A half-hour drama created by J.J. Abrams and starring Chris Rock? That was just one of the topics of conversation to come up in a far-ranging public discussion between Abrams and Rock at the Tribeca Film Festival, during which Abrams also apologized for overdoing it on the lens flares, revealed his personal conception of God and refused to answer a pre-teen in the audience who asked him who Rey’s parents are.
Speaking with an easy rapport at an event that was part of the Tribeca Talks series of public conversations, the two spitballed an idea for a TV show when Rock asked Abrams what he should be doing in television.
Abrams shot back, “If I nail it, will you do it with me?”
“Sure,” Rock agreed. “I’m probably a single-camera show,” he added. “My skill set is multi-camera, but what’s gonna keep me interested, keep me intrigued, in doing 50-whatever shows is probably single camera.”
Abrams noted, “Usually when I do story meetings, it’s with less than 1,200 people,” before extolling the virtues of his favorite TV show of all time, “The Twilight Zone,” which was a rare half-hour drama. So he’s thinking Rock would be good in that format. “A ‘Louie’ show, a ‘Louie’ kind of thing, that would be amazing for you,” he said.
“I’m down,” Rock answered.
Rock, who had previously worked with Abrams on the movie parody segments on this year’s Oscar telecast, kicked off the Tribeca conversation by asking about Abram’s childhood love of film. The director of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” and “Star Trek” recalled deciding he wanted to be a movie director at age eight, following a visit to Universal Studios.
A year or two after that, Abrams’ father became a film producer himself, prompting Rock to crack, “What job did you get that you didn’t deserve? There’s gotta be one.”
“I want to say ‘Star Wars,'” Abrams joked back.
The writer-director-producer then recalled how his early screenplay work on films including “Regarding Henry” led eventually to “Felicity,” the WB series with Keri Russell that established him as a wunderkind TV creator. He said that “Alias,” his spy series with Jennifer Garner, grew out of an idea he had during the early days of “Felicity.”
“When you don’t have a bad guy of some sort, episode two is really hard to come up with,” he said of “Felicity.” “Because first of all, the show took place in college, so it was like, ‘Ooh, she got a B!’ We were trying to figure out what the story was, and I remember we were on episode five or something, pulling our hair out, and I said in the writer’s room, ‘If Felicity were a spy, I’d know how to write the show.'”
When the discussion moved on to cinema, Abrams acknowledged that the fanbases for “Star Wars” and “Star Trek,” the two franchises he has been involved in rebooting, “are bigger than all of us.”
“Could you direct ‘Fantastic Four?'” Rock asked. “I love the Fantastic Four, and they keep f—ing it up.”
Soon thereafter, Rock wondered aloud about the lens flares that became Abrams’ signature on the “Star Trek” films — and earned him his fair share of mockery.
“I’m over that,” he promises. “For a period of time, on ‘Star Trek,’ there was this idea we had that the future was so bright that it just couldn’t be contained. I overdid it, then I went further, and then on the second ‘Star Trek’ movie I went nuts. We all make mistakes. Mine were with light. We literally had flashlights. The flares weren’t put in in post. We had these flashlights and we aimed them right at the lens.”
Abrams and Rock also discussed the process of working on “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” and incorporating the characters from the initial “Star Wars” trilogy into the new characters and storylines Abrams and his team had brought to the table. “We knew this movie was a bridge,” he said.
Speaking of one of those new characters, Abrams refused to give out any clues as to the parentage of Rey, the young woman played by Daisy Ridley in “The Force Awakens.” “Rey’s parents are not in Episode VII, so I can’t possibly in this moment tell you who they are,” he said to the young audience member who asked him point-blank to throw him a bone. “But this is all I will say: It is something that Rey thinks about too.”
Other tidbits to come up in the discussion included the fact that Abrams is a fan of the Duplass brothers — he noted their involvement in both “Transparent” and “Togetherness,” two series he admires — and would love to work someday with Meryl Streep or Tribeca festival co-founder Robert DeNiro. Rock, meanwhile, would wants to direct Denzel Washington in a comedy.
“You can be in it too,” Abrams suggested.
“Oh, I’m in it,” Rock responded. “Kevin Hart ain’t in it, I’ll tell you that.”
The evening also, unexpectedly, touched on Abrams’ feeling about God, in the wake of a question from a “Star Wars” super-fan (dressed in a Darth Vader-like black cape) about the Force and the filmmaker’s own spiritual ideas.
“In all honesty, I don’t know if I believe in God,” he admitted. “But I do know that when my mother, who passed away a few years ago, was sick, I did find myself connecting with, talking to, thinking about things in a way that I never had before. It’s a funny thing, because what George Lucas did so brilliantly was he told a story … that was about a spiritual connection that we all have.”
He went on, “There’s something about the notion of all of us being connected, every living thing, that is profound and beautiful and resonant and somewhat true. I don’t think, when I was talking to myself in my head, that anyone was listening, but I know that there is something that connects us. There has to be. I love what George did in that regard.”