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Director J.J. Abrams discusses his ultra secretive filmmaking methods and preserving "the magic"

01.08.2013

Entertainment Weekly recently sat down with director J.J. Abrams during a press tour for his show, Revolution, and got the elusive filmmaker to spill his thoughts on the secrecy of his projects.  Abrams has been known for his marketing shut outs, most notably during production.  It's very rare to get set pics or interviews or looks at costumes, etc., while Abrams is shooting, but once the marketing begins, it comes pretty steady, as is the case with STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS, which has seen images, trailers, and a whopping nine minutes of footage shown in IMAX.

Abrams on "the magic":

“I will sit in a meeting before a movie with 80-some people, heads of departments, and literally say that all I ask is that we preserve the experience for the viewer,” Abrams says. “Every choice we make, every costume fitting, every pad of makeup, every set that’s built — all that stuff becomes less magical if it’s discussed and revealed and pictures are posted online. I just want to make sure that when somebody sees something in a movie they didn’t watch a 60-minute behind-the-scene [video] that came out two months before.”

Abrams on enforcing his secrecy:

“It’s not like there are threats, it’s not like we’re begging them every day,” he says. “We just say up front that all the work we’re doing is about making this a special experience for the viewer; let’s preserve that as long as we can.”

Abrams on behind-the-scenes before the premiere:

“Why do I want to see [a behind-the-scenes element of the film] if it’s something I don’t even understand yet?” Abrams says. “Let me experience it so I know what the movie is and have the opportunity to get sucked into that experience, and feel like, ‘Oh my god, that world is real, that ship is real, that battle is real’  … If I’ve [already] seen how ILM or whatever visual effects company made that look real, you’re ruining it before it even exists.”

Abrams on the fun of suspense:

“It’s only fun to keep things quiet when it finally comes out as scheduled, because then you feel like, ‘Oh I didn’t just spend six months ruining the movie for people,’” Abrams says. “It’s not fun during the experience of withholding. Because then you sound like a coy bastard … and you’re sort of being a jerk. It’s about making sure that when you see the movie — or the show when it airs — that you didn’t read the synopsis that came out of my fat mouth because I’m answering a question that I’m grateful anyone would even ask — which is, ‘What happens?’ I would rather people experience what happens rather than being told what happens and then have it confirmed.”

Abrams has been a filmmaker to admire in many respects.  For obvious reasons, he delivers some kick ass films that make it worth venturing to the theater, rather than waiting for video, and has demonstrated a measure of control over his work that is respectful to the audience and those who contribute to production.  Add in his recent gesture of showing STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS to a dying fan before his death and you've got a very respectable filmmaker who has a firm grasp on what going to the movies (or watching TV for that matter) is all about.

STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS opens on May 17, 2013.

CLICK IMAGE TO OPEN GALLERY & SEE MORE PICS...

Extra Tidbit: What type of film would you like to see Abrams tackle next? I'm pretty much game for whatever this guy does, honestly.

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9:53AM on 01/09/2013

So the guy who has Hollywood's biggest marketing machine working for him is boasting about a lack of marketing?

It's 90% of his success ffs. He restricts output to build tension for the viewer and it's always timed to peak right before the premiere. It's not some artists secret. It's marketing. And implying that anyone who leaks info or images will be fired is the same as a verbal threat. I don't trust him at all.
It's 90% of his success ffs. He restricts output to build tension for the viewer and it's always timed to peak right before the premiere. It's not some artists secret. It's marketing. And implying that anyone who leaks info or images will be fired is the same as a verbal threat. I don't trust him at all.
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9:42PM on 01/08/2013
FYI: Here's a TED Talk that Abrams did that's relevant to the topic at hand (surprise, magic, etc): [link]
FYI: Here's a TED Talk that Abrams did that's relevant to the topic at hand (surprise, magic, etc): [link]
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2:31PM on 01/08/2013
He's completely right, and completely wrong.
I become even more intrigued when I see all the behind-the-scenes material, not less. That said, I don't necessarily need to see that stuff. I can tell you the utter secrecy behind Super 8 hurt it more than helping it. The ultra secrecy is a form of hype, and Super 8 didn't live up to that. However, I like Super 8 for all of its non-scifi aspects.
Cloverfield, while most people THINK it was ultra secret, wasn't. There was a shitload of viral
He's completely right, and completely wrong.
I become even more intrigued when I see all the behind-the-scenes material, not less. That said, I don't necessarily need to see that stuff. I can tell you the utter secrecy behind Super 8 hurt it more than helping it. The ultra secrecy is a form of hype, and Super 8 didn't live up to that. However, I like Super 8 for all of its non-scifi aspects.
Cloverfield, while most people THINK it was ultra secret, wasn't. There was a shitload of viral marketing content that revealed a ton of the plot revolving around the monster, while revealing nothing about the characters. For me, that elevated the movie experience immensely.
As for what JJ Abrams said about making something feel real, there are probably fewer than 5 movies I've seen that really felt real, with most of them being independent European films. JJ Abrams shouldn't worry about that. He fails to make his movies feel real, but that doesn't mean he fails at making awesome movies.
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1:40PM on 01/08/2013
I agree with him completely. We are just so eager to get to the answers these days that a lot of the fun and wonder of films and other mediums have been lost. Like the people who read leaked scripts months or years before the movie opens just baffle me like in especially the case with Tarantino films its like don't you want the words to be told to you the way it was intended anymore? Or do you just want to be that one guy who thinks he or she is cool and in the know who says "oh I already read
I agree with him completely. We are just so eager to get to the answers these days that a lot of the fun and wonder of films and other mediums have been lost. Like the people who read leaked scripts months or years before the movie opens just baffle me like in especially the case with Tarantino films its like don't you want the words to be told to you the way it was intended anymore? Or do you just want to be that one guy who thinks he or she is cool and in the know who says "oh I already read it I know how it ends look at me I'm cool." I truly respect what Abrahms is trying to protect here.
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1:18PM on 01/08/2013

Counterpoint = Jackson

Peter Jackson seems to be on the other extreme of this argument, wanting to let people in on every aspect of the film-making process. I personally enjoy that style more, but I do get where get where Abrams is coming from, especially considering his is material no one has the opportunity to read and be familiar with beforehand.
Peter Jackson seems to be on the other extreme of this argument, wanting to let people in on every aspect of the film-making process. I personally enjoy that style more, but I do get where get where Abrams is coming from, especially considering his is material no one has the opportunity to read and be familiar with beforehand.
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1:10PM on 01/08/2013
I like the fact that he enforces keeping the magic. there are movies out there (X-MEN 3) that were ruined because of too many leaks and other bullshit that the internet got caught up with. I new nothing of Super 8 until I saw it last year. It was one of the best of 2011.
I like the fact that he enforces keeping the magic. there are movies out there (X-MEN 3) that were ruined because of too many leaks and other bullshit that the internet got caught up with. I new nothing of Super 8 until I saw it last year. It was one of the best of 2011.
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12:52PM on 01/08/2013
I gotta agree on the BTS videos. Unless they are solely there to market the movie with the actor explaining "I play So-and-so who is blah blah blah," I'd much rather see how they did something AFTER I know what the sequence is to begin with.
I gotta agree on the BTS videos. Unless they are solely there to market the movie with the actor explaining "I play So-and-so who is blah blah blah," I'd much rather see how they did something AFTER I know what the sequence is to begin with.
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