PLAYBOY: Let’s see—the Dharma Initiative, the parallel universes, the mystery boxes, galaxies far, far away. Call us half-baked, but some of your ideas sound as though they came out of smoking pot. Maybe a little? Or LSD?
ABRAMS: I have to say, I’m not a big partier, though I don’t have anything against it. I’m kind of uncool.
PLAYBOY: When the Star Wars news broke, Entertainment Weekly wrote, “Disney didn’t just pick a beloved director: They picked a guy whose name is synonymous with the whole millennial rise of geekdom as a cultural force.”
ABRAMS: Here’s the thing: The pencil-necked geek guys with pocket protectors and tape on their glasses are the people who invented the iPod and the iPad and everything else everyone carries with them all the time. The digital age was foreseen by a group of short-sleeved, buttoned-down, white-shirted guys and their female equivalents who were designing the very stuff that’s now ubiquitous. It’s not that there’s this millennial rise as much as we’re incorporating into our daily lives the technology that is fulfilling our need for instantaneous communication and information. And there’s a general understanding that smartphones didn’t come from jocks.
PLAYBOY: What’s your favorite game on your iPhone?
ABRAMS: Right now it’s probably Letterpress, though Scramble With Friends is a close second.
PLAYBOY: How would your life have been different if you’d had an iPhone and a MacBook Pro instead of a Super 8 camera when you were starting out?
ABRAMS: I don’t know. It’s an age of insane distraction. The fact that kids are supposed to do their algebra homework on the same device that is a portal to every possible piece of entertainment—comedy and music and porn—is just bizarre. I don’t know an adult who, if I gave them a laptop and said, “Go do your algebra,” would spend more than five minutes doing their algebra. On the other end, you have things like the Khan Academy that are rocking the world and giving people access to learning like never before. The good definitely outweighs the negatives, but it’s weird. The other day I was walking with my iPad Mini and thought, When I was a kid, just having a flashlight would have been cool, let alone something like this. Then you get into things like Final Cut Pro and After Effects, and they rival what’s happening in big studios. We’re starting to see evidence of people making movies with these tools in ways that rival professional moviemaking.
PLAYBOY: What have you seen lately?
ABRAMS: Oh my God, so many great short films. There was one called Plot Device—very funny. A guy named Andrew Kramer has a site called VideoCopilot.net that shows people how to do visual effects and aftereffects. What he does is just incredible. I’ve since brought him over to my production company, Bad Robot. He’s a genius. He did action-movie effects that until recently you could do only with a huge budget and complicated technology and teams of people. And he was doing it on his phone.
PLAYBOY: Hollywood is now an app.
ABRAMS: Not completely, but the idea that you can put in a missile attack or a car crash or whatever using this—it’s all in fun. The point is, we’ve gone from Super 8 films, being limited to that frame, editing by hand, visual effects being zero—basically nothing unless you did back-winding on the film, and you were lucky if it worked—to literally making movies with an iPhone. So the question becomes, What are you going to do, since you can now do everything?
PLAYBOY: Do you think we’ll still be going to the movies in 25 years?
ABRAMS: I do. We have a house in Maine, and when we go to movies there, the theaters have the worst projection and sound quality you could imagine. So places like that will need to improve the sound and quality of the screen to justify the experience. I’ve said before that 3-D isn’t necessarily the answer. The best movies I’ve seen are so much more dimensional than 3-D. Having said that, I’ve seen some new 3-D technology that is impressive and could be fun. But like anything, doing it well is hard. To me, if every movie I got to do from this point on was not 3-D I’d be thrilled. Either way, I’m a big believer in the communal experience of seeing a movie, and that’s not going away. It goes back to the very first storytellers around a campfire. The truth is, we need that campfire experience now more than ever. People need things to do beyond looking at their phones or Twitter or Facebook.
PLAYBOY: Do you track what people say about you online?
ABRAMS: A little. With Star Wars I glanced at some things here and there just to make sure I wasn’t getting my ass kicked, and the response was kinder than I expected, which was nice. It’s a funny thing. I feel very analog as a human being, which is of course ironic because I love editing, sound design and visual effects.
PLAYBOY: Let’s talk sequels for a minute. Since you’re doing Star Wars, does that put you out of the running to direct the third Star Trek movie?
ABRAMS: No. I would say it’s a possibility. We’re trying to figure out the next step. But it’s like anything: It all begins with the story.
PLAYBOY: What about an Alias movie?
ABRAMS: We discuss it. In the right circumstance and situation I would definitely be open to it.
PLAYBOY: Cloverfield II?
ABRAMS: Part of me just wants to let it go, though we’ve had a couple of discussions about cool ways to do it. I’m looking forward to seeing Pacific Rim this summer. It feels like there are some really big monsters coming down the pike that could inspire something we do.
PLAYBOY: You’re brilliant with reboots. Is there anything else you’ve thought about remaking? A company perhaps? Maybe a country?
ABRAMS: There was a company called Infocom I actually tried to reboot. People coming out of MIT started it and created these interactive fictional text adventures—really clever stuff, wonderfully packaged. I went to see if I could buy it, but some other dude got it literally the week before. I was also sad to hear that Atari declared bankruptcy. Atari represented the excitement and potential of what video games could be when I was a kid. It had an allure and a sense of future-looking cool.
PLAYBOY: What do you see in your future?
ABRAMS: I know it sounds like bullshit, but I feel so lucky that I’ve gotten to do everything I’ve done that nothing immediately comes to mind. The closest thing is travel. I’ve never been to Israel or India or Africa. I would love to spend more time in Japan, certainly with my family.
PLAYBOY: And professionally?
ABRAMS: Would it be nice to work with Meryl Streep? Yes. Would it be great to work on a movie that was considered an important film as opposed to a big entertainment? Sure, I would love it. But I feel I’m still at an age when a lot of that stuff is within reach. Again, it has to be the right thing at the right time. I’m not good at planning five years in advance, but there’s still a lot I want to do before, you know.…
PLAYBOY: Let’s say it all ended tomorrow. What would you hope to find in heaven, or the sideways world or whatever you want to call it?
ABRAMS: Well, Steve Jobs and Thomas Edison would be in a huge wrestling match in the corner. Rod Serling would be smoking, writing a screenplay for something we all couldn’t wait to read. My grandfather would be around and driving my mom crazy. There’s an endless list of actors who would be fun to see in terms of creative people. And there would be a lot of art supplies and maybe paper and some pens in case inspiration struck.
PLAYBOY: You’d still be working in the hereafter?
ABRAMS: If a great idea hits me, yeah, why not?