How Star Wars Director J.J. Abrams Got His Start Working on a Troma Film

YouTube / YouTube

Today, writer-director-producer J.J. Abrams is best known for his work on popular TV shows and blockbuster movies like Lost (2004), Star Trek (2009), Super 8 (2011), and, of course, the upcoming Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens. But as a teenager, Abrams got his start working on a very different kind of sci-fi movie: the 1982 Troma film, Nightbeast.  

For those unfamiliar with Troma Entertainment, it's a low-budget production company and distributor famous for producing some of the silliest, grossest, and most graphic horror and sci-fi films of all time. The company—whose name is often used as shorthand for a certain kind of “shock exploitation” film—is responsible for cult movies like The Toxic Avenger (1984), Redneck Zombies (1989), and Cannibal! The Musical (1993).

In 1982, Abrams was just another 16-year-old who was obsessed with movies, and with a movie magazine called Cinemagic. It was the latter interest that, unexpectedly, got him the Troma gig. 

In a 2011 interview with The Washington Post, Abrams explained that, as a teenager, he’d frequently written letters to Cinemagic, asking questions or requesting articles. Eventually, the magazine’s founder, Don Dohler, wrote back, asking Abrams about his own skills and interests. When Abrams replied that he was interested in composing music for movies—and had recorded the sound effects and scores for several of his own amateur efforts—Dohler decided to offer him a job. 

“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,” said Abrams.

That movie turned out to be Troma's Nightbeast, about a killer lizard from outer space. Its tagline was: “If You Have The Guts—He Wants Them.” 

Dohler would periodically send Abrams scenes from the film on videotape, and Abrams—who lived with his parents—would play them on his father’s tape player. Then he’d go to his room and record music with whatever instruments he could find. “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,” he explained. 

Though the final film was a silly, low-budget mess, Abrams treasured the experience. “It was just a very exciting thing, to be involved in a movie on any level," he told The Washington Post. "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.'”

[h/t: The Washington Post]