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J.J. Abrams: Smallscreen Influences Bigscreen Work

Producer-director set to receive the Intl. Emmy Founders Award

As a producer, director and writer who’s whipped old franchises into shape for the new century (“Star Trek,” “Mission: Impossible”), then spun ripping original yarns (“Super 8”) with an equally deft touch, it’s no surprise that J.J. Abrams is the go-to man in Hollywood these days.

But Abrams’ early success came out of television, from such shows as “Felicity” and “Lost,” and as this year’s recipient of the Intl. Emmy Founders Award says, he owes a lot to TV for keeping his approach to features fresh.

“Part of the joy of television is being a part of something that is an organic, living, breathing, evolving thing,” he says. “It’s an evolution, and you’re constantly making decisions based on the results you’re getting — it’s a whole other form of entertainment (than movies) that way.”

Working in TV gave Abrams insight into keeping movie budgets under control. In features, he notes that there’s this attitude of “What do you need? We’ll make it!” whereas in TV, “You make do with what you’ve got.”

“One thing I’ve tried to do with the movies I make is to take a TV production approach to a sequence or a scene,” Abrams says. “Rather than say, ‘We don’t have what we want,’ it’s ‘How can we do it?’ You fi nd a way to do what the story requires, and that’s the lesson that anyone who works in TV learns again and again.”

Nor does he plan to leave TV entirely any time soon. His franchises (he’s now taken on “Star Wars” as well as “Trek”) and other projects (like adaptations of videogames “Portal” and “Half-Life”) keep him busy and well-paid, but often his true creative heart feels most invested in television. After all, having paired with another well-known spinner of yarns, Stephen King, they’re hoping to adapt the novelist’s “11/22/63” for the small, not big, screen.

“We’re working on it as a miniseries,” says Abrams, whose “Revolution” series regularly offers nods to King’s 1978 apocalyptic novel “The Stand.” “There have been plenty of King references in the projects I do. He’s someone we admire. He’s been incredibly kind about that show, and he’s someone who’s become a friend.”

And if TV doesn’t always treat Abrams so kindly back (his “Undercovers” series was canceled during its fi rst season), he has no complaints.

“That’s like saying the cake isn’t sweet enough,” he says.

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