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J.J. Abrams talks ‘Super 8,’ Spielberg

Kyle Chandler, Joel Courtney, Elle Fanning and Ron Eldard star in ‘Super 8,’ scheduled to hit theaters June 10.

Amid a summer of sequels and superheroes, J.J. Abrams — with the aid of Steven Spielberg — is ready to show audiences that films based on original ideas can be successful, too.

“Super 8,” the latest project from Abrams, follows a group of kids in Dayton, Ohio, who witness a catastrophic train crash while filming a movie with a Super 8 camera in the summer of 1979. Shortly after, strange events begin to take place, and the kids, as well as the local deputy, work to uncover the truth.

J.J. Abrams spoke with The Lantern about the film last week.

Inspiration for “Super 8” came from Abrams’ childhood, where he experimented with making his own movies with Super 8 cameras.

After deciding to throw an alien, Area 51-like twist to the tale, Abrams went to work crafting “Super 8.”

“I thought, well, that’s suddenly — not only is it a bigger idea and has some spectacle to it, but it also allows the kids, who are making this scary zombie movie, (to) suddenly become characters in a much more real and more terrifying, scary movie,” he said.

Making a film based on that original idea in a climate dominated by franchises and comic book properties was tough, Abrams said, especially since the film doesn’t have any marquee superstars.

The film’s biggest name is Kyle Chandler, an up-and-coming actor who has gained notoriety from the hit TV show, “Friday Night Lights.” The rest of the cast is primarily comprised of child actors, including Elle Fanning, Joel Courtney and Gabriel Basso.

“I was very lucky in that Paramount let me make a movie that had neither a sequel but this is one of those stories that doesn’t have a star in it that people know about, though I suspect that might change with some of these actors,” he said.  

That doesn’t mean he’s not worried about it being noticed, however.

“I’m also terrified that it’s going to get lost in the shuffle of giants,” he said.

What starpower the film lacks in front of the lens was made up for behind it.

Acclaimed filmmaker Steven Spielberg was brought on to produce “Super 8.” Spielberg has directed similar sci-fi films, including “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” and “E.T.”

“(Spielberg’s) feeling was there are certain conventions of the genre that you have to embrace, and the point of the movie is just being true to what the point of view of the main characters are, because that really was everything,” Abrams said. “And it was the beginning of this movie.”

Abrams focuses on the importance of characters, regardless of whether he’s tackling a franchise film or not.

Abrams has directed franchise films such as “Mission: Impossible III” and “Star Trek,” but said his creative process for those films is no different than it is on films based on original ideas.

“The truth is that there’s very little difference in terms of how I approach any project, because I just try and approach it from a place of being interested in the character, the premise, the world,” he said.

Many other details on “Super 8” have been sparse, a trademark of a J.J. Abrams production. Abrams’ last big screen venture into sci-fi, 2008’s “Cloverfield,” which he produced, was also highly secretive. Abrams keeps details on his films close to the chest to avoid giving too much away, he said.

“I try and not be coy, because I don’t want to be a jerk,” he said. “But I also want to make sure that I’m not giving out … (information) that people feel like it’s like, ‘I’ve seen it already.'”

“Super 8” is scheduled to hit theaters June 10.

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