EXCLUSIVE: J.J. Abrams On ‘Super 8′ Casting, Screenings And More

I don’t think it’s much of a secret that the MTV Movies team is super stoked about “Super 8.” And why wouldn’t we be? A new film directed by J.J. Abrams, produced by the legendary Steven Spielberg, featuring a cast of fresh talent (and a big-screen breakout role for severely underrated “Friday Night Lights” leading man Kyle Chandler) and a science fiction backdrop that’s still shrouded in mystery. Combine that with a guaranteed-to-be-awesome Michael Giacchino score and two already epic trailers, and really, what’s not to love?

So it goes without saying that “Super 8″ mastermind J.J. Abrams was high on our list of people to talk to as part of Summer Movie Preview week. We sat down with the man behind the curtain of Bad Robot for an exclusive chat about the casting of “Super 8,” whether or not he plans to test screen the film and how outside opinions influence his moviemaking process.

MTV News: Obviously the kids are key to this one, and we think about Spielberg working with kids. Were you naturally always comfortable working with kids. Did you rely on Steven in terms of working with younger actors?

Abrams: I don’t think working with actors, young or old, is ever very easy or a given. Everyone’s different. There are some actors with whom I feel I have this crazy psychic connection and I don’t feel like I have to say anything and they get what it is. When you’re casting, the most important thing is casting people who don’t necessarily have to be told what to do at every turn but will inspire you by coming up with things you never would have thought of. Working with kids is something I had done only sparingly. In “Star Trek,” there was a young Kirk and a young Spock. But never really like this, and frankly I was terrified. I was dealing with two main actors who had never been cast before and never been on a set before. They didn’t know the most fundamental things about how a crew works. Everything was an alien experience for them. The fun of working with them, partly, is they weren’t professional kids. And then there was Elle Fanning, who’s from another planet herself. There’s a kind of innate brilliance and sophistication, the likes of which I’ve never seen in an actor, especially an actor who when I worked with her was 12.

MTV News: Do you test screen something like this for audiences?

Abrams: On the films that I’ve directed, including this one, I’ve done friends and family screenings, where we’ll bring people in who are either friends with or part of the family of people working on the movie or know people working on the movie, just so we know they won’t go out and tweet or post or blog. Hopefully people who can be brutally honest about what they’re seeing. You don’t want populate it with people who are on the movie’s payroll.

MTV News: Has anyone given you one note in particular that has really helped you?

Abrams: Oh my god! I could not be more grateful and reliant on those notes. Everything from things they didn’t understand or didn’t ring true to sequences that felt confusing or too slow. You do the first cut and you go, “There’s no way we can lose any more time.” And then you show it to people and you realize you were wrong about a number of things. This is just a process you go through all the time. You go, “I’ve been through this before, next time I’ll just know.” Then you do it again and you get a response where you realize all your work’s ahead of you. It’s a wonderful process to show the movie and then discuss it.

For more with J.J. Abrams, check out our longer Q&A at MTV Movies!