Interview with Steven Spielberg
Raised in Phoenix, Arizona, Steven Spielberg was just
twenty-one when he directed his first television movie, the
pilot for Night Gallery. This was not his
first filmmaking experience, however - far from it. From his
early teens through his college career at California State
College, Long Beach, Spielberg made several short films
culminating in Amblin, a 24 minute short
subject which won several awards and landed him the job
directing Night Gallery. After directing a
number of television episodes, the award-winning TV-movie Duel,
and The Sugarland Express, Spielberg was
asked to take on a movie version of the book Jaws.
The phenomenal success of this movie, largely due to the
twenty-six year old director, made Spielberg one of the most
sought after directors in Hollywood. His next film Close
Encounter of the Third Kind, which he also wrote,
won him an Academy Award nomination for best director. In
1980, Spielberg joined with longtime friend George Lucas as
director of the Lucasfilm, Ltd., release Raiders of
the Lost Ark.
Q: Can you remember the first movie you ever saw?
SS: I was my first film when I was about five years old -
The Greatest Show On Earth. What I remember most about it
were the elephants and thr train crash, as opposed to the
relationship between Charlton Heston and Betty Hutton, or
Jimmy Stewart's fantastic portrayal of a clown. I remember
the spectacule before I remember the personalities, which for
a child is normal. But perhaps it is a clue to the kinds of
movies I've been making like Jaws and Close Encounters as
opposed to the kinds of films that I might make a couple of
years from now.
Q: Did you go to a lot of movies during your childhood?
SS: Not a real lot. I was only allowed to go to those
films that today would be considered G-rated. My parents were
hypersensitive about my media intake, so they didn't let me
watch too much television between the ages of one and twelve,
and they screened the movies I was allowed to see. I think I
was the only kid on the block who wasn't allowed to see
violent movies so I would sneak out with friends and see
them. So until I was twelve or thirteen, when I began making
8mm movies, I was not allowed to see anything that was not
suitable for family enjoyment.
Q: I understand that before you were actually hired by
Universal Studios, you just went on the lot in a suit
carrying a briefcase and used an office.
SS: That's right, I did.
Q: How did you have the nerve to do that?
SS: I don't know. I wanted to be a moviemaker so bad that
I would have done anything, short of killing. I just wanted
to be on that lot. Once I was there, it was like being at
Disneyland. Once you are past the turnstyle, you can do
anything you want as long as you have an "E"
coupon. Once I was on the lot, that was my coupon to every
stage on the lot, and I was able to observe dubbing and
editing. I spent most of my time in the editing rooms.
Q: Didn't anyone ask you who you were and what you were
SS: They always asked who I was. To the people I got to
know real well, I would say, "I'm just some kid hanging
around." I kept my identity a mystery to those people I
didn't know very well. I only wore the suit the first three
days to get on the lot. Once they knew me, I wore regular
clothes. I was only a nerd for three days, not for the three
months I spent sneaking around Universal.
Q: You were only twenty-one when you started directing for
Universal. How did people react to your age?
SS: As Rodney Dangerfield says, "I got no
respect." It was very, very hard to overcome the sense
of being a novelty item. Once the amusement was over, after
the first few guffaws or snickers behind the back, and people
saw I was going to be on the set to make the TV movie or the
episode, then they began to accept me as a director. Then, of
course, the reputation grows and people say, "Well, he's
a kid, but he's okay." The best thing was that I was
Q: How did you get involved with your longtime friend,
George Lucas, on Raiders of the Lost Ark?
SS: George told ne the story in Hawaii in May, 1977, a
week before Star Wars opened. He had gone to Hawaii to get
away from what he thought would be a monumental disaster. At
dinner one night, when George got the news that the film was
a hit the first week and he was suddenly laughing again, he
told me the story of Raiders. I said, "That's a really
terrific story, George. It's something I'd like to do."
About six months later he called me up and said, "If
you're still interested, I'd like you to direct this when you
get a chance."
Q: Was it difficult working with someone who is a good
friend of yours?
SS: Where Raiders is concerned, George and I saw it pretty
much alike. George and I have been friends a lot longer than
we've been working together. We have only been working
together for a year - we've been friends for eleven. It is
very important, hit or miss, that nothing gets in the way of
Q: Was Raiders of the Lost Ark a difficult fil to make?
SS: I see every film as a difficult film. A film like
Raiders or a film like Jaws or Close Encounters of the Third
Kind is really no more or less difficult than a film like
Kramer vs Kramer, a picture that essentially takes place in
local exteriors and very contained interiors. Jaws was tough
because you can't go out in the ocean and fight Mother
Nature. The Coast Guard was laughing at us when we'd weigh
anchor and get ready to photograph another vessel a few yards
away. Minutes later both boats would be fifty yards apart.
The Coast Guard would laugh and say, "Don't you know
about the tides....they'll drag your anchors and your boats
across the sandy bottom." But there are other movies
that are made in small sets with three or four actors that
are also extremely difficult.
Q: What qualities do you think a good director has?
SS: What makes a good director, more than anything else,
is just having a good imagination. If you have a good
imagination and you like to tell stories, and you feel you
can turn around and communicate these thoughts to a lot of
strangers, then perhaps you should write or start making 8mm
K.J. and A.H.
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