Today, at the Television Critics Association Winter Press Tour, J.J. Abrams was in attendance to talk about what fans can expect when the NBC drama series Revolution returns with new episodes on March 25th. As usual, the ever busy executive producer was giving of his time and took a few moments to chat about some of his upcoming and current projects. Abrams gave updates about the Alfonso Cuarón supernatural drama series for NBC, the futuristic robot cop series that Joel Wyman is developing, that he has not yet seen the Fringe finale but that the script was incredibly emotional, how far along the next Mission: Impossible film is, if there’s anything he’s written in the past that he’d still love to be able to get into production, how excited he is for people to see Star Trek Into Darkness, and how difficult it is to maintain the mystery and secrecy for his projects. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
Question: Do you have any casting news for the Alfonso Cuarón project for NBC?
J.J. ABRAMS: We’re definitely working on it. NBC has been incredibly supportive about getting going early on that, which is obviously key for a show. You never want to have that ticking clock and know that you had all this time and didn’t use it. So, they’ve been great at letting us get going?
Any other TV development updates?
ABRAMS: Nothing I can talk about right now, but there’s some stuff that we’re playing with that I’m very excited about and can’t wait to talk about.
What’s going on with Mission: Impossible?
ABRAMS: We’re working right now on getting a writer. We’re a minute away from being able to discuss that. We have a pretty cool general idea for where this thing is going to go. Tom [Cruise] and Bryan Burk and I couldn’t be more excited about it.
Any unusual characters in the mix?
ABRAMS: It’s too early to talk specifically about that. I will say that there are some ideas that feel like, “Ooh, I want to see that!” That’s all we ever go for.
Have you seen the Fringe finale?
ABRAMS: I have not seen it. But, the cut has just come in, apparently. I could go watch it right now. Joel [Wyman] is also furiously working on his pilot and splitting his time between that and the new show, which I also can’t wait to talk to you about. But, it will be great. The script was unbelievable. I think it’s going to be incredibly emotional.
Is it satisfying?
ABRAMS: If it’s not satisfying, I don’t know what satisfying is. Yes, I think it will be satisfying.
Are you any close to casting his robot cops pilot?
ABRAMS: No, but that’s a show I’m crazy about. Hopefully, soon. Joel Wyman is doing a spectacular job. I’m like an idiot, giddy about that show. I can’t wait to see it come together.
Do you have anything that you wrote ages ago, that you think is viable and would love to still do something with, at some point?
ABRAMS: I have so many bad jokes I want to make right now, about bad crap that I’ve written, much of which people might have seen. There have been a couple of ideas that have haunted me, that have never quite materialized. But, usually the ones that don’t materialize don’t because they shouldn’t. I try to push ideas away, and the ones that will not leave me alone are the ones that ultimately end up happening. There are a lot of them that are in the back of my mind, but none that I’m working on presently.
What can you say about the experience of showing the Star Trek sequel to the dying fan (Daniel Craft)?
ABRAMS: I’d rather not comment on that, if that’s okay. But, it was an honor to be asked. I’d rather not talk about it because it feels insensitive, but for that to have been a request was unbelievably touching.
How did you feel about the response to the preview of the Star Trek sequel that was shown in theaters? Did it hit the way you expected or wanted it to?
ABRAMS: I got some anecdotal response about it. It wasn’t like there was a target that I was aiming at and I wanted to hit a certain mark. I don’t know how I could quantify what the reaction was. It’s hard. There’s no focus group or ratings or box office for what the response was to either the trailer or the preview. But, I will say that I’m very happy about how that sequence works in the movie. I can only hope that people enjoyed what they saw.
Fans originally thought Benedict Cumberbatch would be playing Khan. Now that we know he’s playing John Harrison, were you thinking at the time, “Don’t worry, guys, I’ve got this. We’re not going to do what you think.”?
ABRAMS: I just can’t wait for people to see the movie. Benedict is unbelievable. It’s a tall order, coming into that movie, because the crew of the Enterprise – that cast – is so damn good and they’re wonderful to work with and they’re all good hearts. So, to come into that group, as he did, as Alice Eve did and as Peter Weller did, and be one of the family was something that I was doubtful could happen. And he completely did it. I not only love him in the movie, but I love him, as a human being. He’s an amazing guy. I can’t wait for people to see the movie and experience what he’s done.
You’ve done such a great job at maintaining the mystery and secrecy of the storylines for the projects you work on. Is that fun for you?
ABRAMS: No. It’s only fun to keep things quiet when it finally comes out as scheduled. Then, you feel like, “Oh, I didn’t just spend six months ruining the movie for people. It’s not fun during the experience of withholding because then you sound like a coy bastard and you’re being a jerk. But, what it really is about is making sure that, when you go to the movies or watch the show when it airs, you didn’t read the synopsis that came out of my fat mouth because I was answering a question that I was grateful anyone would even ask. I’d rather people experience it and learn what happens than be told what happens, and see it and have it confirmed.
With so much technology now, how do you even ensure that secrecy?
ABRAMS: Honestly, for the people who are at Bad Robot and the people who we work with, I will sit in a meeting before a movie with 80-some people, who are head of departments, and literally say, “All I ask is that, in all the work that we are doing, we preserve the experience for the viewer.” Every choice we make, every costume fitting, every pad of make-up that’s put on, every set that’s built all becomes less magical, if it is discussed and revealed, and if pictures are posted online. I just want to make sure that, when someone sees something in the movie, they didn’t just watch the 60-minute behind-the-scenes that came out two months before the movie came out. Why do I want to see how they did something I don’t even understand yet? Let me experience it, so at least I know what the movie is and can have the opportunity to get sucked into the experience and feel like, “Oh, my god, that world is real, that ship is real, that battle is real.” If I’m watching it, and I’ve just seen how ILM, or whatever visual effects company made that thing look real, you’re ruining it before it even exists. And everyone seems to respect that and respond to that. It’s not like there are threats. It’s not like we’re begging them, every day. We just say up front, “All the work we’re doing is really about making this a special experience for the viewer. Let’s preserve that, as long as we can.”
Did the 3D dictate how you wanted to handle lens flares or anything with the style for Star Trek, this time around?
ABRAMS: It’s a far bigger movie. What I’m still grappling with and learning how to do is to be looking and thinking cinematically, having come from television. A lot of that is about keeping all that stuff in frame and understanding composition. There were things I wish I had done on the first movie, that I got a chance to do this time. There were shots I wished I’d gotten, that I never got a chance to get, so it was fun to get that chance this time. But, there are no gimmicky things that I’m aware of, that I’m imposing or forcing down an audience’s throat.
You balance so many things, with movies and television. Do you have a key to doing so much?
ABRAMS: I work with really hard-working people who are really good at what they do. For me, the benefit of that is that I feel like I learn every day how I can be a better producer or writer or storyteller. The thing that keeps me the most balanced is just going home every day and getting my ass kicked by my kids, and having a wife who is the most wonderfully/brutally honest person I’ve ever met. I think that that is always the first lens through which I see the world. For everything else, I’m just grateful for the people I work with.
The inside of Bad Robot seems like it’s a geek’s dream clubhouse. How much does having all of those little artifacts and cool things everywhere really inspire the work and creativity?
ABRAMS: The thing is, while it’s great to have the models, the toys, the heads from different films and busts and all that stuff is fun, a lot of that stuff is just stuff I’ve collected, over the years. To me, the thing that is the most exciting, every day, there are the creative possibilities. We have the music room, the art studio, the silk-screening, the laser cutting, the large format printers, the embroiderers, the 3D printers, the editing rooms and the mixing stage. To me, the thing about it isn’t the artifice of it, which I love and is fun, because it’s like being a kid but curated a little bit, so it doesn’t feel like it’s messy, but that’s the surface. When you dig deeper, the place was designed to be a place of industry and creativity. If you had an idea for something, you could leave that day having actually made it, not just thought, “Oh, that would be cool,” and then sending out for it. To be able to do it there is so crazy satisfying. I think that that might be the geekiest thing about it. You can have the weirdest idea for a t-shirt, a hat, a poster or a toy, and instead of just finding them and buying them and putting them on a shelf, you can actually make it and put that up there. A lot of the things there were made at the building, and that’s one of my favorite things about it. It’s a place where you can actually create the stuff, and not just watch it.
Revolution returns to NBC on March 25th.