The other night I rewatched the J.J. Abrams and gang film, SUPER 8, and it’s hard not to become nostalgic for one’s Spielberg inspired youth while watching it.
But it also made me think of something else that was very cool that happened when I moved to Los Angeles and perhaps even bittersweet…
In summer of 2001, I sat in the Burbank office of J.J. Abrams right before ALIAS had hit the air - and right before life would change drastically for him.
For more than 2 hours we talked about Super 8 moviemaking, Cinemagic magazine, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, horror movies and creating music. I was so much fun finding someone that I had that much in common with and there was very little industry professional aspects to this conversation, it was far more general good time talking…
Somewhere in there, J.J. mentioned that The ALIAS pilot was 63 minutes long and needed to be more like 20 minutes shorter for commercial breaks, but he feared he was at a loss to figure out what else to remove to make time.
So he handed me a VHS copy to “take with”.
As I left his office he offered me the job of working on ALIAS - and in this exciting spirit of basically working with off the shelf software including Final Cut Pro, Photoshop and After Effects - we would be much kids working on Super 8 movies again except it’ll air on network TV - and I was super excited!
Then the following day, the show’s producer calls and informs me the job offer was not possible. It seemed J.J. was trying to break form and basically make a TV show with a group of his “friends” so to speak forgetting about contracts with companies not to mention the whole union aspect of the show. So, for many reasons, it was not possible…
I got to give it to the guy because he made a few more attempts on his part to get me to cut the pilot episode, but they all fell through. Eventually I just captured the VHS into my Final Cut Pro system and more or less did a PHANTOM EDIT to get the show down to around network run time.
“Alias Lite” surprisingly worked well as cut down project - but I had to remove one major character (Bradley Cooper) and some subplots to make time. Although it technically “worked” it didn’t feel as character rich as the longer cut did.
Take a look at this scene where Jennifer Garner re-records her voice over message after the death of her fiance. (it starts about 8:30 in this youtube clip)
As a television show, it was great to see simple and un-rushed brilliance in a scene. It’s what made the show a stand out over so many others at the time… and that’s why it seemed a shame to try to lose much of the material like this. True, I could cut the show to make time and make it work to get from point A to point B, but my heart felt it was would be to mechanical and charm lacking, and that’s honestly what we are supposed to be enhancing and protecting in the romantic vision of an “Editor” actually does anyway.
So oddly, I guess I did my best to cut the show to prove that I (or anyone at ABC for that matter) should NOT be given the job of cutting the show to time. (NOTE: This is pretty much the worst skill to develop in Hollywood BTW - asking NOT to be hired?)
So, I sent it off to J.J. recommending that although it could be done, I felt only a possible 30 seconds should be removed here and there but please… please… leave the show as it was and go for the special “no commercial” Nokia airing they were thinking about.
That is how ALIAS aired back in 2001.
Over time, I received a few handwritten letters from J.J. and he gave me his massive CRT Macintosh monitor which helped me out when mine was going to the darkside of working correctly, but his career truly began to change and he moved to being the film and television entity he is today rather quickly.
A few years later I did manage to get and invite to a private pre-screening of Mission Impossible 3 (thanks to Sean G.) so he could gather potentially changeable feedback before it was released. I made only two comments and surprisingly, J.J. addressed both of my comments in the makeshift editing room that evening - despite producer Paula Wagoner whispering to me “asshole” for affecting what she wanted to be a locked picture.
I can only say at least J.J. was pleased about the feedback/changes.
So the other night when I rewatched Super 8 I (knowing that he collaborated with many of his teenage crew of filmmakers and Spielberg) I get a little smile that has nothing to do with the film itself…
He got to make a major motion picture by gathering up his friends and making a movie - kinda’ like they did when they were kids…
SUPER 8 FILMMAKING
I love Super 8 film as a medium. Alway have. It’s unfortunate that its rarity makes it costly to shoot, process and video telecine to get it usable in projects today. I am always trying to find a way to mimic Super 8 with electronic acquisition… Sure, there’s a lot of iphone apps out there that say they’re super 8 ish, but they still don’t look right to me.
I found a small little 16fps digital movie camera from Japan (NOT the digital Hari BTW) that “accidentally” imitates a bit of 8mm camera qualities decently.
But it’s STILL not Super 8 yet and the best way is to actually shoot Super 8 film…and if you do anything Super 8 related, you GOT TO GO SEE Phil Vigeant at PRO8mm (formerly Super 8 Sound) in Burbank CA.
A lot of my Super 8 films were destroyed years ago but I found some teenage stuff on a VHS tape with a world class (uh, no) Kmart film transfer… With my first job I bought this Canon Super 8 camera from the local photography store. (See above)
Sure, there was Hi8 and Super VHS at the time but editing it frame accurately wasn’t really possible. Splicing tape and Super 8 was really the way to go for editing and stop motion on a budget.
Here’s some of my Super 8 footage…