Star Wars: The Force Awakens–Director JJ Abrams on his Phenom Film

Goals

JJ Abrams: The goal for us in making this picture was to move in two directions at once, to go forward and tell a new story, but also to go backwards to a place and a feeling that we all had when we first saw Star Wars.  In the process, the embracing of old technology was extraordinarily exciting and let us go further forward than I ever thought we could, because that old technology has advanced and it’s not just CG that has advanced, but puppetry has advanced.

We were really lucky to be able to use any resource necessary to help us tell the story, and part of that was complete old-school primitive puppeteering, but using technology that was brand new in puppetry, servos, motors, remote control, and then use CG in many cases to remove puppeteers.

So while we used CG for ships and extensions of sets, a lot of CG was used sort of invisibly to remove things, wires, rigs, puppeteers, legs sticking out from under things.  We tried to do as much in camera as possible.

Continuity and Change

JJA: One of the amazing things about what George Lucas created was a sense of possibility and unlimited opportunity. The world is so rich and clearly the extended universe proves that there are many more stories to tell beyond what you just saw in the six films. The idea that the fight of good versus evil would continue is already clear in the Star Wars legacy.  There had been for thousands of years a fight between the dark and the light.  The idea that that would suddenly stop entirely after Return of the Jedi felt disingenuous. So the question of what was the story was helped enormously  because Lawrence Kasdan was involved.  He created Yoda and was there writing some of the best lines that you ever heard Han Solo say. Kasdan was there at the beginning, so he knew in a kind of gut level way, what might have happened and transpired, and so having conversations with him about where this world might have gone and who we would discover in it was an enormous help.  It was incredible fun coming up with these character Rae and Finn and Poe and Kyloren and understanding what has happened to not just the characters that we know but what’s happened to the remnants of the Empire and what has become of the Republic. These were all sorts of discussions we got to have and it was always exciting and always fertile ground for discovery.

Success: Measuring Definition

JJA: I have never read more articles that make go, huh, where I see a projection that is impossible and I see numbers that are preposterous and ridiculous, and none of that feels real or possible or frankly, applicable to the reason that we and thousands of people have been working so hard to make something that will be and hope, will be rousing entertainment for them and for their families. What I would love would be to honestly be able to go to a theater and to see people laughing and screaming and crying and cheering and going through these emotions that are the reasons we made the movie. We sat down in the very beginning of the process and wrote down what do we want people to feel? And if we can elicit close to those responses, then that is important than any number.

Pleasing the Fans–Discovering New Talents

JJA: Bob Iger and Alan Horn, who have been remarkably friendly and supportive and easygoing during this whole experience, and the only mandate that has come from them has been fairly recently to, let’s not show anymore, let’s keep this, keep the fun of it. And I will tell you I have heard anecdotally and I have heard personally a number of times, people saying thank you so much for not ruining this movie. Thank you so much for not showing us everything. And thank you so much that I get to see the film and not feel like I have seen it already. And if we had shown you or any number of journalists 20 minutes of the movie, you know, everyone would know about those 20 minutes and it would be out there, it would, and I know that it is on the one hand in an age where we all just want to and expect to feel entitled to see everything and I always have that feeling sometimes where there is a movie and they don’t show me something, I am like, wait a minute, where is that thing that I want to see? And then I realize. oh they got me, that’s the thing that

makes me want to go see the movie. And for us, it’s really important that, and I was dying for you guys, I mean the Hollywood Foreign Press has been so generous and so kind to a number of projects that I have been lucky enough to work on, I was so desperate for you to see and still am of course the movie and I was hoping we could get it in the timeline or you could extend the date which I understand you couldn’t. Daisy Ridley, for example, and John Boyega, these are people I think you are going to flip over and it feels very much in your wheelhouse discovering new talents and people that the world hasn’t seen yet and you guys are like known for that, and you are I think going to be very pleased with these performances and seeing Harrison Ford and Mark and Carrie come back in a way that they have, is, it’s an amazing thing to behold, so there’s nothing about what we are doing that we aren’t desperate about and desperate for all of you to see, but there is a release date and if we do things too early like Kathy says, I think it’s going to have an adverse effect on the fans.

Star Trek and Star Wars

JJA: Star Trek and Star Wars are, despite their titles, as different as they come and the approach, the tone and the sensibility and the characters, I mean, one is much more, Star Trek, a science -fiction story and one is much more a fantasy, a fairytale. I just don’t have a problem with an overlap. There is a lot of pressure, Kathy and I, the rest of us feel knowing what it is that we are working on, and the expectations that some have, like Kathy, I am married and have children and know what real life is like. And so with all those pressures, you get very quickly reminded every single day of what really matters.

Expectations and Stats

JJA: I don’t care what those statistics say, or what the scopes read or, I don’t care what Kathy says, I don’t care what any of the sort of numbers say when you are analyzing the dynamic range of digital and I am sure we have all seen beautiful digital photography and we have all seen hideous film photography. It’s about who is lighting it and what are you shooting. But the truth is that film is God, film is the ultimate means of capturing an image and I know that we are in an age of data and statistics and quantifying things technically, but there’s a magic to film that is real and to lose that as the standard I think would be a relative tragedy.  I think it’s an important thing that film remains the standard by which all means of capture and digital is a significant and wonderful one to have to adhere to and try and achieve.

Future of Cinema

JJA: IMAX laser projection, which is that the blacks are absolute blacks and it’s just an incredible experience.  There is maybe nothing in entertainment more exciting than the communal experience of going to the cinema. And of being in a movie theater with hundreds of other people and laughing together and shrieking together and applauding together and or in some cases, booing together and even that can be fun sometimes. But the experience of doing it together, especially in this day and age, where everyone is isolated into the screen, and there is something not just profoundly powerful, but also something I think human natural about it and I think we do crave actual tangible community. And so that is what movies do and I hope and believe always will.