How J.J. Abrams Became Hollywood’s Most Secretive Director
Keeping a secret in Hollywood today is one of the most difficult things to do. Most rumors are rarely kept under wraps, with reports and photos from movie and TV sets flowing in on a daily basis. Publications like Variety and Hollywood Reporter keep us well-informed as to the daily happenings of the industry. Constant teasers and trailers give us looks at footage well before the release dates of movies, and more often than not, we know every detail of blockbusters before we’ve even been to the movie theater. While this culture persists, director J.J. Abrams seeks to go in the complete other direction.
Abrams has a long history of advocating for secrecy as a main element of his filmmaking process. From a marketing standpoint, not knowing only serves to make people want to know more. But it’s not simply a ploy to sell tickets on opening night for a director who’s stood by this philosophy since his early days in Hollywood. His reasoning is fairly simple, laid out in an interview with Entertainment Weekly back in 2013.
Every choice we make, every costume fitting, every pad of makeup, every set that’s built – all that stuff becomes less magical if it’s discussed and revealed and pictures are posted online. I just want to make sure that when somebody sees something in a movie they didn’t watch a 60-minute behind-the-scene that came out two months before.
It’s nothing particularly Earth-shattering to want to preserve the magic of your movie before it releases, and yet still it’s something that runs in direct opposition to the way Hollywood today operates. Up to a year before a movie releases, we see trailers, set photos, and rumors all telling us exactly what to expect. Abrams though is running in the other direction entirely.
So why, you ask, have we seen and heard so much about Abrams’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens? For one, keep in mind that director doesn’t directly control the way a movie is marketed. In fact, Abrams didn’t even want to release the initial teaser that debuted online last December, but was later convinced by Disney CEO Bob Iger. According to Variety, Iger himself admitted that he kept “telling J.J. Abrams this is a $4 billion movie,” and that the marketing of it had to reflect these stakes. And that wasn’t the only battle Abrams fought to keep The Force Awakens under wraps.
In a recent chat with The Guardian, Anthony Daniels of C-3PO fame called the secrecy of filming for Abrams’s Star Wars “ludicrous.” He went on to describe how this was even prevalent in the script itself, which was “typed in black on paper of the deepest red so you couldn’t photocopy it.” This level of security hasn’t just been limited to The Force Awakens either, with Abrams having had an “anti-paparazzi wall” constructed around the set of Star Trek: Into Darkness. There are few other directors who go to such lengths to keep their movies under wraps, and in some ways it’s something Hollywood would do well to learn from.
The culture of spoilers and teasers in modern Hollywood is one that’s likely not going away. From a marketing standpoint, it helps a studio build hype for a release years in advance, but at the price of sacrificing the element of surprise. It’s refreshing to know that at least one director in the industry is committed to preserving the wonder of not knowing. The film industry needs at least one person to fly that banner, so let it be J.J. Abrams.
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