Tuesday, December 1, 2009

JJ Abrams on the Star Trek DVD

Star Trek is out on DVD and Blu Ray now so you can marvel at the reinvention of the legend and pick apart the Easter eggs. Of course, one more chance to hear director J.J. Abrams talk about it is always welcome to. Abrams gave a press conference to support the home video release, in case there was anything Star Trek he hasn’t talked about yet, and whatever he won’t say about Star Trek 2 yet.

Q: You said that you wanted the hardcore fans to still like your take on Star Trek. How did they react to the film? Did they give you a lot of feedback?

J.J. Abrams: The hardcore fans? I think that luckily, because they didn’t kill us, the hardcore fans I think for the most part were okay with the movie. They are very vocal, passionate. I was warned time and again by many people, “You’ve got to be really careful. You must be terrified doing Star Trek.” It was a little nerve-wracking, mostly because people kept warning me about the fans but they seemed to really embrace it and I give complete credit to the cast that managed to take over these roles that were iconic roles even for people who didn’t know Star Trek well. Everyone sort of knew you had Kirk and Spock. Chris Pine, Zachary, Simon, John, Anton, Karl, the whole group just I think embodied these people in a way that made it safe for not just new viewers and new audiences but also existing fans to embrace those characters. And finally, because Leonard Nimoy was in the film in a meaningful way, he really provided the bridge between the existing Star Trek and what is now. We could never have made the movie without him.

Q: When you were making the film, how early were you planning the DVD content?

J.J. Abrams: I’m always thinking about the DVD part of it because I’m a fan of the DVD, so I want to make sure that we’re doing stuff that is going to be beneficial. If it’s about getting video crews in as early as possible to document moments that might seem insanely mundane or unimportant, but in a context of how things got made, the crew of a movie like this, and especially this crew worked so hard and they did such incredible work. So what I love about the special features is people like Michael Kaplan or Scott Chambliss or Roger Guyett or Michael Giacchino or any of these people get to take the stage and talk about and have documented the amazing work that they do, and often get credit for but don’t get screen time. So it’s a really nice thing to see them front and center.

Q: Since you did a prequel and got to wipe the slate clean, do you have any intention of using some of the old creatures, monsters or races in the sequel, or do you plan to just bring in a whole new thing?

J.J. Abrams: One of the deleted scenes on the DVD and Blu-Ray is a sequence where you actually see Klingons. But, in going forward, we’re just now working on the script and just beginning the process of story breaking.

Q: How far ahead do you envision your involvement with the franchise? Is it a movie-by-movie basis for you, or do you see yourself involved with it for the foreseeable future?

J.J. Abrams: That’s a wonderfully optimistic question and I appreciate that, but the answer is that I cannot presume it’s going to be a series that goes beyond those. Do we have ideas for a few movies and have we discussed them? Of course. You can’t help but go, “Oh, it would be really cool, if we could do this, or if we can set that up there?” You throw those things around. But, we can’t presume it’s going to be anything more than now another film that we’re lucky enough to do.

Q: Can you talk about the DVD/Blu-Ray feature “The Shatner Conundrum”? And, are you thinking about putting him in the next movie at all?

J.J. Abrams: The Shatner thing comes up quite a bit. As someone who was a William Shatner fan, in a huge way, just because of The Twilight Zone episodes he did, and then completely appreciating what he did in Star Trek, but not really becoming a fan until I started working on this movie, it was a foregone conclusion that we wanted Shatner in the movie. The problem was that his character died, on screen, in one of the Trek films, and because we decided, very early on, that we wanted to adhere to Trek canon, as best we could, which was a huge challenge, because even the original series, in many ways, didn’t always adhere to Trek canon, the required machinations to get Shatner into the movie would have been very difficult to do, given the story we wanted to tell, and also to give him the kind of part that he would be happy with. It was this thing where it would have felt like a gimmick, in order to get Shatner in the movie, which would have honestly, to me, been distracting.
I will say that The Shatner Conundrum, which you’ll see on the DVD, talks to this. Having said that, would it have been fun to have him in the movie? Of course. Would it be great to work with him? No doubt. I was as excited to work with him, as I was Mr. Nimoy, who we luckily did have in the film. In terms of moving forward, I am open to anything. I would love to figure out something, given the challenge of introducing these new characters and given the burden of having to cast these people. We speak. We actually have a lunch date planned. I’m a fan. I’m a friend of his. Or, he’s at least a friend of mine. He may say otherwise on his blog today. I have no idea. But, I really couldn’t like him more and would love to work with him.

Q: What are your plans for Mr. Nimoy on Fringe?

J.J. Abrams: In terms of his role as William Bell, none of us could believe our luck that we convinced him to say yes to being on the show. He is wonderful on the show. And, I will say that this is not the last you will see of his character. I don’t want to give anything away, but this is not the last you’ll see of him. He is so good and so wonderful to work with that I wouldn’t limit the possibilities of what he’ll get to do.

Q: Do you think that Star Trek is something that needs to be continuously updated for each generation?

J.J. Abrams: It’s hard to give a blanket answer to that question. I do think that, whether it’s Star Trek or anything, whatever is being investigated, created or produced now, in movies or TV, needs to consider the context in which it is being distributed. It’s not a vacuum. There are certain universal themes of love, conflict, loyalty or family that are everlasting and that need to be presented in a way that makes it feel relevant, even if it’s a period piece. You need to consider what context that film, that story and those characters are being seen in. But, having said that, with Star Trek, it’s not like we’re looking to make the second movie some kind of heavy political allegory. I think that it’s important that there is metaphor to what we know and that there is relevance, and I think allegory is the thing that made shows like The Twilight Zone and Star Trek resonate and still be vital today. But, because the first movie was so much about introducing these people, and it was very much a premise movie about how to bring these people together, it made it difficult to also have the film go as deep as it could, about certain conflict, certain relationships and the heart of who some of these characters are. I think it was successful in what it needed to do, to introduce these people.

Q: What is your process for DVD special features? Do you have a special team at Bad Robot that you bring in for all your projects?

J.J. Abrams: Well, we have a great group that worked on this DVD with whom we’ve worked before. There are people at Bad Robot, notably David Baronoff who does a lot of work with us on the DVD and online materials. Bryan Burk and I obviously watch the cuts and the ideas, the proposals, the final products and give our notes. I think that in terms of the thing I’m most sort of excited about, like I said before, I’m just excited to have the special features that show a little bit of the personalities of the actors. There’s that kind of stuff, to see the personality of the actors and just see how great they were off camera is wonderful.

Q: You don’t mind breaking the fourth wall?

J.J. Abrams: No, no. To me, as long as you’re not doing it before the movie comes out. To me, the thing that always blows it is when I’ve seen interviews and scenes and I’ve seen a piece on how that set ends there and is green screen. Then I go to see the movie and it screws it for me because I know I’m just taken out of it. So I would love to withhold that stuff so it’s not until the movie comes out that you go, “Oh my God, that was genius how they did that.” There are so many movies that I’ve seen on DVD where I’ve been so happy to get to see that behind the scenes stuff. So I don’t want to withhold that. That seems silly. As long as it’s not pre-release I think you’re in okay shape. And again, it’s unfair to the artists who did the work not to celebrate what they do because we should see it. It’s cool for people who care, for filmmakers and the next generation of filmmakers to understand, “Oh, that’s a way to do it.” And they’ll have a better idea for when they do it.

Q: Nicholas Meyer watched all 79 original episodes of Star Trek, before he directed The Wrath of Khan. How many of the original episodes did you see, before directing your film?

J.J. Abrams: I saw most of the original episodes. I watched a lot of them with my kids, and they loved it, so much more than I ever thought they would, and were scared to death. It was so cool to see these episodes through the eyes of a 7- or 8-year-old. Nicholas Meyer, who is an amazing director and writer, was friends with my parents, when I was a kid. When I was a kid, among the other embarrassing things I would do, and there’s a list of stupid things, but I would make these dumb comedy tapes. I would often make prank phone calls, but I would also do it with friends. Greg Grunberg and I made countless moronic comedy tapes. I vividly remember, one night when Nicholas Meyer was over for dinner, he came into my room, when I was probably 9 or 10, and he and I made a tape together. It was some stupid interview tape, where he and I were playing characters, interviewing each other. He was this guy who was willing to be silly and goofy. I knew he was a writer, but I didn’t really know much about it. That idea that later he would go on to direct a Star Trek movie, and then even later I would, is so weird to me. I’ve never discussed this because it’s obviously so painfully boring, but it was one of those things. And, years later, he came to my Bar mitzvah and he gave me the unabridged, annotated, two-volume Sherlock Holmes book, which I still have. It’s just bizarre to me because I was such a fan of the films he did. That was the height of my Star Trek fandom. I saw the first film, but when his films came out, I just loved them. I always felt a kinship because I knew that guy. It was just very surreal to be someone actually in those shoes, getting to say, “Action!”

Q: For the next couple months, what will you be focusing on mostly?

J.J. Abrams: Jeff Pinkner and Joel Wyman are running Fringe very well. We’re still very involved in that, but they’re running that. We have a new series, that we just sold to NBC, that we’re going to be producing. It’s a pilot. And, there’s a movie that I’m writing that I would love to direct, early next year, so we’ll see if that comes to fruition. There’s a movie, called Morning Glory, that’s coming out next year, with Harrison Ford, Rachel McAdams and Diane Keaton, that’s being edited now. Roger Michell directed that. And, we’re obviously hard at work on Star Trek 2 and Mission: Impossible 4. There’s a lot that we’re working on.