‘Super 8’ Stars, Director J.J. Abrams Celebrate Disc Release of Coming-of-age Monster Story23 Nov, 2011 By: Stephanie Prange
Director J.J. Abrams and the stars of his coming-of-age monster movie Super 8 gathered at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills, Calif., Nov. 22 to kick off the film’s Blu-ray Disc and DVD release.
“I wanted to take that first love, coming-of-age kind of story and combine it with the kind of movies I was doing when I was a kid,” said Abrams, who also wrote the film.
Of his childhood filmmaking, he said, “Most of them were about blowing things up and killing my friends.”
Set in 1979, the film follows a group of adolescents who, while making a zombie film with a Super 8 camera, are caught up in a mysterious military operation.
Abrams’ idol, Steven Spielberg, was a producer on the film.
“It was a very surreal experience to get to make this at all, and to do it with Steven was crazy, because I was so inspired by him,” Abrams said.
It wasn’t the first time Spielberg and Abrams had made a connection over Super 8. Abrams, as a teenager, first came into contact with Spielberg when the director saw him featured in a Los Angeles Times article about a Super 8 Film Festival. Spielberg’s office called to have Abrams and his friends repair the Super 8 films that the veteran director had made when he was a teenager.
“These were the original movies,” Abrams said. “We returned the movies and we got $300, and we never got to meet him.”
Years later, Abrams asked Spielberg why he entrusted kids with his movies.
“I saw your faces in the L.A. Times. I saw you were making movies, and I just knew you would take care of them,” Abrams recalled Spielberg explaining.
Super 8 was the first film for many of the young actors, and Abrams wanted it that way.
“A lot of kids [who are experienced] have a real precocious, sort of professional vibe,” Abrams said. “I wanted to find people who are really literally people, who are kids.”
When asked about the experience of making his first film, lead Joel Courtney (Joe Lamb) said, “Having a chair with my name on it just blew my mind. I was actually quite possessive of it. I wouldn’t let anybody else sit in that chair.”
“I would call the movie one big acting class, and J.J. was like the best coach ever,” Courtney added.
Super 8 was also the film debut of Riley Griffiths, who plays the young director, Charles.
“My first day on set I was terrified,” he said. “But after about the first week or so, it didn’t feel like filming. It felt like we were just hanging out.
“We became so close,” Griffiths added. “We had sleepovers all the time and ding-dong-ditched each other in our hotel rooms.”
Griffiths had to whisper in some of the retakes because his voice changed.
“I hit my growth spurt right after filming,” he recalled.
Each of the kids remembered the shooting fondly. Gabriel Basso (Martin) told bad jokes on set. Ryan Lee (Cary) recalled having to react to a tennis ball in lieu of the monster: “It was one of the scariest tennis balls you will ever see,” he said.
The kids had another task on set — writing and acting out the Super 8 film-within-the-film.
“I’d say, ‘Here’s what the scene’s about. Go write the scene,’” Abrams recalled. “And they’d come back in literally 19 seconds.”
Elle Fanning (Alice Dainard) had a particularly difficult job, modulating her acting in the “fake” movie as well as Abrams’ feature.
“We didn’t want to ever rehearse it too much,” she said of a moving scene in which she acts in the kids’ Super 8 production. “It was tricky in that you have to act within acting.”
“It was insane to me how naturally gifted she was,” Abrams said of Fanning’s performance.