This weekend the New York Times Magazine has an extensive feature on Star Trek producer/director JJ Abrams. While there isn’t anything new about the Star Trek sequel in the article, there are some interesting insights into his life, his process, and why Paramount Pictures is willing to change schedules around to accommodate him. It also offers a glimpse into the mysterious new offices for Abrams’ Bad Robot production company.
NYT profile offers insights on JJ Abrams’ focus and Paramount relationship
The 4600-word feature story in the New York Times Magazine is worth reading in full. The hook is the release of JJ Abrams new film, Super 8, and how it is the culmination of his long-time collaboration (and fandom) of Steven Spielberg and how it all ties into his "mystery box" of secrecy, but the article covers Abrams whole life and career. The feature may also offer some insights into the path towards Star Trek sequel.
As we have recently reported, Roberto Orci says that he and his fellow Star Trek writers have been meeting with Abrams while he has been making Super 8, but they are still "waiting" for him to make some decisions so they can finish the script. The New York Times article can explain why Abrams has been hard to nail down, describing how his new movie has taken over his life (and that of many of his regular collaborators who would also be working on the Star Trek sequel):
Abrams struck me as focused to the point of obsession on “Super 8.” Friends and collaborators say that when he homes in on a project dear to him, he can be a relentless perfectionist. That was certainly the case on the early May day when I watched him carom between the scoring stage where a 104-piece orchestra was recording the movie’s music and an office suite, just three doors down, into which he had temporarily moved the final editing of “Super 8.” He would huddle with the movie’s composer, Michael Giacchino, over whether there should be an earlier swell of strings here, something more sinister-sounding there. Then he would spend 10 minutes with one of the movie’s two editors, Mary Jo Markey, on a detail as small as how long the camera should dwell on one actor during his dialogue in one scene.
Abrams himself, seems to be aware of how the many calls for his attention can impact his many projects, again from the NYT feature:
For all his success, two recent TV shows from the Bad Robot empire, “Six Degrees” and “Undercovers,” were canceled after one season, and his explanation for the failure of “Undercovers,” which he directed and helped to write at the start, makes it sound as if he sometimes spreads himself too thin. He says that at any given moment, he’s forgetting a few of the dozens of storytelling principles he lives by — and sometimes they’re the wrong ones. In “Undercovers,” about married spies, he was so fixated on making it “fun, sexy, frothy” that he neglected to give viewers any real reason to care. “There wasn’t any conflict,” he says. “There weren’t any secrets.”
Earlier this month Abrams promised that as soon as Super 8 is released he will be able to turn his focus to the Star Trek sequel. It is hoped that there will still be time for him to deliver a film that meets his more perfectionist standards. If, as rumors suggest, the Star Trek sequel ends up being moved to a new release date, the New York Times article reminds us that this would not be the first time Paramount Pictures has shuffled its schedule around to accommodate Abrams. The studio moved forward Steven Spielberg’s "War of the Worlds" to the summer of 2005, allowing Abrams time to direct Mission: Impossible III for Tom Cruise. And the article also makes it clear that the studio is happy to accommodate Abrams:
Paramount Pictures, with which he has a movie production deal, considers him one of its brightest lights. Its chief executive, Brad Grey, says he has told Abrams that he wants to promote and nurture him the way the movie moguls Lew Wasserman and Sid Sheinberg nurtured Spielberg in decades past at Universal Pictures.
JJ Abrams in recording session for "Super 8" (Photo: NYT)
Bad Robot: "Death Star" of Mystery
One of the interesting elements of the article also deals with how Abrams’ love for mystery has worked its way into his new offices for Bad Robot in Santa Monica. Here is an interesting excerpt.
The Santa Monica building that houses Abrams’s production company, Bad Robot, is a literal, physical reflection of his sensibility. The big sign on the outside doesn’t say Bad Robot but instead National Typewriter Co., and that’s not because the building used to house such an enterprise. It’s because Abrams likes typewriters — and misdirection. Near the doorbell, which is a glowing green light, a smaller sign asks, “Are you ready?”
Abrams’s personal suite of offices is on the second floor, and the befuddlements persist there. A green phone with no dial face or digits to press connects him directly to his wife’s BlackBerry. To get to his bathroom, you have to walk up to a wall of bookshelves beside his desk and tug on a copy of “Louis Tannen’s Catalog of Magic” (named for the same Manhattan magic shop, still around today, where he got his childhood mystery box). Abracadabra: the wall opens. The toilet is revealed.
“Bad Robot is its own self-contained Death Star,” says the screenwriter and producer Damon Lindelof, referring to the gargantuan space station in “Star Wars,” one of Abrams’s formative movies. Lindelof co-wrote the “Lost” pilot and was a producer of “Star Trek.” “Whenever I’m in that building, I have the sense that there are at least 30 different projects being worked on at that moment, and J. J. will only let you know about two of them, because secrecy is part of the fun."
By the way, JJ Abrams appeared on last week’s episode of American Idol, where he invited the final four contestants to Bad Robot and gave them a little tour and preview of Super 8. Check it out.