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Produced By Conference: Why J.J. Abrams Owes His Movie Career to Tom Cruise

Abrams told attendees that former Paramount chief Sherry Lansing had an aneurysm when Tom Cruise said he would direct 'Mission: Impossible III"

J.J. Abrams' four movies have grossed more than $1 billion at the box office for Paramount, but the studio only worked with him because Tom Cruise forced it to, the director and producer said at the Produced By Conference on Saturday.

Cruise was about to star in the third “Mission: Impossible” movie for another director, but when that director couldn’t do it, Paramount was left searching for someone new. Cruise invited Sherry Lansing over to his house — with Abrams in attedance. 

Also read: How the Battle Over 'Star Trek' Rights Killed J.J. Abrams' Grand Ambitions

“When Tom said we’ll delay the movie a year, and J.J. is going to direct it, I watched the head of the studio have an aneurysm,” Abrams joked.

Abrams was in fine self-deprecating form on Saturday and told that story in response to a question “Django Unchained” producer Reginald Hudlin asked about “Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol.” Hudlin, moderating a keynote at the conference, was thrilled Abrams convinced Paramount to give such a massive franchise to Brad Bird.

Bird's success prior to "Ghost Protocol" was in directing animated films such as "The Incredibles.” The real difficulty, Abrams said, was convincing Paramount to give him the franchise first.

“There was a movie before ‘Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol’ called ‘Mission: Impossible III,’ when a TV director was shoved down the throat of the studio because Tom Cruise said, 'I want this guy to direct the movie,'” Abrams said. “I’d been Brad Bird and seen what it was like to be the guy who wasn’t the obvious choice.”

That movie went on to gross almost $400 million worldwide. When it came time for the next “Mission: Impossible” film, Abrams' own success made his request for Brad Bird, dare we say, easy.

“It wasn’t like there was any sort of dissent,” Abrams said.