J.J. Abrams Defends His Secretive Approach To Marketing, Says He Wants To Preserve The 'Special Experience' Of Seeing A Film Fresh

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by Joe Cunningham
January 8, 2013 11:20 AM
6 Comments
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In an age where it seems that you walk into some movies knowing the majority of the major plot beats set to unfold before the projector even starts up, some find it extremely refreshing that there are filmmakers like J.J Abrams who are secretive about almost every aspect of their projects. Others find it frustrating however, and you could even argue that the shroud of secrecy around Abrams’ “Super 8” left the final product feeling somewhat anticlimactic, when it may have been appreciated more had the secrecy around the film not morphed into a snowball of hype.

So while J.J Abrams was on the TV press tour panel for NBC’s “Revolution” this weekend (and just a matter of months before “Star Trek Into Darkness” hits theaters), the director was asked why he was so reluctant to share details about his projects. Here’s what he had to say, as per EW:

“I will sit in a meeting before a movie with 80-some people, heads of departments, and literally say that all I ask is that we preserve the experience for the viewer. 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 [video] that came out two months before. We just say up front that all the work we’re doing is about making this a special experience for the viewer; let’s preserve that as long as we can.
 
“Why do I want to see [a behind-the-scenes element of the film] if it’s something I don’t even understand yet? Let me experience it so I know what the movie is and have the opportunity to get sucked into that experience, and feel like, ‘Oh my god, that world is real, that ship is real, that battle is real’  … If I’ve [already] seen how ILM or whatever visual effects company made that look real, you’re ruining it before it even exists.”
 
That all sounds fair enough, and it would seem strange to argue against someone who is essentially trying to preserve the magic of cinema. What his argument essentially boils down to is, would you prefer to know the little you know about "Star Trek Into Darkness" right now, or would you prefer to know the same amount as was given away about “Prometheus” before that film’s release? It’s also probably important to note that Abrams’ insistence on secrecy can be compromised if it’s for an extremely good cause (as we’ve seen in this last week), and we salute Abrams and everybody over at Bad Robot and Paramount for their actions. Anyway, J.J. also went on to talk about how difficult the withholding process can be, too:
 
“It’s only fun to keep things quiet when it finally comes out as scheduled, because 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 sort of being a jerk. It’s about making sure that when you see the movie — or the show when it airs — that you didn’t read the synopsis that came out of my fat mouth because I’m answering a question that I’m grateful anyone would even ask — which is, ‘What happens?’ I would rather people experience what happens rather than being told what happens and then have it confirmed.”

We’re not quite sure how Abrams weighs all that up with showing the first nine minutes of his movie six months before its release, however, but maybe that’s out of his hands. For now we’re just happy in the knowledge that if the director gets his way, we’ll know no more than we need to going into the next Star Trek movie, and, quite frankly, we can cope with Benedict Cumberbatch’s character being a little mysterious for now. If he’s Khan, then he’s Khan, but let the movie tell us that when it’s good and ready, on May 17th.

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6 Comments

  • Matt-S | January 9, 2013 12:16 PMReply

    I think exactly the same way that he does.
    I hate watching trailers. It ruins the experince.

  • cinematic_high | January 8, 2013 7:32 PMReply

    I love that about him and other directors like him. The less I know going into a movie, the better.....unless it's a fucking Rob Cohen or Uwe Boll movie...I'd rather know its shittiness up front.

  • Ben | January 8, 2013 4:20 PMReply

    With 'Prometheus', there was a shroud of secrecy for a long time and then it was tracking poorly, they panicked and then started spilling stuff. But I digress...I like JJ Abrams a lot as both a filmmaker and a human being. But sometimes, the excessive secrecy does work against him, in my opinion. It's all about expectation management. For example, I think it's funny how many people will tell me they like to be surprised at the movies. But our most popular movies are books first -- and if a filmmaker deviates from the book narrative -- surprising the viewers -- they get really upset. It reminds me of the marketing study where researchers replaced McDonald's hamburgers with top sirloin but didn't tell anyone. The sirloin got more complaints than the standard McDonald's burger. Why? Because it was different than what people were expecting, even though it was better quality. Although if you asked those same people whether they prefer McDonald's over sirloin, they're going to pick sirloin. This is a part of human nature and I think you have to be careful. In contrast to Abrams, Tarantino leaks his own scripts and loves that his die-hard fans read them even before shooting begins. I read Django 3 times. Did it ruin my experience? Not at all. For me, it deepened it. And I grant you that's not for everyone -- I respect people who want to go in "spoiler-free." I just caution you that it isn't everything you might consciously think it is...

  • Tom | January 8, 2013 3:46 PMReply

    I like not knowing every beat and plot point walking into the movie theater. Good job, Abrams.

  • TheoC | January 8, 2013 1:57 PMReply

    I love that Abrams does this, even if it underwhelms like Super 8. I got to see a blockbuster which I knew very little about, it's a novel experience these days.

    The more I see of this he's go to be Khan or proto Khan or something.

  • Jay | January 8, 2013 12:56 PMReply

    I feel like Khan is the "Holy Grail" of Star Trek villains, so I wouldn't be too surprised if he doesn't appear until the third(presumably final) installment of the Star Trek films. Although, I could be wrong and maybe he is Khan, and his story will carry over to the third film.

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