J.J. Abrams has had an incredible career in Hollywood, known for creating Alias, co-creating Lost, and producing dozens of movies and TV shows. Abrams has also directed two of the sequel trilogy’s Star Wars films, two Star Trek films, and the third Mission Impossible.
In 2011, he directed the only film of his career that isn’t a sequel to an ongoing franchise: Super 8. This film pays homage to Sci-Fi flicks of the ‘70s, while also telling a heartwarming tale about a group of kids with a passion for filmmaking. Super 8 came out eight years ago, but there are some things you may not know about the monster flick. Here are 10 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Super 8.
In the featurette “The Dream Behind Super 8” several of the crew members talked about memories of making Super 8 films when they were kids. When J.J. Abrams discovered filmmaking, he was fascinated with making his own films. The director of photography Larry Fong also made Super 8 films and lived across the street for Abrams.
Even composer Michael Giacchino revealed that he made Super 8 and 8mm films when he was young. When J.J. Abrams met Matt Reeves when he was 14, they entered a film festival and got the attention of Steven Spielberg. Spielberg produced Super 8, but when Abrams was 14, he sent him and Reeves a box of his old Super 8 movies for them to restore.
When it came time to casting the main group of kids in the movie, J.J. Abrams wanted to cast fresh faces that were relatively unknown actors. Joel Courtney (Joe), Ryan Lee (Cary), Zach Mills (Preston), Riley Griffiths (Charles), Gabriel Basso (Martin), and Elle Fanning (Alice) fill out the core cast, but that was only after they interviewed 5,000 kids.
The casting agents April Webster and Alyssa Weisberg explained in the featurette “The Search for New Faces” that they interviewed thousands of kids for the roles and even watched auditions on YouTube.
The casting department had their hands full with Super 8, but they still worked hard to get the right actor for the lead role of Joe Lamb. Joel Courtney was chosen for the role, which was his first-ever acting gig. Courtney didn’t have an easy time getting the role though, as the featurette “The Search for New Faces” revealed he had to audition 14 times before he got the role.
Courtney also mentioned that it was his first audition ever and recalled once when he left school to fly to LA for an interview. Turns out that interview however wasn’t actually an interview, but a surprise from J.J. Abrams to reveal that he got the part.
Bad Robot and Paramount Pictures did everything they could to capture the essence of the late ‘70s. Everything from the sets to the costumes and props were made to look like the ‘70s. The company also rented bicycles that looked like bikes from 1979, which the cast got to keep at the end of the shoot.
Joel Courtney even mentioned in an on-set video how cool it would be to keep their bikes and Abrams was so impressed with the cast that he ended up buying all of the bikes that they rented for the kids.
Most movie buffs would love to have a summer blockbuster film in their hometown and that was the case for Super 8. Super 8 was filmed in Weirton, Ohio and it was revealed in the featurette “Rediscovering Steel Town” how thrilled the citizens were to have Abrams and company film in their town.
In the town meeting scene, the citizens of Weirton actually make up most of the extras. After a plan to fly back to LA fell through, Abrams simply decided to stay in Ohio and film the scene with the actual people who lived there. The actor who voices Homer Simpson (Dan Castellaneta) was also in this scene, although he was born in Chicago not Weirton.
Besides Steven Spielberg and J.J. Abrams both being attached to Super 8, the promise of another creature feature is something that attracted people to the film. Famous creature and concept designer Neville Page created the Super 8 monster, which was known as Cooper (motion-captured by Bruce Greenwood) on set. Page is known for creating creatures in films like Cloverfield, Avatar, and Star Trek.
There were several different designs that Page created for Cooper, but he took Abrams and Spielberg’s input for the final design. In the featurette “The Monster Lives” it was also revealed that in order to make the monster emote more emotions, Page designed eye slits that would reveal the monsters true eyes that were similar to Joe’s mother’s.
After location scouts went around the country photographing different towns, J.J. Abrams showed interest in Weirton Ohio. Despite the name being changed to Lillian Ohio, Super 8 pays tribute to the steel town’s history. The city of Weirton was actually built up around the giant steel mill, which saw hardships in the ‘70s because of foreign commerce.
The mill had to be shut down soon after, but in 1983, the employees of Weirton Steel bought stock ownership of the plant. 20 years later they had to file bankruptcy and massively downsize their employees. Weirton Steel was at one point one of the biggest steel manufacturers in the world, and Super 8 was able to bring that legacy to life.
Larry Fong was the director of photography for Super 8, but he also doubled as an on-set magician. Fong was so impressive with his magic, that he even made it into the special features of the Super 8 Blu-ray in a featurette called “Do You Believe in Magic?”.
The featurette shows several of his magic tricks and even showed him impressing Tom Cruise when he visited the set. Joel Courtney said his favorite trick was a soda can trick where Fong would set two cans at the opposite side of a street. He would shake one up and then open them, only the can he shook up didn’t explode. Somehow, he was able to transfer the fizz to the other soda can.
Much like the Cloverfield films, Super 8 had an extensive ARG (alternate reality game). When the trailer for Super 8 was released, the final shot showed a film reel with the phrase “Scariest Thing I Ever Saw”. People then found the website “ScariestThingIEverSaw.com” which introduced a fake company called Rocket Poppeteers and allowed people to print off two pages of a newspaper.
People decoded the paper and it led them to a website that was a chat room between a man named Josh and a mystery man talking about Josh’s father’s work on a secret government project. Clips could be found around the internet which when put together made a three-minute video from Area 51, part of which is seen in the film. In the end, Josh’s father is revealed to be Dr. Woodward in the film and the ARG ends with Josh finding out that his father was buried in Lillian Ohio.
Near the middle of the film, the US Air Force creates a project called Operation Walking Distance. The point of this was to set fire to Lillian Ohio so that they could evacuate the city and hunt the monster while keeping the citizens safe. The that being said, the code-name “Walking Distance” is a shout-out to an episode of The Twilight Zone by the same name.
This episode deals with a man time-traveling back to his childhood. J.J. Abrams once said this was one of his favorite episodes of the series and with Super 8 being inspired by his childhood, it’s like Abrams went back in time to create a movie that was meaningful to him.