J.J. Abrams Following Up ‘Star Wars’ By Tackling Virtual Reality

March 15, 2016, 3:02 PM UTC
Producer and director J.J. Abrams poses on the red carpet for a screening of the film "Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation" in New York
Producer and director J.J. Abrams poses on the red carpet for a screening of the film "Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation" in New York July 27, 2015. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid - RTX1M1TL
Photograph by Brendan McDermid — Reuters

After showing audiences different worlds in films like Star Trek and Star Wars: The Force Awakens, J.J. Abrams is ready to transport them there directly.

The director and Hollywood wunderkind revealed during a conversation with Fortune at South by Southwest that he’s excited about the potential of storytelling in virtual reality, and he is currently at work on a project to take advantage of the technology.

“We are [exploring it],” says Abrams. “The question is what are the stories given the current [state] of VR hardware? There is one thing we’re working on right now that I think could play into this really well. It’s pretty exciting…with the right kind of story and the right size of story, nothing beats it.”

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The project is a short video rather than a feature-length film. That’s the norm these days as VR begins to roll out into people’s homes, and Abrams expects it to stay that way for a little while.

But even in those short projects, the technology allows content makers to create an almost instant emotional bond with consumers.

“I don’t know anyone with a strong enough neck to sit through two hours worth of VR,” Abrams says. “It’s as experiential almost as being there. The fact that you can be in your office and afraid of taking that step off the ledge or something? It’s so uncanny and so crazy. The power of that medium needs to be harnessed. The question is: How do you do it when you’re wearing a six pound thing on your head?”



Beyond his work in the film community, Abrams stays active in the video game world as well. Three years ago, he announced a partnership between his Bad Robot Productions company and Valve Software to collaborate on both games and cinematic adaptations of Valve’s iconic games.

For more about Star Wars, watch: [fortune-brightcove videoid=4667556752001]

Last fall, the two introduced a new gameplay mode called PASS Time for Team Fortress 2. Still in beta testing, it is best described as a blending of the shooter with the sport of soccer.

As for the anticipated films for the Portal and Half-Life games? Please stand by, asks Abrams. Writers are at work on the projects, but there’s no hard date for either film yet.

“The timeline is to get it right,” he says. “Sooner [rather] than later would be fantastic, though.”

With his own schedule so busy, Abrams says he’s not able to play as many video games as he’d like, but he still dabbles when he can.

“Mainly, all the games I’m playing are word games on my phone, but I get to peek in and watch what my oldest [child] plays,” Abrams says. “I love [Star Wars] Battlefront. They’ve done an amazing job with that. I’ve been playing racing games like Forza with our 10 year old. … He’ll tell you that I don’t win – and he’ll be right. And there are some games I’ve played a little more of, like the latest Tomb Raider game, which was a lot of fun.”

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