Magazine article American Cinematographer

At the Helm

Magazine article American Cinematographer

At the Helm

Article excerpt

J.J. Abrams - director, co-writer and producer on The Force Awakens - discusses his collaborative efforts with Dan Mindel, ASC, BSC and the creative team at Lucasfilm to give the Star Wars universe a modem upgrade, while keeping the saga firmly rooted in its hallowed history.

American Cinematographer. Tell us about the importance of having a non-cynical perspective when taking on a project like The Force Awakens.

J.J. Abrams: Since I was 11 years old, when I saw the first film for the first time, what Star Wars had at its core was a sense of possibility, optimism and hope. So the approach had to be in that spirit, in an authentic and not in a Pollyannaish way. From the very beginning, working with Lawrence Kasdan - one of the [saga's] original storytellers - this was about embracing a spirit that we love so desperately.

You have collaborated on three other films with Dan Mindel - two Star Trek films and Mission: Impossible HI. What draws you to work with him?

Abrams: One of the things that I love about Dan, [beyond] his versatility, is his love of film itself, and his appreciation for the look of anamorphic lenses. There's a kind of aesthetic that he and I both get excited about. I learned so much from Dan on Mission: Impossible [III], which was my first movie. He was the first cinematographer I worked with on a feature, and his generosity and patience with me were sort of stunning - and something for which I am still so grateful. He was an amazing collaborator from the very beginning, and we immediately found ourselves laughing more often than not, and celebrating a great shot. We found ourselves in such sync. Dan is someone who I consider to be not just an incredible genius and a brilliant cinematographer, but also a dear friend.

How did you and Dan go about giving The Force Awakens a look of realism and authenticity?

Abrams: Part of it is location shooting - making sure that we were on actual sets and builds and locations wherever possible. The ability to shoot actual locations - in Abu Dhabi, or in the forests of Wales, or on [Skellig Michael] in Ireland, or getting plates in Iceland - is enormous, and something were really grateful for on this movie. And part of it is embracing and encouraging the unexpected. Whether it's atmosphere or natural light, it's embracing the things that you sometimes desperately try to re-create in post, which [in those cases] end up being a lot of time spent trying to make something that nature is often giving you for free.

Kathleen Kennedy, president of Lucasfilm, has talked about how concept art would be brought into story brainstorming sessions, and that an image might inspire an idea that would take die story in a different direction. How did this scenario apply to The Force Awakens}

Abrams: One of the great opportunities on this movie was working with w Rick Carter and Darren Gilford, our production designers. I brought Rick into the story process at the very beginning, probably because I knew how inspiring Ralph McQuarrie's designs were to George Lucas when he was working on the original films. It felt like we had such a brain trust - and I should also say a ?soul trust' - in Rick and Darren. Rick is such a dreamer and such a glorious connection-maker, with a capability to hear what we were talking about, and then go work on something and bring it in and show us - and it might have been a detail we would have forgotten or overlooked, but Rick visualized it and brought it to life. …

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