Treknobabble #24: An Imaginary Meeting with J.J. Abrams


Treknobabble is a continuing series of columns written by uber-Trekkie Reed Farrington in anticipation of the upcoming J.J. Abrams Star Trek movie.

Given my critical expectations that I’ve expressed in previous Treknobabbles for the next Star Trek motion picture, I don’t expect to be having a sitdown with J.J. Abrams (JJ) in his editing bay anytime soon. Perhaps I should start commenting on his past projects in order to appeal to his vanity. I haven’t seen Cloverfield yet, (I get motion sickness really easily; I still haven’t seen The Blair Witch Project for this reason) so I can’t give it a glowing review. Not that he directed it, but his name being attached to the film made it possible and he’s been promoting it.

Oh, I did see M:I3, which I enjoyed immensely. But I think I’ve enjoyed every Tom Cruise film, even Ridley Scott’s Legend. And I even enjoyed M:I2, so maybe I’m predisposed to liking all M:I films. But I’m sure JJ did something in M:I3 that made me like it. Um, I guess I’m still not going to be invited to see him the next time I’m in LA.

I decided to write this Treknobabble in response to Harry Knowles’ article about his tête-à-tête with JJ. (Yes, I’m jealous.) In preparation, I read as many interviews with JJ that I could find. Then I came up with a list of hard-hitting questions I would ask JJ in person if I had a chance, and I summoned up his katra to type out his answers through my index fingers. I also pretended to view a clip in progress, but I’ve only really seen some leaked Internet photos and helicopter news footage of a filming location.

There have been grumblings on the Internet that the movie is being hyped up in interviews by the creative personnel and some of the actors, but we’ve only been shown a teaser trailer that contains footage we might not see in the actual movie. In accordance with the tendency to over-hype, I’ve made JJ somewhat overzealous in my imaginary interview.

Let me set the scene. (Remember. This is all in my head. None of what I am describing has any basis in reality.) I’m sitting in a room with JJ. (Okay, my imagination is failing me. Let’s skip the introductory preamble. Straight to the questions!)

Reed Farrington (RF): With a budget of 200 million dollars, I was wondering what sorts of things you had to compromise on.

J.J. Abrams (JJ): No compromises at all, Reed! Whatever I want, I get! (Laughter.) No, seriously. It’s very easy to go over budget with self-indulgence. Before I began shooting the live-action, during pre-prep, I collaborated with the production and set designers and producers to decide what we would physically create and what we would later add digitally. Alex and Bob wrote a fantastic script that screamed out for visuals to bring it to life. Remember, we’re talking about a period in the 23rd century that has never been seen before. And with the… (JJ clasps his mouth.) I almost gave a spoiler away… you got me all excited. Suffice to say that I wanted to give this movie a hyper-reality so that we physically built as much as possible. But, you know, it’s easy to spend money. Mind you, we didn’t waste a thing. All the money will be up on the screen.

RF: Right. So unlike the first motion picture where all the costs of an aborted revival of the television series with completed sets and paying the cast to keep them on hold while the powers-that-be decided what to do with Star Trek, without all that amortized into the final cost of the motion picture, there was only about 20 million dollars up on the screen for the first motion picture.

JJ: Really? Well, if you thought the tour flying around the Enterprise was awe-inspiring in the first film, I can guarantee you’ll have your socks blown off by several sequences in the new film.

RF: I hear that ILM are handling the visual effects. Do you have any other effects houses working on effects?

JJ: Since we have so much time before the release, we’re giving ILM everything to do. They are the best, after all. No one can debate that. Normally, with a film of this size, time constraints would make it necessary to farm out effects shots to other effects houses in town. We have the best people, the A team, at ILM working on our effects.

RF: Are there any effects shots that will require R & D?

JJ: I can tell you this much. There’s nothing in this film that you will have seen in any other Star Trek motion picture.

RF (in a mocking tone): You mean you’re not reusing any of the props or the old bridge sets or stock shots?

JJ: No, we’re not! The whole style of the visuals… it’s staggering just thinking about them. There are going to be things on screen that I haven’t even imagined yet!

RF: Alright. Has there been anything you requested that they wouldn’t give you?

JJ: You mean requested from ILM?

RF: Sorry, no, I mean stuff you requested from the studio, the production office…

JJ (mocking me back): Didn’t I already answer this question? Whatever I want, I get! (Laughter.)

RF: Since the movie won’t be released until next summer, is there a temptation to spend too much time tweaking elements of the film?

JJ: For sure. I will spend as much time as possible to make this THE movie of next summer. I’m having so much fun putting this movie together in post-production. It’s coming together spectacularly. With that said, I’m just about to start principal photography on Hot for Teacher about three high school boys who make a pact to have sex before they graduate. And one of them has his sights set on a voluptuous and gorgeous BABE of a teacher!

RF: Hey, wasn’t that the plot of the aborted script for Starfleet Academy?

JJ: (Laughter.) I can see the marquee now. Star Trek: Hot for Teacher. Now that I think about it. The three high school boys do have personalities and interactions that mirror Kirk, Spock, and McCoy. Maybe I had Star Trek subconsciously on my mind during the casting. We’re still trying to convince Halle Berry to play the teacher, because I know she’d do a wham, bam, thank you ma’am job as the teacher. She’d hit that role right out of the schoolyard! Come to think of it. The teacher’s character is reminiscent of Uhura.

RF and JJ (in unison): Hailing frequencies open! (Laughter.)

RF: Not to jinx you or anything, but are you anticipating reshoots after test screenings?

JJ: One thing I want to make absolutely sure is enforced for the test screenings is that the audience is made up of non-Star Trek fans. I say this, because I want to make sure that I don’t cater this film exclusively to its core audience. I’d love to make a Star Trek film that outgrosses a Star Wars film.

RF: Then Lucas would be calling you up about directing Star Wars: Episode VII.

JJ: That would be outstanding! Having loved the Star Wars films as a kid, I would jump at the chance to return that film series to its former grandeur… and banish the memories of Ewoks and Jar Jar Binks! I’ll tell you this. I wouldn’t rely on digital effects to make a crowd-pleaser.

RF: Star Wars has Star Trek beat in the marketing department in terms of merchandise available, like action figures. Are you involved at all in the marketing of Star Trek?

JJ: You probably know that I’m seriously peeved at having our Christmas release date (JJ gestures at the Star Trek teaser poster on the wall with the Christmas release date on it) changed to the summer. My Star Trek movie would have changed the whole pattern of when blockbusters are released. Christmas time is THE time to get people shelling out their dollars for movie tickets and movie themed Christmas gifts. But I’m not looking to become a mogul like Lucas. I’m sticking to the creative end of things and letting the studio handle the marketing and merchandising.

(At this point in the conversation, JJ’s attractive, female assistant enters with a tray of Coke and Pepsi cans and offers us a refreshment.)

JJ: Reed, I got a lot of flack from the guys in the suits for showing Harry those inconsequential clips, but I got permission to show this clip that you’ll be the first person to see, besides the editor and myself, of course. The one condition is that you can’t describe what happens in the sequence or transcribe what is said. We can talk later in generalities, but the less specific we are, the better.

(I nod, shrug, and smile, while JJ cues up the scene. He exaggerates the importance of the moment with a flourish of his arms, ending with a gradual descent of his hand onto the mouse to click the play button on the control monitor. We watch the sequence with a temp musical track taken from the television series “Lost.” The sequence plays for 47 seconds before JJ interrupts it with a click on the stop button.)

JJ: So that sequence establishes what life is like at Starfleet Academy for Kirk. Wasn’t that fun?

RF: Sure. I’m glad you’re using some of the fashions established in the Original Series. Do you think mini-skirts will make a comeback as a result of this film?

JJ: Wouldn’t that be great? We’re certainly trying to bring back the sex appeal of Star Trek. Don’t be surprised if some of the male stars end up with torn shirts!

RF: Those red cadet uniforms really stand out. I hope the cadets all make it to the end of the picture.

JJ: Say what?

RF: Red shirts, you know. The cliché from the Original Series where any member of the red-shirted security in the landing party would most likely…

JJ: Bite the dust! (Laughter.)

RF: I’ll let you get back to work, JJ. Thanks very much for your time.

JJ: My pleasure, Reed. Come back at Christmas time, and I’ll show you a rough cut of the film.

  • “you’ll have your socks blown off”

    I doubt he would actually say this.

  • Reed Farrington

    Yeah, he probably wouldn’t say “wham, bam, thank you ma’am” either. He does use old-fashioned vernacular though. I bet when he’s around friends like me, he would say these things. I hope JJ makes a comment to back me up.

  • Reed Farrington

    Jay, I couldn’t let this “debate” subside, so I searched the Internet to see if J.J. Abrams has actually used the “socks blown off” phrase. I didn’t find any reference, but I found the next best thing.

    His best friend, Greg Grunberg, said the following in an interview: “I said “I’m gonna knock your socks off. You’re gonna love it. I really wanna do this.””

    I’m just waiting for a future interview where J.J. Abrams actually uses the phrase, and then I’ll be vindicated!

    Actually, in my next imaginary interview with J.J.Abrams, I’m going to ask him: “So, JJ, have you ever used the phrase “you’ll have your socks blown off”?”

    And he’s going to say: “That’s a strange question. Of course I have!”