J.J. Abrams Reportedly Helming ‘Star Wars’ Sequel, Flood of Lens Flare Jokes Ensues

So, here’s what happened: Disney bought Lucasfilm, George Lucas became the company’s largest shareholder, semi-retired and rode his Tauntaun off into the sunset, three new Star Wars movies were announced which led to a glut of "Disney Princess Leia" jokes and now Star Wars Episode VII: Return of the Star Wars apparently has a director, and that director is apparently Lost creator and master of AfterEffects, J.J. Abrams. Fans have either responded with some curious goatee-stroking or a Vaderesque "NOOOOOOOO!"

If this is indeed super-duper confirmed, which it may not be for a while and the movie isn’t coming out until 2015 anyway calm down we have some other things to get through first, then it will only mean we are closer to a science fiction fandom singularity. Think about it. Abrams would now have hands in Alias, Fringe, Lost, Star Trek and Star Wars, as well as Revolution. One man, centering all these fandoms, like a bespectacled sun around which Comic-Con attendees orbit. And can someone be involved in both Star Trek and Star Wars? Are there rules about that?

Also, Michael Arndt, who wrote the screenplays for Little Miss Sunshine and Toy Story 3, is penning the thing, so uh, maybe some good-natured quirk with somewhat dark undertones and sentimentality to go with your space battles and Cantina shootouts? He and Abrams might make an interesting pair. 

The Internet, as it often does, had an absolute field day with the news, with Twitter fluttering with suggestions about directors that people like who could or should direct a Star Wars movie. Our own Tyler Coates had a few ideas ("Shit, give one of them to Julie Delpy!"), while other suggestions included a Steven Soderbergh-helmed "Ocean’s Eleven in space," a Coen Brothers Star Wars sequel and Sofía Coppola directing an adaptation where "The Millennium Falcon just flies in circles for hours on end." For what it’s worth, all these jokes are still funnier than all-capsing about MOAR LENS FLARE  in response to the Abrams story. There’s gotta be more, y’all. 

That said, here’s some YouTube short from Boy Genius Comedy that really drives the J.J. Abrams Really Loves Using Lens Flares things home. Like flogging a dead horse, with a lens flare highlighting the scene. 

Does ‘Super 8”s Box Office Numbers Bode Well for Original Film?

In summers filled with sequels, prequels, squeakuels, and shriekuels, all original big-budget fare gets placed under a microscope. This year, that honor fell to J.J. Abrams’ mysterious Spielberg throwback Super 8. Both Hollywood pundits and execs watched the movie closely, because, the theory went, its box-office performance would either embolden more greenlights for original fare in a marketplace increasingly dependent on built-in audience awareness — or snuff them out. So what does it mean for the future of blockbuster movies that dare to do something different that Super 8 grossed a rather ambiguous $38 million on its first weekend?

By most accounts, Super 8 did better than expected, but that’s only after it wasn’t expected to do very well in the first place. By today’s inflated summer standards, $38 million is a fairly weak toll (X-Men: First Class was considered by many to be a disappointment after grossing $56 million over its first weekend), but strong word-of-mouth and positive reviews, both of which Super 8 has, could lend it some staying power. With a relatively small production budget of a reported $50 million, Abrams and company won’t need (and won’t get) massive returns to make their film even a modest hit. Also, the film has yet to open in most foreign markets, so its totals this weekend shouldn’t be scrutinized too heavily.

Last summer, Christopher Nolan’s Inception set the mark for wildly successful original ideas. But whereas that movie boasted A-list stars on top of the Nolan brand, Super 8‘s marketing relied almost solely on the name-recognition of its director (not high in many parts of America) and that of it’s producer, Steven Spielberg.

But the film’s lack of star power wasn’t to blame for slow tracking numbers leading up to its release. Instead, it was the intentionally secretive marketing—an Abrams trademark—that some say backfired. The studio was so worried about the movie’s pre-release numbers that they went on a last-second marketing blitz — including a spoiler-y reveal of the film’s monster — in order to foment interest among a demographic of young boys who maybe weren’t clued-in to the Super 8‘s sci-fi elements.

Back in March, I attended a special presentation of Super 8 footage at the Lincoln Center, where an enthusiastic Brad Grey, head of Paramount Pictures, spoke glowingly of Abrams, the studio’s prodigal son. Abrams then got on stage and introduced about 25 minutes of footage to an enraptured audience of entertainment journalists, who the filmmakers hoped would help spread the early word. Grey and Abrams were obviously thrilled with the film (even though it wasn’t quite finished yet), but they knew then that its success would rely on writers stoking the fire, since the marketing materials alone—the posters and trailers—probably wouldn’t be enough.

Today, after the dust has settled, and Super 8 won a weekend that featured no other major releases, Paramount isn’t likely rethinking its decision to let Abrams make his movie, but they must be rethinking how to market such fare. Next summer, the closest thing to an original blockbuster is the Tim Burton-Johnny Depp vampire tale Dark Shadows, which is based on an obscure soap opera that ran on ABC in the late sixties. As for Abrams, his next movie looks like it’s going to be the sequel to his very profitable Star Trek of a few years back, a movie that will, for all intents and purposes, sell itself.

‘Super 8’s Riley Griffiths on Elle Fanning & Behind-the-Scenes Pranks

For most 14 year olds, a Friday night means getting to stay out an hour later at the mall, but for Riley Griffiths, tonight marks the premiere of his first feature-film debut, which just so happens to be one of the most anticipated films of the year. As one of the stars of JJ Abrams sci-fi thriller Super 8, Griffiths joins an ensemble of talented youngsters that are about to be catapulted into stardom. We caught up with the young actor to talk about auditioning for the highly-secretive film, packing on the pounds for his role, and what it’s like working with some of Hollywood’s biggest names.

So you’ve been doing a ton of press for the film. Is it at all overwhelming?

Yeah, definitely. I’ve been trying to get as much sleep as I can.

Did they give you part of the script to read from for the audition?

They had a little scene to read, but it wasn’t from Super 8. It was a fake scene. Then they just asked us to tell them what we were doing this summer. I didn’t hear anything back for about three months, and then one day I get a call and they want me to come down for a call back. There was obviously acting at the call back, but a lot of it was us just hanging out and playing games. It was one of the most fun auditions I’ve ever been to.

Did you realize it was a JJ Abrams film?

I didn’t until JJ showed up. I had no idea he was going to be there, but after I saw him I knew it was going to be something big.

Have you always been interested in acting?

I started acting in first grade, and ever since then, I have loved it. I’ve done plays, but this was my first big thing. I had never done anything on camera before. So it was really fun, and now I know that acting is the thing I want to do for the rest of my life.

You had to put on a good amount of weight for the role.

I had to put on 20 or 30 pounds.

Was that just a character preference for JJ?

Yeah. I ate a lot of pasta.

Well that doesn’t sound so bad.

Yeah, but the funny thing was about two weeks before school started, I moved to Seattle. My first day at my new school I was 20 pounds overweight and my hair was super long, so I felt like a total loser. But then the fourth day of school JJ called me and told me I got the part and I pretty much just left the next day. Did you do anything fun with your cast members to get close before you shot?

Well we were doing auditioning for three months with each other before shooting, so we really went into this movie being best friends. It’s impossible not to bond with people you’re with for three and a half months. We’re all best friends, even if we’ve been away from each other for three days there’s always a big family reunion. I love these guys like they’re my brothers.

Tell me about your character, Charles.

He’s the director of the zombie movie within the movie. He’s kind of bossy, he’s production-value crazed. He’s got a hard shell around him — he’s soft on the inside but he puts up this tough front.

There’s so much action in Super 8. Did you guys get to do all your own stunts?

They let us pretty much do everything. It’s like every teenager’s dream to run through explosions, right? I mean, it was so fun. Tanks were really chasing you, explosions were really going off around you…they would tell us to act scared, but we didn’t have to. We were really scared sometimes. I hated my days off.

How was it working with Elle Fanning?

She’s great! She’s so much fun to hang out with and an amazing actress. We all love her like a sister.

Do you have any funny memories from set?

One night we saw Kyle go into him room so we decided to ding dong ditch him. It was a late night, and then I hear the door open and it’s Kyle — he chased us through the whole hotel for like fifteen minutes and we finally just had to find a hiding spot.

Oh I’m a big fan of his. Have things started to change for you now that the film’s coming out and everyone knows you’re in it? Are people treating you differently?

Someone recognized me on the plane today from the trailer. Things are definitely starting to change but I guess that comes with the job but that’s not why I’m in acting, I’m in it because I love acting and it’s very different from what I’m used to. I grew up in a really small town, so this is kind of all new.

Photographed by Brian Higbee

With ‘Super 8,’ Elle Fanning Graduates Straight to the A-List

Blue-eyed and blonde-haired, 13-year-old Elle Fanning has just finished seventh grade. She loves to draw, dance, and act. She lives with her family in a house in Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley, where her parents—Southern Baptists, her mother a former tennis player, her father an ex-minor–league baseball pro—moved from Conyers, Georgia, when Fanning was a toddler. This summer, a full year before she enrolls in high school, Fanning plans to go to Paris, already her favorite city in the world despite her never having visited. (“I want to go there so bad,” she says.) She also has three Hollywood movies premiering before Christmas, which she filmed under the supervision of mega-directors J.J. Abrams, Cameron Crowe, and Francis Ford Coppola.

Precociously talented child actors aren’t a new phenomenon in Hollywood—Jodie Foster dropped jaws in 1976 as a teen prostitute in Taxi Driver, Anna Paquin won an Academy Award at 11 for her work in 1993’s The Piano—but Fanning’s career trajectory is remarkable for its range and continuity, and for the fact that her older sister, 17-year-old actor Dakota Fanning, is already earning comparisons to Meryl Streep. In fact, Fanning’s entrée into the acting world was as a younger version of a character played by her sister. By age 4, she was striking out on her own, delivering astoundingly nimble performances in films like The Door in the Floor, Babel, and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. (Fanning’s growing collection of on-screen Dads scans like the male half of People’s Most Beautiful list.) Last year, she appeared in Sofia Coppola’s Somewhere, a tale of haute-bourgeois listlessness at the Chateau Marmont. It won the Venice Film Festival’s Golden Lion, the awards ceremony’s highest honor.

Talking to Fanning, one begins to appreciate the beguiling blend of childhood and professionalism she represents. She squeals, giggles, sprinkles her speech with cusp-of-teen parlance (“like,” “oh my god,” “you know?”)—in short, she’s genuinely delightful. She also handles an interview like a seasoned vet, summoning equal parts deflection and flattery. (Fanning on the possibility of future career clashes with Dakota: “We haven’t gotten really competitive with movies yet. I don’t think we ever will.”) Like many children still on the lunch-pail side of puberty, Fanning is comfortable with herself. She’s comfortable with her age, her acting, and her unique traits, which are just beginning to come into focus: goofiness, intelligence, the discipline of a prima ballerina. image

On June 10, Abrams’ Super 8, a super-secret, super-big-budget adventure film about an Area 51 monster-alien unleashed on a sleepy Ohio town, will hit theaters. Like most of Abrams’ projects, Super 8 has been shrouded in a haze of secrecy so thick it seems yanked from one his screenplays for Lost. “We were sort of scared,” says Fanning about maintaining the strict code of silence. “We didn’t want to slip up and say anything.” Even during the auditioning process, the plot of Super 8 remained obscure. Then the script arrived. “It was just, like, the biggest thing ever,” Fanning trills in her helium-balloon falsetto. “J.J. was so good with us,” she recalls of filming Super 8. “When we were doing the big train-crash sequence, all these explosions were going on, and there were so many people everywhere—and then you have these six kids. He had to take care of us and make sure that we weren’t getting into trouble. There was fire.” When he wasn’t acting as a sort of paternal deus ex machina, issuing stage directions through his ever-present microphone, Abrams was “like one of the kids,” according to Fanning. “He’s obsessed with his iPhone, obsessed with Angry Birds. He’d just be sitting in his chair playing Angry Birds.”

As Abrams surely knows, being like one of the kids is the point. Super 8 is being backed by Amblin Entertainment, the production company co-founded by Steven Spielberg in 1981. For more than a generation of American high-schoolers, Amblin’s filmic aesthetic—E.T.’s flying bicycle, the Gremlins’ furry malevolence, the blazing tire treads Doc’s DeLorean leaves in the mall parking lot in Back to the Future—instantly conjures the terrible wonder of early adulthood. The chutes, traps, and treasure maps of The Goonies, were, of course, just metaphors for puberty, the most unknowable X mark of all.

In partnering with Spielberg for Super 8, Abrams meant to evoke the same giddy blend of science fiction and adolescence as early-’80s Amblin films. It’s hard to imagine a more fitting—or more telling—movie for Fanning to be starring in next. “[Super 8] is based in the ’70s [1979], around the same time Steven and J.J. were growing up,” she says. “J.J. told me that Steven did exactly the same thing the kids in Super 8 are doing—he made crazy monster movies with his super 8 camera. You could tell he was really excited because he saw us doing what he did.”

With two other releases expected to hit theaters later this year (Cameron Crowe’s We Bought a Zoo, adapted from the memoir by Benjamin Mee, and Francis Ford Coppola’s gothic, Dan Deacon-scored Twixt Now and Sunrise), red carpet appearances, and, most unnerving, eighth grade, Fanning might be the one struggling to stay free of adult cynicism. When Twixt wrapped production in Napa, California, earlier this year, Ford Coppola—“I feel like he’s my Italian grandfather now!”—gave Fanning a piece of advice: “He told me, ‘You always have to love it. You can never just act because someone else wants you to. You always have to feel it in your heart,’ which, well, I thought that was great.” Giggling, as if realizing it for the first time, she says, “And it’s so true!”

Photography by Yu Tsai. Styling by Britt Bardo.