J.J. Abrams Cut Back on ‘Star Wars’ Lens Flares and Other Things We Learned From His Q&A With Stephen Colbert
Star Wars: The Force Awakens director J.J. Abrams is a busy man. “Last night at about 2:30am, we locked picture,” Abrams told me (later confessing they still had some “very, very minor” fixes to make) “and as soon as we were done, I told them all I had to leave…”
“To go to New Jersey.”
Laughing, Abrams said, “Exactly, and you can imagine how that went over.”
In fairness, Abrams traveled to perhaps the least likely location, Newark, New Jersey, after wrapping the biggest movie of the year, to support a very good cause. Abrams was there at the behest of new friend Stephen Colbert as a fundraiser for the Montclair Film Festival, which was co-founded by Colbert’s wife Evie. The two packed the house at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in nearby Newark for a wide-ranging Q&A that would discuss Abrams’ life, his career and, yes, Star Wars.
Abrams and I (and also Colbert) spoke prior to the Q&A and as three dads, we all complained about how tired we were. The only difference being that Abrams just wrapped a Star Wars movie and Colbert hosts a late night talk show five days a week. I could sense the Star Wars fatigue on his face, so I resisted pressing Abrams for Star Wars spoilers.
While the night was short of massive revelations (no, Luke Skywalker talk here), there were plenty of interesting, fascinating and hilarious stories as the show formally got started. Here’s the night’s greatest hits.
Stephen Colbert Auditioned for J.J. Abrams’ First Film
The first script that J.J. Abrams ever sold was called “Filofax” (though it was later retitled Taking Care of Business when it opened in theaters). Jim Belushi was set to star and he wanted some fellow Chicago actors to join the cast. One of those actors? A young Stephen Colbert, who did not get the part. Said Abrams, “I think that was a good thing for you.”
There Will Be Far Less Lens Flares in Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Colbert noted that there were 721 instances of lens flare in the original Star Trek. Abrams seemed a little embarrassed to talk about the issue, but said that at least for Star Trek, the reasoning behind the lens flares was because he wanted to future to “be so bright, it couldn’t be contained” though he admitted the 721 number was surprising, “I didn’t think we’d have that many.”
While he was directing Star Trek Into Darkness (a film that was largely ignored during this discussion), Abrams said he showed his wife a rough cut and at one point the lens flare was so intense it was completely blocking actress Alice Eve during an important scene. Finally his wife said, “ENOUGH!” and Abrams took the criticism to heart. He seemed very happy to admit that in Star Wars: The Force Awakens the lens flare would “take a backseat to the story.” “These are not the lens flares you are looking for,” he said to much applause. (Later, Colbert would note there were at least three lens flares in the trailer, so how much of a backseat it will actually take remains to be seen.)
This Was the First Time J.J. Abrams Watched the Force Awakens Trailer With an Audience
As they segued into talk about Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Colbert introduced the most recent trailer to the audience. Abrams said it was the first time he watching it publicly with an audience, and you could tell. As it played, Colbert turned towards the screen and watched intently. Abrams looked down at his feet, poured himself water and fidgeted nervously in his seat.
J.J. Abrams Seems Happy to Move on From Star Wars
Abrams would confess that he has no idea what he would do after Star Wars: The Force Awakens, other than take a really, really long nap. But, whatever he decides to do, he seems to be happy that it won’t be anything Star Wars related. Abrams described the experience of making The Force Awakens as like “living with the greatest roommate for way too long” and noted that perhaps it was time for them to “see other people.” That said, when later asked by an audience member about his dream job, he did admit that directing a Star Wars movie is pretty much as close as he would come to his dream job.
J.J. Abrams’ Favorite Star Wars Creature Was Kardue’sai’Malloc
Abrams was asked what his favorite Star Wars creature was, with one exception: it couldn’t be someone with a starring role like Chewbacca. He did not disappoint with a random choice from the Mos Eisley Cantina, Kardue’sai’Malloc. It’s such a random character, Abrams couldn’t even remember his name until an audience member later shouted it out and Abrams said, “YES!”
Jennifer Garner Used to Be Stephen Colbert’s Babysitter
As they were discussing Abrams’ work on Alias, Colbert said that right as she moved to New York City from West Virginia, Alias star Jennifer Garner used to be his babysitter. Eventually she left to go to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career and Colbert said he expected to never hear from her again. One day as he was driving to work at The Daily Show, he saw a giant billboard with Garner promoting Alias on ABC and almost drove off the road.
He grabbed a copy of a magazine with Garner on the cover to show his wife. “Do you know who this is?” he asked her. His wife didn’t recognize her, and when Colbert told her who it was, she said, “But, she wasn’t hot!” and Colbert said, “uh YES SHE WAS!” His wife said, “Well you never said anything” and he replied, “What am I supposed to say? Have you noticed how unbelievably hot our babysitter is?!?”
J.J. Abrams Referred to BB-8 as a Male
While he didn’t address the subject specifically, Abrams spoke about BB-8 and repeatedly used male pronouns to refer to the droid. It seems that despite earlier reports that Abrams wanted the character to be a female droid, the character has been changed to be male.
J.J. Abrams’ Favorite Practical Effect in a Movie Is From The Howling
As a kid, Abrams would frequently write fan mail to legendary Hollywood make-up artist Dick Smith (The Exorcist) and they would talk about their favorite movies. Smith asked the young Abrams about his favorite scene and Abrams told him it was the transformation scene from The Howling. Smith wrote him back and yelled at him, telling him that scene was nothing compared to Rick Baker’s work in An American Werewolf in London. Abrams was embarrassed but Smith personally called him on the phone a few days later to apologize.
Stephen Colbert Wants J.J. Abrams to Direct a Very Specific Tolkein Movie
So far, Abrams has directed a Star Wars movie and two Star Trek movies, but Stephen Colbert wants him to direct one last geek franchise: The Lord of the Rings. The world’s biggest Tolkein fan had some very specific ideas for what Abrams could do. Colbert thought Abrams would be perfect for a movie adaptation of the short story “Akallabêth” from Tolkein’s The Silmarillion. Because Colbert knows his stuff so well, we present his description of the story in full:
It’s got all your greatest hits in it. It’s got elves in it. It’s got Sauron in it. Sauron is actually captured. The Númenóreans are so powerful they actually capture Sauron who at the time still has the damn ring. They march up to Mordor and say, ‘Sauron, come forth.’ and it just says in The Silmarillion, ‘And Sauron came.’ So, he leaves the ring behind and he goes to Númenor and he says, You know what, I’m just going to corrupt them and he turns them essentially into human sacrifice worshippers of the darkness. And the Valor and the Ilúvatar sink the entire island, only a few of them escape and they find Gondor and then you pick up the story in Middle Earth again. It’s a perfect story. It’s complete and if anyone ever does anything from The Silmarillion, it should be that.
A Fan Won a Contest to Ask J.J. Abrams Any Question and He Wasted His Opportunity
Omaze held a contest where anyone who donated to the Force For Change charity would be entered to win a VIP trip to Colbert and Abrams’ Q&A and get to come on stage to ask Abrams a question. Joe, a huge Star Wars fan from Philadelphia, was introduced as the winner and come on stage to answer his question and it did not go well. Joe asked Abrams, “What’s the stupidest thing a Jedi ever did?” Abrams didn’t want to answer because he felt like his answer would be interpreted as trashing the previous six films. Colbert answered in his place, saying, “”To train Anakin.”