16 Quick Highlights From J.J. Abrams And Chris Rock's Tribeca Film Festival Talk

Abrams basically shot down a popular "Star Wars" fan theory.

On the third evening, the Tribeca Film Festival said, "Let there be light(sabers)." And there were, in the form of J.J. Abrams and Chris Rock, who spent an hour discussing their careers on Friday in front of a packed auditorium in downtown Manhattan. They really need no introduction, so here are 16 quick tidbits that stood out during the conversation. 

1. Abrams realized he wanted to be a director after his grandfather took him to tour the Universal Pictures campus at 8 years old. He was particularly fascinated by the realization that “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” had been filmed right there on the studio’s back lot. Abrams immediately got his hands on a video camera and started to “replicate” what he’d seen at Universal. “I didn’t know there were directors at 8,” Rock quipped. “I thought TV was real.”

2. Abrams wrote the “Felicity” pilot because doctoring other people’s scripts – a gig that pays well for little work – left him disenchanted. (He polished 1998’s “Armageddon,” for example, in between his own scripts for “Regarding Henry,” “Gone Fishin,’” and “Joy Ride,” among others.)

3. Rock sees the 1988 parody "I'm Gonna Git You Sucka" as his breakout role, but he said he only landed the part because Keenen Ivory Wayans, the movie's writer and director, "basically" poached one of Rock's jokes. "The 'one-rib' guy was a thing I used to do in my act, and it was in the script," Rock recalled. "And I think Eddie Murphy was like, 'Hey, isn't that Chris Rock's thing? The next thing I knew, I got flown from New York to LA for a movie that only had $2 million in the budget, or whatever."

4. Without a villain, “Felicity” was a difficult show to write for the genre-oriented Abrams. “Episode 2 was really hard to come up with," he said. "First of all, the show took place in college, so it was like, you know, ‘Oh, she got a B!’ We were trying to figure out what the story was, and I remember we were on Episode 5 or something, pulling our hair out, and I said in the writers’ room, ‘If Felicity were a spy, I’d know how to write the show.” Thus, “Alias” was born. (Well, plus a call from ABC asking Abrams him to create a series with a young woman at the center.)

5. Abrams wrote “Alias” with Jennifer Garner in mind, but a network executive's initial response was, “I don’t know. Is she hot enough?”

6. Chris Rock recently heard a female executive at a film company – who probably weighs about 165 pounds, in Rock’s estimation – say that “Kerry Washington is getting a little big.”

7. Rock once fired a director because he heard him say he doesn’t like “Annie Hall.” “Can you imagine actually taking notes from someone who doesn’t like ‘Annie Hall?’” Rock rightfully asked.

8. Tom Cruise spoiled Abrams on his directorial debut. After seeing the first two seasons of “Alias,” the actor handpicked Abrams to helm 2006’s “Mission: Impossible III.” Abrams reveled in Cruise’s collaborative, gung-ho nature, so much so that when Abrams showed up to direct his next movie, 2009’s “Star Trek,” he was disappointed not to have Cruise around to concur with.  

9. Meryl Streep is the “holy grail” of actors Abrams would like to work with. Denzel Washington is Chris Rock’s.

10. “You were about as intense a person as I’ve ever worked with,” Rock told Abrams. Rock had asked the director to help him with the parody at this year’s Oscars that inserted black actors -- Leslie Jones, Whoopi Goldberg, Tracy Morgan and Rock -- into films like “The Danish Girl,” “The Martian,” "The Revenant" and “Joy.” Rock expected Abrams to recruit “some minion from his office,” but as Abrams put it, “When Chris Rock asks you to direct something, you do it yourself.” Rock promised Abrams’ intensity was “sunshiny,” though. Both swore they want to work together in the future.

11. Who are Rey’s parents? A young boy in the audience asked Abrams that very question, prompting the director to say he can’t answer because her parents aren’t in “The Force Awakens.” That rules out the popular fan theory that Luke Skywalker is Rey's father.

12. With “Star Trek,” Abrams became known for his penchant for lens flares – but he’s done with that now. “We’ve all made mistakes,” he said. Aware of Abrams’ fondness, the "Force Awakens” visual-effects editors added lens flares to the movie. Abrams removed them.

13. Abrams and “Force Awakens” writer Lawrence Kasdan (who also penned “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi") treated “Episode VII” like a “bridge” between the original trilogy and the new movies. Abrams was conscious of borrowing “familiar beats” from the original trilogy, wanting the fresh characters and settings to feel like a natural next step for the “Star Wars” universe -- a "reclaim[ing]" of its initial glory, if you will. And yes, he’s quite aware that some of you didn’t like that "TFA" sometimes felt like a mini-reboot of "A New Hope."

14. Rock and Abrams are both floored by writers who don't have endings in mind when they begin stories. Abrams cited Stephen King as an example. He once asked the horror maestro whether he really didn't know the conclusions to various pieces, like the short story "Quitters Inc.," to which King said he did not. Whatever it was, though, King said he knew the ending would be "great."

15. Speaking of endings, Abrams always knew "The Force Awakens" would culminate in locating Luke. But imagine Mark Hamill reading the script for the first time and realizing he doesn't appear until the final pages. Hamill was hesitant at first, worrying it might feel like a "joke" to see him standing in solitude atop a cliff. 

16. One more fun fact, courtesy of Abrams: Mark Hamill was the same age when he shot "The Force Awakens" that Alec Guinness was when he played Obi-Wan Kenobi in "A New Hope."



Tribeca Film Festival 2016 Preview