This past Saturday, I attended the benefit for the Montclair Film Festival which featured a one-of-a-kind Q&A with Comedian/host Stephen Colbert and director, J.J. Abrams. I had bought tickets about a month ago not really knowing anything about what this event was or what it would entail but being a huge fan of Colbert and Abrams, that this could be kinda of cool to see (especially seeing him talk to a live audience less than a month before The Force Awakens premieres). The title is more or less a misnomer as they didn’t square off with geek or nerd trivia but since both of these fellas are bona fide geeks, the title makes some sense.
Turns out that Colbert’s wife is Vice-President of the chairman of the board for the Montclair Film Festival and for 5 years now, they are gaining speed as the film organization with benefiting the film medium as well as nurturing young film talent. Stephen Colbert has hosted this kind of event at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark since the MFF started and has mostly inner-circle of friends, like Jon Stewart and Steve Carell, be his guests but this year he snagged a very worthy big fish. No sooner as the applause died down that we learned that as of 2:30 AM that same day, Abrams completed the final mix for Star Wars: Episode VII. Suffice to say, more than 90% of the attendees donned some sort of Star Wars themed apparel. Me included.
I can’t say that we learned anything new for The Force Awakens, which is fine because with only 4 weeks away we don’t need any more spoilers. The one really awesome experience that evening was actually watching the most recent trailer with the director in the same room. After the trailer was over the crowd went ape-shit. And it was reveled that this was the first time Abrams saw the trailer with an audience. That was something quite extraordinary to witness for myself.
The Q&A was candid and casual, with Colbert making some light-hearted jokes. It was reveled that Abrams first screenplay (back in the late 80s) was for a movie titles “Filofax” which was later released as Taking Care of Business, a film that I barely remember, yet was fond of it back in 1990 despite it starring Jim Belushi and Charles Grodin. It was revealed that Colbert actually auditioned for a small role in that film and didn’t get it. Abrams had quite the laugh at the rare coincidence. Even more of a coincidence was Colbert’s babysitter in the late 90s was a struggling actress named Jennifer Garner, who starred in Abrams’ produced TV show thriller, Alias. Colbert had a hearty laugh about that as well as he recalled that he had zero shame explaining to his wife that Garner was hot even back as their babysitter.
They talked in a decent length about Abrams’ career, from his early screenplay duties (taking swipes at schlock like Armageddon for example) to Felicity, Alias and Lost and even bringing up Abrams penchant for lens flare in the Star Trek flicks. Abrams remarked that even his wife poked fun at him for the over-use of lens flare. He did calm the crowd down explaining that Episode VII will have very minimal use of flare.
Super 8 was also brought up with Colbert commending Abrams on his effective way of making him feel sorry for the alien monster despite it killing people in the film. Abrams, actually mistook his compliment and kinda apologized for the mixed tone of Super 8, which made me satisfied since Brian and I both thought that film was terrible. So good to know that the one film that I thought Abrams really dropped the ball on, he knows had its failings and short-comings. Makes me even more confident that Star Wars will be excellent.
The other really entertaining part of the evening was Colbert unearthing a clip of Abrams, who acted briefly, in the film adaptation of Six Degrees of Separation. Let’s just say it was uncomfortable for everyone and that it’s a good thing if Abrams never acts again.
Of course an event like this wouldn’t be complete without a few dorks asking stupid questions to the famed visionary director. One jackass, who won a bid on Omaze.com, was invited on stage to ask 2 questions to the host and guest. His brilliant question was something like “What is the dumbest thing that the Jedi decided in any of the first six films?” Abrams was too kind to this schmuck to even answer. Colbert, saved the day with a joke of “To train Anakin.” As a follow-up question, he asked Abrams: “How many Ewoks can he take in a fight?” I don’t even remember the answer but it doesn’t matter, that imbecile is back home in his parents’ basement probably still sniffing his meathook that shook the celebrities’ hands.
The other questions were also weak and lame and lacked any great insight to Abrams or his work and craft. Two millennials in particular basically asked Abrams for advice to how to make it in filmmaking. Abrams, again, kindly told these entitlement-seeking bores that hard work and determination are key. No duh. Were they expecting him to hire them on the spot or to tell them of a super-secret-entrance into a filmmaking warehouse that gives them automatic fellowships? Also, everyone has a camera on their persons now and software included on their PCs to edit and mix films, unlike Abrams and other visionaries born in the 70s and 80s, who had to actually use super-8 cameras and painstakingly develop actual film. He explained that it’s way way easier to be a filmmaker these days with the technology we all basically have.
So, figured I’d share with you my rare experience of seeing such high-profile entertainers and filmmakers talk about past experiences and their achievements for about 2 hours. It was entertaining enough despite not really learning anything new about either of them and I was kind of hoping that they would actually get into a great debate about geek and trivial stuff. I, at least, learned more about the Montclair Film Festival and what they do and might actually become a member. Part of me feels obligated since I actually took a lot of film courses at Montclair State University and this looks like a very fine organization for something I love. But Abrams was a gentleman and very humble at this event as well as appreciative to the fans, which gave me more reason to like him and I hope he really bangs one right out the park this Christmas with Episode VII.