Say the name J.J. Abrams and some of the director/producer’s high-profile projects immediately come to mind.
2009’s “Star Trek.”
His upcoming movie, “Super 8.”
Wait, what? “Nightbeast”?
Yes, as noted in my recent profile of Abrams, that independent little horror effort — shot in Maryland and starring, among others, Dick Dyszel, who Washington area locals will remember as Captain 20 — gave Abrams his first official movie credit at the age of 16.
It was 1982, the same year that Abrams and his good friend Matt Reeves — who would later go on to direct “Cloverfield” and “Let Me In” — were hired by Steven Spielberg to repair the director’s childhood Super 8 films. (Spielberg found out about the budding Super 8 movie-making pair from an L.A. Times article.)
As if that job wasn’t weird enough — “It was like the Louvre calling us and saying, ‘Do you mind cleaning the Mona Lisa?,” Abrams recalls — the young L.A. resident scored another unconventional gig around the same time: as co-composer of a movie about an alien monster on a killing rampage.
But here, why don’t I let him tell you how this whole “Nightbeast” thing came about, via this excerpt from my interview with the man behind “Super 8.”
“I was a huge fan of a number of filmmaking magazines. One was called Super 8 Filmmaker magazine, which was actually featured in the movie [‘Super 8’]. Another one was called Cinemagic, which was created by a man who had been a contributor to Super 8 Filmmaker. And his name was Don Dohler.
“Don Dohler had also directed a number of very low-budget independent horror films in the Baltimore area. He was sort of the horror version of John Waters. He made these crazy movies that were made with incredible passion and love of genre. Relatively speaking, you know, shoestring budgets — they couldn’t really compare to the production values or casts of mainstream films. But there was a real charm to them. They were kind of like adult versions of the movies that we made when we were kids.
“I remember writing him, you know, writing letters to the magazine, either asking questions or requesting certain kinds of articles. He wrote me back and I told him I was into music and doing these sound effects and scores for these movies I was doing. He literally out of the blue asked me if I’d be interested in doing music for his movie, having never heard any music that I had done. It was classic.
“You know, it was such a crazy thrill to be asked to be involved in one of his movies. He would send me scenes on videotape, and at the time, the only videotape that was around was that three-quarter-inch, massive professional broadcast tape. Which, by coincidence, my father was a TV producer, [and] he happened to have one of those decks at home that he would use to watch dailies and cuts of movies he was working on.
“I would watch a scene that Don Dohler send me and I would time it with a watch and write down where things would happen. And then I’d go upstairs, and I would use whatever instrument I could use. I had a little porta-studio, a four-track thing or a reel-to-reel tape deck. It was just the most preposterous set-up and I would send him back music , some of which he used in the movie.
“It was just a very exciting thing, to be involved in a movie on any level. And then to get a credit on a movie was literally the thing that all my life I had said, if I get my name on a movie, a credit on a film, I could die happy. That was all I needed.”
Now Abrams has plenty of credits. And, per the above story as well as his new movie, a lesson to impart to a younger generation: with a little ambition, dedication and ingenuity, you, too, can become a filmmaker.