Liz Gannes

Recent Posts by Liz Gannes

How Quora Recruited “Super 8” Director J.J. Abrams

The filmmaker J.J. Abrams appeared for a seven-minute stint on the Q&A site Quora on Friday afternoon, the day his new science fiction movie “Super 8” was released. He answered a total of four questions on general topics like breaking into filmmaking and visual effects and monsters, and more specifically about the challenges of making “Super 8” and directing kids (“Super 8” stars a group of kids).

Abrams is a big deal anywhere, and particularly on a site like Quora. In its short history Quora has grown a rich technology-oriented community that has enticed luminaries like Netflix CEO Reed Hastings to lend their personal expertise. But Abrams himself is not really a social media guy; online sharing is actually kind of antithetical to his preference to keep his projects mysterious before they come out.

Paramount, which produced “Super 8,” put special effort into online promotion of the movie, for instance buying a promoted trend on Twitter (#Super8Secret) to sell tickets to preview screenings. The film had the top North American box office take this weekend, bringing in $37 million.

The “Super 8” social media strategy was led by Amy Powell, who is Paramount EVP of interactive marketing and film production. She said Quora offered the opportunity for a more authentic and long-form — if strategically timed and posted — relationship directly between Abrams and fans.

“We wanted to do something special for the fanboys specifically, and we know that a lot of their interest lies in J.J. himself and how he thinks about projects,” she said. Powell reached out to Quora and proposed that they could be part of the promotional push.

Quora’s Marc Bodnick, himself a huge movie buff, responded to Powell and helped put the concept together. He personally wrote the four questions Abrams answered.

Bodnick described movies and screenwriting as one of Quora’s budding topic areas. Another notable contributor is Sean Hood, who wrote the upcoming “Conan the Barbarian,” Bodnick said.

To be sure, not many of those opening weekend ticket sales should probably be attributed to Quora. As of Monday night, J.J. Abrams had about 700 Quora followers. Of the four questions, the one about breaking into Hollywood is the most popular, with about 3,000 page views as well as five answers other than Abrams’.

Will Abrams be back to respond to commenters and answer more questions, especially now that Quora users have seen the movie? Powell wouldn’t commit on his behalf, but said “We will try to reengage him.”

But at least now we know from the master of the genre that the best way to shoot a monster scene is to first “know what effect you are trying to achieve,” and only then “start getting into the mechanics and working backwards, deconstructing the scene in your head.”

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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work