Stephen Colbert and J.J. Abrams nerded out in Newark, New Jersey on Saturday night
On Saturday night, November 21, Stephen Colbert held his annual Celebrity Nerd-Off benefit for the Montclair Film Festival at the New Jersey Performance Art Center with his special guest being filmmaker J.J. Abrams.
Sadly, no new footage from the Star Wars: The Force Awakens was shown, but Abrams’ entire career as a screenwriter, director and producer was covered during the roughly 90-minute conversation, and he touched upon some of what led to him taking the directing gig. (He also noted that he just finished the sound mix for the film earlier that day.)
After being introduced, Abrams came out to see that they had completely filled the 2,500 seat theater in Newark, which was “2,400 more people than he expected” before Colbert began the conversation, starting with Abrams’ early days as an 8-year-old filmmaker (which inspired Super 8), covered his time as a hot script doctor (on movies like Michael Bay’s Armageddon), successful television producer and right up through his time on the “Star Trek,” “Mission: Impossible” and his love for “Star Wars.”
Some of the funniest stories involved Colbert admitting his early connections to Abrams from auditioning for the very first movie he wrote, the Jim Belushi-starring, 1990 comedy Taking Care of Business (at the time called “Filofax”), and not getting the role, to his connection to “Alias” star Jennifer Garner. Apparently, Stephen Colbert appeared with Garner on an episode of the sitcom “Spin City” and had her babysit his new baby. Years later, Colbert was shocked to see Garner on a giant billboard for “Alias” and when he showed Garner on a magazine to his wife, she didn’t believe it was their babysitter who “wasn’t hot.” (There was no way Colbert was going to admit to his wife that their babysitter was indeed hot.)
Showing Abrams’ rare acting appearance in Six Degrees of Separation also got a lot of laughs from the audience, although it was some of the little bit of film footage shown during the conversation.
Abrams reiterated the story of how when he first moved to Los Angeles, he was taken to a magic store where he picked up a “Mystery Box”–which is somewhat similar to the recent trend of monthly subscription boxes–but Abrams decided to leave it closed as to keep the mystery interact, which is a credo he’s applied to much of his work over the years.
J.J. Abrams talked about being taken to see The Exorcist at 10 years old and striking up a correspondence with the late make-up FX artist Dick Smith that culminated with him receiving a prop tongue from the classic ’70s horror movie in the mail.
Stephen Colbert seemed ready to take Abrams to task for some of the many questions fans have had about some of his movies from Mission: Impossible 3 to the “Star Trek” movies, including Abrams’ overuse of lens flare to represent “how bright the world is.” That was something Abrams ended when his wife finally said “Enough” when she couldn’t tell it was actress Alice Eve in a scene from Star Trek Into Darkness due to the flare. They also talked about the image of the Enterprise being built in a corn field and the mysterious quarry in the middle of Iowa, which Abrams credited (i.e. blamed) on his friend, co-writer Bob Orci.
For Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Abrams motto has been “These aren’t the flares you’re looking for” and he’s stuck very much to the ethos from the original movies in terms of building sets, doing as much practically as possible, shooting on Kodak film and of course, getting John Williams to provide the score. Colbert and Abrams shared how much they wanted to believe in The Force as kids with Abrams seeing it as a powerful idea that connects everyone together and that made sense to his 11-year-old self.
Some poor schlub, who bid on a chance to ask a question at the event, had his first question about the worst Jedi mistakes in the first six movies rebuffed by Abrams, and then his back-up question about how many Ewoks Abrams could take on, also got quickly answered.
During the short Q ‘n’ A with the audience that followed, someone asked Stephen Colbert what Tolkien story he might be interested in seeing J.J. Abrams direct, to which he responded with a long detailed plot description for a story from “The Silmarillion” that was so geeky in detail that it got a huge round of applause from the audience.
Abrams admitted that after working on “Star Wars” for the past three years, it’s a little like a roommate that it’s “time to get his own place” and he’s excited for it to get out into the world. “Star Wars is bigger than any of us,” he said.
You can learn more about the Montclair Film Festival at the official site.
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