business decision and they didn't ask me they just told me that what they were doing. Had they asked me I would have said I'd really love to keep it at Christmas but now here I am and I realise that it was probably a good idea because I think it gave us more time to begin to get the word and help market it. I'm ultimately glad that we delayed it but that wouldn't have been my choice.
OF: You certainly gave fresh feel to whole Star Trek experience but at the same time you gave fans what they want to see as well, was it hard juggling the expectations of a brand new audience but at the same time the fans?
JJ: It wasn't hard for me because like I said having someone in my corner to protect us in Bob Orci, he and Alex they spent a lot of time debating as they wrote the script for example when Scotty says "I'm giving her all she's got" you don't have to be a Star Trek fan to know that line, we're all born genetically knowing Spock has the pointy ears and Kirk's the captain. The problem is it's something in Star Trek that has been parodied so many times and I'm a huge fan of Galaxy Quest, you know it's been done and overdone so many times so long ago that a line like that in bringing it back, if the context isn't vital and interesting and alive and entertaining the line is a distraction so the key is primarily trying to tell a good story, trying to tell something that is an emotional story and connect with it despite it being Star Trek and then figure out a way to bring in the familiar elements and there are some things that if you are a fan of Trek and you say "well I know that Spock projected the Vulcan science of travel, we never saw him project it but I know he did and to get to have that scene where he did it for those people who have never seen it, that's a cool thing but you never would have to know it existed prior to this movie to see that scene and understand that that scenes there not to show him projecting it, it's there for other reasons it's there to see what it is to be this half breed or what it means to be living with half Vulcan half Human, how do you reconcile those? So I guess the answer to your question is it was always on our mind because I wasn't schooled in Star Trek I was relying on people like Bob and Damon to help make sure that we were doing those fans proud because cared deeply about that contingent but that could not be the contingent for who we made this movie otherwise we would have eliminated enormously the scope of the film and the appeal.
Now for the sake of you dear FOOL I am going to omit the desperately asked question that someone in the roundtable asked next and will paraphrase. Basically after almost 2 minutes of trying to find things in common with JJ Abrams and gushing (in a non cool way) about how awesome he and the film was the question asked was this.
How do you see this film translating to the Twilight generation?
JJ: The challenge is getting them in and what I'm hoping is, cause I'm sort of like where I look at Trek as what it has been but whenever, especially when you have a kid that's 13 and when you talk to kids around that age you realise everything is new to them. They may know Star Trek exists and what it was but it's irrelevant what that was, in a weird way the challenge that we had was selling it so it looks like a great night out, a fun and for those who care a sexy, exciting, emotional spectacle but in a strange way the audience, the majority of the audience is young enough that Star Trek as we know it is pointless, it doesn't really matter so it's a redirection for us but it's an introduction for them and so what I'm hoping is that we've got some great looking actors, we have some funny stuff and the visual effects are extraordinary, I think ILM did just an amazing job so what I'm hoping is that audiences that obviously were desperate to get to see this movie will be interested not because of anything having to do with what we know Star Trek to be but because they see this as "That was interesting, that was fun, they look cute" and they'll be drawn to it on its own terms.
Once again further waffling and more praise occurs to ask another question which is once again paraphrased.
Did you try keep some of Gene Rodenberry's themes for this film?
JJ: I think the film is more a testament to Rodenberry, what he wrote were obviously ground breaking things where today are ubiquitous and a given but that idea that we would all survive together and that we would collaborate and we would travel beyond what we know and not conquer and destroy but to understand and discover and explore. There's a wonderful optimism and a purity to that kind of idea that I think given how many films there have been of grim post apocalyptic, anti heroic subject matter many of which I love but it's nice to have something with a different flavour, it's a little bit more optimistic and a little more pure.
PJ: From what I've seen from the film you've basically revitalised the whole franchise. Will you be involved in the next Star Trek? Will you be directing?
JJ: It's very premature to assume that there will be another one, if there is one the guys I did it with they're like family, the cast I can't tell you how much fun we had working together, they were so wonderful. So I would be honoured to be a part of that next step if one is required by the audience so we'll see. I hope that the people would like to see another one but obviously we don't even know what the story would be yet we've thrown around a ton of ideas but we're at such an early stage that it is premature to even lead to something because we don't have anything yet.
OF: In a lot of your work, Lost, Alias and even Felicity there has been time travel what is with time travel?
JJ: It's come in different ways, without going on for too long, the Felicity one was literally a result of the fact that we had to do something extreme because the network basically told us that we were done with the show after I think it was 14 episodes and then we were filming the last one and they said we need 5 more. We were like "What the hell! We're doing the series finale and you want 5 more, we're done! This is the end!" and they were like no we need 5 more and one of our writers, Jennifer Loven, came up with this idea of let's do something crazy, let's go back in time. I was like "That's genius" and it was actually hugely empowering for the character, she was suddenly more interesting in those last 5 episodes than the character had been in years, so that wasn't my idea but it came literally as a reaction to an impossible situation. LOST obviously we discussed time travel early on but it was really Damon and Carlton Cuse who are running that show who ran with that time travel element. Alias I did a lot of non linear story telling but not literal time travel and Trek it was clearly the gimmick of the movie, the sort of catalyst for the movie and the thing that allowed us to both be true to cannon and establish our own was that device. Clearly it been used as a cliché in Star Trek it's not a brand new idea but we felt that the movie using that device a) the fact that it was used before was reasonably easy, it was in the world of Trek b) any downside to it, the cliché nature of it and the confusion of it I think is outweighed by the benefits and finally it was the one bitter pill to swallow to allow our reset essentially and yet it doesn't disconnect us from what's come before, in fact if there's a sequel the universe of Trek is out there meaning we could do anything, where do we go? Who knows? What's out there? The beauty of having all the incredible back story that has been created it doesn't disconnect or reject anything that was done before it in fact embraces it and says how that timeline will continue and what we'd like to do in what pre exists us and there's so much rich material that it's fun to see what there is.
OF: Chris and Zach earlier were saying you're a bit of a magician...
JJ: Every time somebody tells me something they said I want to kill them. I won't embarrass you by giving a demonstration.
OF: Basically they said you were involved in all aspects of the film, how do you do it and where do you find time to sleep?
JJ: Well I have 3 kids so the sleep part is... you don't sleep as much as you'd like. I love movies making and I love every aspect of it and since I was a little kid I would write fan letters to make up artist and visual effects artists and people because I just loved what they did because I knew that it was what I wanted to do. Not necessarily any one thing but the whole process is amazing so when I work with either make up and visual effects people I can speak their language because I know what it is they do and usually they know a lot more than I do so I usually learn more by that discussion but it was important when I was a kid to, as much as I could, try and connect to the actual people who were doing it and usually that make up artist maybe would get a couple few dozen fan letters a year as opposed to a celebrity who would get a few hundred a week and so the response was much higher from those people, for example when I wrote to Dick Smith who was an amazing artist who did The Exorcist and Godfather and Scanners when I wrote him a fan letter a week later I got a little box in the mail and inside the box was this tongue from The Exorcist with a note from him saying to put a little peanut butter on the end of it and stick it in your mouth and I still little tongue and I actually developed a pen pals style relationship with him and got to hire him years later when I did this movie Forever Young but I was a huge fan of all sorts of stuff, music when I realised John Carpenter did his own scores and I was already obsessed with synthesizers and the idea of him actually doing his own music and how does that work? I've been a fan of every aspect of the process so for me I feel really lucky, not only do I get to make a living doing this at the moment but I get to work with people who are the best in the business at what they do, to get to go up to ILM and watch these artists, I would've spent all my time up there it's remarkably mind expanding to see how they do what they do. I do a bunch of visual effects stuff too as a goof but these are people who are the artists and define greatness in that field so the answer is that I love it, it's not like an effort, we all find the time to do the things we love and so it's really a passion in every aspect of it and the more you know about every responsibility, every job the better you can do your job. It's really just a case of being a geek and loving it.
OF: Star Trek has been a bit of a boys club plus Uhura down through the years was there a temptation to bring more female characters on board and what was the process in making that decision?
JJ: In this film we didn't feel like it at all ours yet to be introducing characters that would be assumed to be part of the core group, meaning we wanted to adhere as much as we could to what was known, at that point if it is successful and if it works then I think we have a little more leeway to bring in someone else. There were other little things in there, the green girl had more of a role but early on she was more integral to the kobayashi maru cheat then she is in the final film but it actually ended not working great we were like well let's just get on with it, we could cut that out but obviously as someone who has written Felicity and Alias and Fringe I love strong female characters. So on the one hand I'd love to add another wonderful strong female role to that core group on the other hand we were lucky enough to inherit a wonderful group and I feel like tampering with it to add another female is akin to creating a contrive ness to get Shatner back in the movie, you'd feel like that what was happening but in having said that I'm open minded to do if there was another one. I feel like because of her unique position in the movie Zoë really handled it beautifully, she was terrific, that scene in the lift where she asks Spock what he needs literally every time I watch that I tear up, she was so good in that scene.
Then we all wished Mr. Abrams a huge thank you and headed home after a big day Trekkin'.