J.J. Abrams, the filmmaker behind the TV shows "Alias," "Lost" and the movies "Mission: Impossible III" and "Star Trek," returns to movie theaters on Friday with what he calls his most autobiographical work to date.
Abrams wrote, directed and produced "Super 8," a sci-fi mystery that also boasts the imprimatur of producer Steven Spielberg. The story revolves around a group of kids in a small town in the late '70s who are making a home movie. They witness a train crash and suddenly odd things start happening.
Abrams, 44, talked with Reuters about the strange title, his own childhood, and working with kids.
Q: How is this your most personal film to date?
A. "The original idea of the film was to set it in a time that was based on my own ridiculous experiences making really bad movies as a kid on Super 8. Obviously there is a lot of wild, hyper-real stuff and spectacle in this film that I certainly didn't go through as a kid."
Q: Which one of the kids in the film most represents you?
A: "I was definitely the chubby kid making movies ("Charles," played by Riley Griffiths) but I wasn't as confident and bullish as he is. I was more like the main kid, Joe (Joel Courtney), a little bit of an outsider. I love blowing things up on film, but I wasn't as obsessed about it as Cary (Ryan Lee), the kid in the film."
Q: Elle Fanning was cast as the lone girl in a group of boys. Did they all have crushes on her?
A: "Yes! When she was on set, there was a marked difference in the way they would behave. When she was around, they always knew where she was. It was definitely a chemical thing."
Q: Do you have a favorite scene in the film?
A: "What encapsulated the whole experience for me were really the scenes with all the kids together. There's a scene where they are all having lunch in the diner. It's six kids, it's messy, it's busy and they're talking over each other. There was something about that scene that was the movie."
Q: What was the biggest challenge about making "Super 8?"
A: "Finding the kids took forever. We needed real kids who looked the part and would go well together, as opposed to professional actors playing children. It was one of those things that took longer than I thought it would."
Q: The title sounds like it belongs right beside cassette tapes and rotary phones. Do you worry that your audience may be confused by the title since it's not about a superhero?
A: "The fact that the title is not a known thing is probably a sign that we're used to being pre-sold. I'm hoping that people see it, like it, and the title becomes what the title is. Certainly films like 'District 9' and 'Inception' had titles that didn't quite make sense but once they became known, people went, 'Oh yeah.'"
Q: Steven Spielberg produced this film with you. You've been a fan of his since you were a teenager. How did his early movies influence "Super 8?"
A: "I was profoundly influenced by the movies of that time. There was a love of those kids, the love of that era, certain elements like kids on BMX bikes in a small town and otherworldly elements."
Q: You've got a new series this fall on CBS, "Person of Interest." And next year on Fox you'll have "Alcatraz" starring "Lost" actor Jorge Garcia. Why re-team with him?
A: "I adore that guy and this was the first opportunity for me to work with him again. Jorge was the first person we cast on 'Lost' and he was the first person we cast on 'Alcatraz.' I tend to work with the same actors again and again. Michael Emerson from 'Lost' is on 'Person of Interest.'"