J.J. Abrams Talks Preserving the Viewer Experience Through Secrecy

January 7, 2013
Source: EW

Mystery Box / J.J. Abrams

Some people get relatively annoyed by the lack of information revealed about any new project being produced or directed by J.J. Abrams. Whether it's TV or movies, the Bad Robot head honcho does not like giving up the game. In fact, for anyone who has seen his TED talk about The Mystery Box, he actively keeps secrets. Frankly, especially when it comes to something like the villain in Star Trek Into Darkness, we're fine with at least one filmmaker staying mum on his projects, especially when the Internet does all it can to spoil anything and everything months before a TV show or film even comes out. Recently, Abrams sat down and talked about his penchant for mystery and secrecy, and he's less adamant about it than you think.

For Abrams, it's not about keeping things secret for his own sanity, but rather about giving the viewer the best possible experience when the time comes to sit down and watch. The director told 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 that came out two months before."

Now obviously we like to post featurettes and behind-the-scenes footage, but that's mostly because many readers out there like checking out every facet of a film in front of and behind the camera. But in the case of Abrams, it sounds like he doesn't like those kind of elements spoiling the suspension of disbelief. He says:

"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."

We can see his point. After all, it's hard to get lost in the world of Star Trek or anything else if you know what's just a visual effect or what's real. But then again, many of us who are enamored with filmmaking and obsessed with every facet of the process understand that and still enjoy the story. Besides, there are certain mysteries that just won't remain unsolved before a film comes out, and Abrams understands that. The director says, "It's not like there are threats, it's not like we're begging them every day. We just say upfront 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.” And that's why Abrams doesn't come right out and answer a lot of revealing questions.

However, Abrams isn't a fan of keeping the secrets himself as much as he likes maintaining the mystery. Abrams elaborated, “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.” So rather than hearing about Cumberbatch's villain in Star Trek Into Darkness, let's just see it for the first time in May.

Find more posts: Discuss, Hype, Movie News



That's how I like going to see a movie. But with a bit of attention you can preserve that experience for every movie, not just JJ's.

Isildur_of_Numenor on Jan 7, 2013


Exactly. Look, I'm all for getting a crumb or two, but if we get the whole darn loaf before the film comes out, then why bother going to the movie in the first place? I'm wondering if that's why there's so much (or appears to be, at any rate) negativity about movies on the net these days--the movie's spoiled before it hits the theaters.

Scopedog on Jan 7, 2013


I think you're right about the negativity surrounding movies because of the pre-release spoiling. And it's also hip and cool to be negative on the internet.

Isildur_of_Numenor on Jan 7, 2013


what would be great if he could stop talking about secrets, secrecy, anything relating to obfuscating the truth. what he is doing is ruining the whole experience by acting like a little kid who has a secret, it's annoying.

Linkfx on Jan 7, 2013


"Yeah, I mean, why can't he just tell all of us what exactly happens! I hate watching something for the first time and not knowing what is going to happen next!" - What I got out of your comment

Greg dinskisk on Jan 7, 2013


That is the exact opposite of what i wrote, how's your reading comprehension? Silence would be preferred to what he is doing, as talking about hype or talking about the nature of hyping a secret is effing annoying and childlike. The secret of twist is better preserved if it's not even mentioned.

Linkfx on Jan 7, 2013


Yeah,but silence hardly sells to ADHD generation.You gotta hype things up until it hurts. His movies are o.k. but they are always underwhelming for me personally do to all the hype prior to actual release of the movie. Hype + lens flares = disappointment

dorkster on Jan 7, 2013


He tries to keep quiet, but when every site on the web (please don't take offense, Alex/Ethan/everyone-else-that-works-here, if you're reading this) post multiple articles guessing about who a certain character is, what's going to happen in it, ect., he's forced to answer SOMETHING to quiet down the commotion a little... Plus, it works for the marketing of the film, apparently, if these 'secrets' draw out 100+ comments on sites like these, showing people are obviously interested and guessing.

Greg dinskisk on Jan 7, 2013


the problem i have here is that most people think he tries to keep quiet. you think that he just cannot avoid to be interviewed or give quotes regarding this topic? Who do you think sets up the events in which he talks about it. It's him. So yes he can avoid them and keep quiet. He's actively pursuing fucking with fans.

Linkfx on Jan 8, 2013


Actually, you're wrong. When you're in the position that J.J. Abrams is in, you have to campaign a movie like Star Trek 2 (or most anything he's involved with nowadays) so it makes money... Trailers and the such help quite a bit, but interviews and panels at things like Comic-con help almost as much.

Greg dinskisk on Jan 8, 2013


if you can't discuss this on the philosophical level i'm trying to take it to then I have nothing to say. Wrong crowd here I guess. I'm talking about an overarching reformation of movie marketing. Having worked withing it for many years, I know the whole thing is utterly wasteful gambling.

Linkfx on Jan 8, 2013


You're attempting to have a philosophical conversation about the way he talks to interviewers? Yes, he is fucking with fans, (and also, this is the wrong crowd... I'm not a big fan of a fair number of firstshowing commentators... They seem more obsessed with the big-explosion movies than the kind I care about... I do enjoy coming here though, for various other articles) but he kinda has to for his films due to the increased publicity given to them due to it. It's generally not wasteful with his films, saying as I can't remember the last one of his to NOT make money...

Greg dinskisk on Jan 9, 2013


Watching Behind the Scenes featurettes never really ruined the experience of actually seeing the movies for me, It just enhances it. I enjoy the movies more on the technical side of things by learning how they do all that stuff behind the cameras.

TigerClaw305 on Jan 7, 2013


I'm glad Abrams is so strict on keeping hush hush about his movies. I've enjoyed nearly all of Abrams work and have always been anxious to see his films, even though I've gone into them knowing relatively little information. Of course with most movies, I enjoy reading and viewing posts/trailers/featurettes/photos of the movie to really get an understanding of what I'm about to spend $10+ a ticket to see, but with Abrams, I totally trust in delivering a great flick. Props to you J.J.!

JBrotsis on Jan 7, 2013


Did you guys see the "super-cut" (or what to call it) of the new Spider-Man movies trailers, teasers, promos, behind the scenes, featurettes, ect? They were all cut together by a fan, enough footage for a 25 min film version; that was watchable. Sometime, they just hand out waaaay too much footage. The pace on what new Star Trek stuff we get to see is how it should be done. But all the talking about keeping the secret and keeping Star Trek a secret is a bit annoying; it seems to pop up all the time.

David Banner on Jan 7, 2013


I really wish between and, you would STOP TALKING ABOUT THE VILLAIN!!! Anyone who has a brain in their head can probably figure it out!

conradthegreat on Jan 7, 2013


I completely respect his decision on this, it makes complete sense. And anyone who can't wait until a movie comes out to find out what's going on does not truly enjoy the movie when they see it, they may act like it but they do not.

Kwaz on Jan 7, 2013



Scopedog on Jan 7, 2013


For all the trouble he goes to, I haven't enjoyed any of his work.

castingcouch on Jan 8, 2013


Can I ask why?

Kwaz on Jan 8, 2013


agree 10000000% all movies should be like this.

gofyourself on Jan 8, 2013

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