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Immersed in Movies: J.J. Abrams Talks ‘Star Wars,’ Storytelling, Tech at PGA Conference

Immersed in Movies: J.J. Abrams Talks 'Star Wars,' Storytelling, Tech at PGA Conference

J.J. Abrams said at Saturday’s PGA Produced By Conference that he’s aiming for the same “deep feeling of infinite possibilities” with “Star Wars: Episode VII” that he got watching George Lucas’ original blockbuster as a youngster. He told “Django Unchained” producer Reginald Hudlin that it’s about “honoring but not revering the past” during their Q&A at Fox. But other than admitting that his boys aren’t thrilled about moving to London next year to make “Star Wars” (“Fuck that — I don’t care what the movie is”), Abrams kept everything else about it close to the vest.

Yet “Episode VII” will mark the first time that Abrams has ever shot
outside of the country (the U.K. deal with
Lucasfilm was prearranged). But he remains a strong supporter of keeping work in L.A. and wouldn’t mind seeing productions shot in every neighborhood again, despite the inconvenience to residents.

However, when it comes to shooting digital, Abrams admitted that he’s still hesitant. He’s a film guy who loves the warmth and humanity of analogue and was only forced to shoot 70 shots digitally on “Star Trek Into Darkness” out of necessity. “My fear is that if film would ever go away, the standard would go away.” We’ll see if he makes the digital leap with “Star Wars.”

Abrams also said he has a love/hate relationship with technology. While he appreciates the convenience of watching movies on his iPad mini, he’s also a firm believer in the populist appeal of the theatrical experience. And he’s become painfully aware of technology’s impact on his three kids, especially his two boys who are 14 and 13 and who just got cell phones.

“This technology connects you with everyone you’re not with and disconnects you from everyone you are with,” Abrams proclaimed. As someone who spends a lot time on the phone, he was embarrassed recently when his eldest son devoted his final school project to his dad being on the phone so often. “I wish he just would’ve put a knife in my chest,” Abrams laughed.

Then again, Abrams’ producer father was the same way. But he learned a valuable lesson about negotiating on the phone: “I chuckled at his cleverness. He would be compelling someone to do what he did great so he could do great things. It gave me a proxy confidence in dealing with people.”

The best advice he ever got from his father, though, was to stay away from film school: “Don’t learn how to make movies; learn what movies are about.”

But the influence of his late mother (who was a lawyer as well as a producer) and his wife, Katie, have been the strongest in his life. In fact, his wife is the reason that so much of his work revolves around strong female protagonists, from “Felicity” to “Alias” to “Fringe.”

“Katie is the strongest woman I’ve ever met,” he confessed. “She’s a bottomless well of knowledge and wisdom. Katie’s advice to me has been work on what means the most — the thing that gives you the chills. The only divining rod is finding that feeling that is righteous and worth your time. The audience will feel that too.”

“Becoming enlightened about what you need and don’t need” keeps Abrams in the circus and spinning so many plates at his Bad Robot company while trying to balance his personal and professional life.

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