J.J. Abrams Calls ‘Super 8′ Work With Steven Spielberg ‘Liberating’

'I felt free to allow the influences of his films to rise to the surface,' director tells MTV News.

If it were up to J.J. Abrams, he’d be able to keep his mouth shut about “Super 8″ — his upcoming, Steven Spielberg-produced summer blockbuster — until the movie slips into theaters June 10. That PR-free approach may have flown back when Abrams was making home movies to premiere, say, in his parents’ basement, but that’s just not how Hollywood works.

And so, as part of MTV News’ Summer Movie Preview week, Abrams skipped away from a scoring set, where he’s overseeing the orchestral music, to chat about the movie. We already know the film is set in Ohio in 1979 and follows six kids who are using a Super 8 camera to make a zombie flick. One night, they end up filming near a set of train tracks and capture a calamitous wreck and the creature that emerges from the wreckage. Soon the military pulls into town, and things start to get, well, very funky for these unsuspecting residents.

What we haven’t learned much about is the nature of Abrams’ collaboration with Spielberg, the way the director has managed to nod at Spielberg’s films without copying them and much more. Thankfully, Abrams stepped in to provide us with some answers.

MTV News: Are we tearing you away from finishing your film? I hope not.

J.J. Abrams: We’re about to lock picture, which I’m excited to do. I’m actually watching the musicians walk into the scoring stage right now with their cello cases and bass cases. It’s an amazing score that Michael Giacchino has written. This part of the process is always the most exciting, because everything’s coming together. The music is always one of the most exciting parts for me. I’m thrilled to be at this stage.

MTV News: Much of the discussion about this film has been about the blend of your talents and Spielberg’s. Is there a nod to [frequent Spielberg collaborator] John Williams’ scoring in this, or do you let Michael go at it without the specter of John Williams over him?

Abrams: I feel like on this movie, both he and I were as influenced by growing up and making movies as, let’s face it, those loser kids who weren’t the most popular, as we were influenced by the films of that era. What’s cool about working on this film, especially with Michael, is that he and I shared the same kind of memories of childhood, even though we grew up 3,000 miles apart. When we met, we bonded over how we had the same kind of references and making movies as kids. I don’t know how you would separate the various influences that Michael has experienced, including the remarkable scores of John Williams. What he’s doing is very much his own voice, which is the only thing I’d want. I’d never ask him to do a score that apes a pre-existing score. But certainly the mood, the DNA of this movie, is as influenced by the films of the era as it was by the personal experiences we both had.

MTV News: What’s cool about this is it seems like the kind of film we haven’t seen for a long time. There’s an earnestness and sweetness to it, in contrast to some of the cynicism we might see in summer movies. Would you agree?

Abrams: I haven’t thought about it in terms of earnestness, but avoiding schmaltz is a massively important tenet to uphold. The goal for this is not to be earnest, but to be emotional. Sometimes the emotion is laughter and comedy and joy. Sometimes it’s terror. Sometimes it’s heartbreak or love-struck or petrified. One of the problems with something that is considered earnest is that it’s somehow self-serious and lacking humor. That, to me, would be a disaster.

MTV News: How much have you used Mr. Spielberg as a resource throughout the process?

Abrams: He’s a real producer of this movie. He worked with me to develop the story. We had countless story meetings prior to and following the script. What was wonderful about working with him is the ongoing conversation. Because I was working with him, I felt free to allow the influences of his films to rise to the surface. If I hadn’t been collaborating with him, I would have been much more self-conscious. This is literally an Amblin movie. The ability to play with certain conventions of movies that he wrote, produced or directed was liberating. I didn’t feel like I couldn’t dare push in on a character’s face, but that would feel like a shot you’ve seen. If it was the 100 percent right moment for that, I felt like, “Screw it, this is what it is.” It began and was written and directed and is being finished not as an homage, but there are moments of homage in it. Steven will be here in 20 minutes at the scoring session. He came to the set a number of times. I showed him my first cut. I showed him last week what is minutes away from the final cut. He’s been an incredible collaborator.

MTV News: Do you have a favorite film from the Amblin era in the late ’70s and early ’80s?

Abrams: There are films that he made, even if they weren’t technically Amblin movies, that I loved. I loved “Poltergeist.” Obviously, I was a huge fan of the films he directed. “Back to the Future” I loved. “Goonies” was a blast. Any number of movies that he made. The common thread in all of those, which is my favorite thing about them, is that it’s relatable, ordinary people, sometimes in a classic suburbia, going through something terrifying or extraordinary or something sci-fi or supernatural. Even “Jaws” or “Close Encounters” had that.

MTV News: So in “Super 8,” how far along will it be until we see the creature?

Abrams: I would say the film will obviously answer that question.

MTV News: So this isn’t a “Star Trek” or a “Mission Impossible” — a pre-existing franchise. It’s frankly being marketed on your name. Is there a push and pull in terms of how much to show in these last weeks before release?

Abrams: I feel like the fun of the movie is the experience of these characters and the most fun you can have as an audience is not going in feeling like you’ve seen more of the film than the characters have. My gut would be, as it always is, is that less is more. We have no intention of spoiling the fun prior to the film being released.

It’s Summer Movie Preview Week, and MTV News will be bringing you exclusive interviews, clips and photos for the most anticipated films of the coming months. Get ready to gorge on inside looks at “Captain America,” “The Hangover Part II,” “X-Men: First Class,” “Cowboys & Aliens” and more.

Check out everything we’ve got on “Super 8.”

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