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J.J. Abrams talks about the new Star Trek movie and its message of collaboration and unity
On probably one of the busiest days of his life (the day of Star Trek's official release), J.J. Abrams was gracious enough to take a break and answer ten questions provided by our Memory Alpha and Wikia communities.
When rebooting a franchise, fans of the original tend to be alienated due to the attempt to draw new fans in. How did you address this when making this film? Henshin86
J.J. Abrams: The obvious challenge was that we wanted to make our own brand new thing, and at the same time embrace and honor what had come before. As a director who didn't know and love the world of Star Trek by default, I ended up telling a story for people like myself that love fun movies but are not necessarily familiar with the archaic details of Star Trek canon. However, both of the writers are huge Star Trek fans; one is a massive fan. Because of this I knew that we would be safe and on solid ground. We all did our homework before shooting.
Did the vast Trek canon help or hurt your work to make this film? 31dot
Well, it was hugely helpful because it gave us parameters. We knew that within that framework we could create, explore, and experiment. It's actually nice when you're given a box.... when you're given parameters that you have to honor because it gives you limits and then you know that within those boundaries you can be creatively risky.
Did your passions for more Earth-bound series, such as The Twilight Zone and The X-Files influence your work on this movie at all, and if so, how? Defiant
It was such a challenging shoot and there were so many crazy decisions that had to be made given the science fiction/fantasy nature of the movie. I had to use every trick I had up my sleeve. This included everything that I was inspired by and interested in. I found myself just trying to use every advantage I had, which is never as much as you'd like. Twilight Zone was less of an influence on this movie. It was more of an influence on Fringe, the show I created with Alex and Bob. For this movie I looked at techniques that they used in the original Star Trek series, which was the main point of reference for me, and then tried to depart from that and create something new. There were things that I did that were definitely nods to styles and techniques they used in the shows. There were also certain things that were really charming that they used to do in the show that I tried to do in the movie.
What was it like directing Leonard Nimoy? Is there any direction you can give to someone who has played a character for so long, or do you just let him decide what is best for the character in each scene? Jonzam
I think that it was really important that these characters not be caricatures, and that they not feel that they were impersonations of the original actors. The actors and I talked about who the characters were, acknowledged the performances that came before, then really tried to do our own thing and not feel constrained by the existing performances or mannerisms of original actors. The high-wire act was that this movie, while it's very much its own thing, is part of the continuum of the existing series. So we had that bizarre challenge of having Leonard Nimoy play Spock, the Spock that we know, and also having this young actor Zachary Quinto playing a Spock that needed to be a little bit more rock and roll... a little bit more his own thing. And so it was that weird bridge that had to be built. That's sort of the burden this movie had. It had to hold not just the existing fans but an even greater audience in the new fans which would require a new energy and a new attitude.
Being that this is a movie that involves time travel, if you could go back in time and change one aspect of this film, what would it be? JerryJoe216
That's a tricky one. I guess that the answer really is a million little things. Its so hard to think of one thing that I would change. All I see when I watch the movie are all these little things. I think "Ah damn it, I could've done that better, or I blew that". I'm incredibly proud of the work that everyone did, but I always find there are things. I'll think, "Oh my god I should've had it look that way instead of that way.... I should've done this, should've done that." So its not just one particular thing.
What Original Series character do you think you relate to the most and why? Anakin138
At the beginning, I didn't have a favorite character because I didn't really connect with any of them. Now I think its a hard question to answer because I feel like I love all of them. Kirk and Spock to me together in a way make one character. They're both distinct they're both different, but together they're this team that can accomplish almost anything. and that to me is a very interesting idea.
I guess the most honest answer I can give is the Enterprise, meaning the ship itself, which in the series and in classic sort of mariner terms refer to the feminine. I think she is really the character in the movie that comes together; you see all these different characters uniting, really forming the family that is the family of the Enterprise. So in a way, I think that the whole ship embodies the most important character because it really is this vessel that holds everyone together.
What made you decide to go with a Classic era film as opposed to say a Deep Space Nine/Voyager film and if this is successful might you look towards those series for a movie? Morder
As someone who wasn't the biggest Star Trek fan to begin with, this is probably the last movie I thought I would direct. But it was working on the story with the writers and producers, reading the script, and really feeling the excitement of the story, characters, and action that seduced me... convinced me that this was something that I didn't need to be a Star Trek fan to direct. I assumed that the person who directs Star Trek needed to know and love Star Trek. I discovered when I read the script that I was very excited about it and felt like if I wanted non-fans to go see the movie, that maybe a non-fan should direct the movie. The answer to the second part of your question is that there are no other shows or movies that I can think of. I just did Mission Impossible, and now Star Trek and I feel like I've done my 1960s television shows starring Leonard Nimoy.
We had the weird challenge of having to take a 43 year old vision of the future and make it a current vision of the future. I wanted the movie to feel as tactile and tangible and as real as possible, but given what our computer interfaces are like now, its preposterous to assume that hundreds of years from now there won't be some version of holographic screens and things that seem almost ubiquitous now in science fiction. So I try to never let that kind of stuff be the star of the movie or overtake the story. We also had to deal with the fact that we started the movie in one ship and later in the film go over to the Enterprise, which needed to be the next generation of ship. I tried to make the first one more submarine-like, clunky, darker, metallic, and then have the Enterprise feel much more bright and shiny and brand spanking new.
Frankly, I didn't use it at all myself, I'm sure that it was used extensively by our writers.... if not certainly our consultants that we had working on the movie. But they're actually better people to ask. I always felt that my support team in that regard were the writers and consultants but in terms of what they relied on, you'd have to ask them.
Do you think that the original TV show, with its Cold War and UN parallels, and its US segregation/Civil Rights allusions (i.e. first interracial kiss on TV) has outlived its relevance in today's more modern, and accepting society and therefore was harder to reference in the movie, if at all? Zidel333
J.J. Abrams: Star Trek came out at a time when there was the Vietnam War, the Cold War, fear of Russians, and a lot of racial and social upheaval. The show depicted a vision of our future that was optimistic, embracing of all cultures and people, and was remarkable if not just for its lack of cynicism. It was canceled after 3 seasons though. It didn't work really until later when it was on syndication. I think that the idea of the first interracial kiss, the idea of having a Russian on board or someone of African or Asian descent is certainly not remotely as shocking now as it might have been back then. I think what is relevant is the need for people to be reminded that collaboration... that working together disregarding social, religious, political, racial boundaries is the only way we're going to survive. I feel that this is a message that is as relevant today as it was almost fifty years ago, which in one way might be tragic. But on the other hand, I think that it's a relief to see and certainly to have worked on a movie that is embracing of that optimism and depicting a vision of our future unlike Star Wars (a long time ago in a galaxy far far away). Star Trek is us. That thought and that optimism is as valuable today as it was when Gene Roddenbery first created the show.
Big thanks to J.J. Abrams for taking part in this Q&A session and to everybody participating! --Jörg 22:02, 12 May 2009 (UTC)