Sometimes, meeting your heroes can be hard. The people you idolized as a kid, once you get to see them up close and personal, can often end up being depressingly human, full of the same failings that the rest of us have. Or you could be J.J. Abrams, who got to work for his idol Steven Spielberg when he was only 15. That went really well and eventually led to "Super 8," which comes out tomorrow.
Abrams came from a well-connected Hollywood family. His parents were producers, and, according to the Los Angeles Times, he was friendly with everyone from Nicholas Meyer, who directed "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn," and Douglas Trumbull, who's done effects work on everything from "2001: A Space Odyssey" to "The Tree of Life." Abrams started making films when he was seven, and when he turned 15 he was part of an L.A. festival called The Best Teen Super 8mm Films of '81. The Los Angeles Times wrote a story about the festival and interviewed some of the young filmmakers. In the piece, Abrams was quoted saying this: "I see stuff by Steven Spielberg and John Carpenter, and I want to do it too. I've always wanted to be a director."
Now, the best version of this story would be that Spielberg read the article, picked up the phone, and called Abrams to say, "Hey, kid, I'm gonna let ya make a picture! Ya gonna be big! Big, I tells ya!" But the real events were nonetheless pretty cool: Kathleen Kennedy, Spielberg's assistant (and later a producer), phoned Abrams to see if he'd like to help repair the decaying 8mm films that Spielberg had made as a kid. Abrams and his buddy Matt Reeves (who later directed "Cloverfield" and "Let Me In") took the job because, what, you're gonna say no to something like that?
This anecdote is clearly the go-to sound bite for Abrams and Spielberg, who also mentioned it while promoting "Super 8" in an Entertainment Weekly cover story. As far as we can tell, Abrams' repair job didn't lead to any more meaningful connection to Spielberg. (It's entirely possible that Spielberg didn't necessarily meet Abrams and his buddy at the time.)
Still, Spielberg has been something of a mentor to Abrams in his adult life. (According to Abrams, the two people he talked to about directing "Star Trek" were his wife and Spielberg. They both said he should do it. Wonder what would have happened if they had disagreed.) And beyond Spielberg's involvement with the "Transformers" films, he hasn't been as vocally supportive of a film he didn't direct than he has been with "Super 8." (For crying out loud, he even went to the MTV Movie Awards to hawk the damn thing.) Clearly, the idol respects his dutiful admirer. Right now, though, you have to assume that the approximately four billion other Spielberg-worshiping aspiring filmmakers out there in the world are reading this post and crying bitter, bitter tears.
Steven Spielberg: 'Super 8′ is the first true J.J. Abrams film [Hero Complex/Los Angeles Times]