by Zac Champ

"Spielberg made his first film at the age of 13, as a Boy Scout merit badge project in Phoenix, Ariz. "It was three minutes long," he recalled with a faint smile. "One of my friends robbed a stagecoach and counted the money. It was eight millimeter, with no editing at all." (Klemersrud http://www.nytimes.com/books/97/06/15/reviews/ ). That was how it all started and now this directing genius’s name alone can sell a movie, it might as well be trade marked for "no director or producer has put together a more popular body of work. That’s why the movies we’re seeing now are made in his image." (Ebert http://cgi.pathfinder.com/time/asia/magazine/1998/980608/spielberg.html). "If money equals success then it is important to point out that his films have made more money than any other director. If success is critical acclaim, then you can point out that he directed more films in the AFI top 100 films of all time than any other director. If success is achieving something with nothing, than you can make the point that he never went to film school, wasn’t rich, and didn’t live in Hollywood when he started." Says Brian Young of Scruffles Steven Spielberg Directory. In this paper I hope to prove that Steven Spielberg’s works put him at the top of all directors and producers, and that film making and our American pop culture would be entirely different had it not been for his countless works.

"Spielberg’s childhood was unlike most children’s, when his father brought home a Lionel train set instead of playing with it the normal way, Steven would crash it over and over. "I would stage these very complex accidents on the rails," Spielberg said, "and somehow, intuitively, I would film these perfect crashes. When I got the film back, I would be amazed at how my little trains looked like multi-ton locomotives." (Sanello 15). When asked about Steven, mother Leah Adler had this to say, "He was my first, so I didn’t know that everybody didn’t have kids like him," she recalls with a happy shrug. "I just hung on for dear life. He was always the center of attention, ruling his three younger sisters. And me too actually. Our living room was strewn with cables and floodlights – that’s where Steven did his filming. We never said no. We never had a chance to say no. Steven didn’t understand that word." (Corliss http://www.geocities.com/~scruffles/article_11.html). Steven’s creativity seems to stem from his mother says Steven’s sister Sue "Mom was a classical pianist, artistic and whimsical. She led the way for Steven to be as creative as he wanted to be." (Corliss http://www.geocities.com/~scruffles/article_11.html). Steven’s father was more like his male characters in his movies either absent or a bit vague, less in touch with the forces of wonder. "His father’s influence contributed to the techno-wizardry which is the hallmark of most Spielberg films." (Sanello 1). "I’d help Steven construct sets for his 8-mm movies, with toy trucks and paper mache mountains." Says Steven’s father (Corliss http://www.geocities.com/~scruffles/article_11.html). "Arnold Spielberg had mixed feelings about his son’s filmmaking endeavors, and he pushed for a more practical, scientific career. During a quite successful career, Arnold Spielberg worked for IBM, RCA, and GE. He holds a whopping twelve patents in his name." (Sanello 15). "The combination of his mother’s artistic bent provided the aesthetic balance which drove his low-tech character driven films such as Schindler’s List and The Color Purple." (Sanello 1).

In school, Steven was nicknamed "the retard," and once lost a race to a boy in the class whom was actually mentally retarded. Spielberg's tale is a great anecdote of his entire childhood as… a "nerd."

The height of my wimpery came when we had to run a mile for a grade in elementary school," he has said. "The whole class of fifty finished, except for two people left on the track—me and a mentally retarded boy. Of course he ran awkwardly, but I was just never able to run. I was maybe 40 yards ahead of him, and I was only 100 yards away from the finish line. The whole class turned and began rooting for the young retarded boy—cheering him, saying, ‘C’mon, c’mon, beat Spielberg! Run, run! It was like he came to life for the first time, and he began to pour it on but still not fast enough to beat me. And I remember thinking, ‘OK, now how am I gonna fall and make it look like I really fell?’ And I remember actually stepping on my toe and going face hard into the red clay of the track and actually scraping my nose. Everybody cheered when I fell, and then they began to really scream for this guy: ‘C’mon, John, c’mon, run, run!’ I got up just as John came up behind me, and I began running as if to beat him but not really win, running to let him win. We were nose to nose, and suddenly laid back a step, then half step. Suddenly he was ahead, then he was a chest ahead, then a length, and then he crossed the finish line ahead of me. Everybody grabbed this guy, and threw him on their shoulders and carried him into the locker room, and into the showers, and I stood there on the track field and cried my eyes out for five minutes. I’d never felt better and I’d never felt worse in my life. (Sanello 18)

"I was skinny and unpopular. I was the weird, skinny kid with acne. I hate to use the word wimp, but I wasn’t in the inner loop. I never felt comfortable with myself, because I was never part of the majority." (Sanello 19). Other events included the failed attempt of dissecting a frog in biology class where he left the room to stand outside with the other weak stomached students "They were all girls." Spielberg later said. It was a scene that was later echoed in ET. He even cut off his knuckle while trying to demonstrate how to sharpen an axe in boy scouts, before 500 peers." (Sanello 19). Taking all of this into consideration would you have expected this young unpopular, awkward looking boy to become the most successful director and producer of all time and the creator of such films as Schindler’s List, and Saving Private Ryan?

"In the summer of 1965 17-year-old Steven, visiting his cousins in Canoga Park California took a tour of the Universal Pictures studios. This is when Spielberg’s career really started. Steven retells his story "The tram wasn’t stopping at the sound stages," Steven says. "So during a bathroom break I snuck away and wandered over there, just watching. I met a man who asked what I was doing, and I told him my story. Instead of calling the guards to throw me off the lot, he talked with me for about an hour. His name was Chuck Silvers, head of the editorial department. He said he would like to see some of my little films, and so he gave me a pass to get on the lot the next day. I showed him about four of my 8-mm films. He was very impressed. Then he said, ‘I don’t have the authority to write you any more passes, but good luck to you." The next day a young man wearing a business suit and carrying a briefcase strode past the gate guard, waved and heaved a silent sigh. The second step had been taken; he was on his way. "It was my father’s briefcase," Spielberg says. "There was nothing in it but a sandwich and two candy bars. So every day that summer I went in my suit and hung out with the directors and writers and editors and dubbers. I found an office that wasn’t being used, and became a squatter. I went to a camera store, bought some plastic name titles and put my name in the building directory: Steven Spielberg, Room 23C."

Skipping ahead several years to 1975, Spielberg directed his most famous movie yet, and one of the highest grossing films of all time. "In an industry where only three out of every ten movies make money, thirteen of the sixteen films he’s directed have been out of the black. All told, they’ve pulled in an astounding five billion worldwide." Grover http://www.geocities.com/~scruffles/article_12.html). The movie that set Steven on the path to becoming the mass-market film director that he is today was Jaws. The film is composed of a simple plot. An out of control shark has a hankering for human blood; therefore it must be stopped, but not before it gets a few horrifically satisfying "nibbles." "Jaws grossed $400 million in the box offices, at the time of 1975 it was the highest grossing film of all time." (Klemersrud http://www.nytimes.com/books/97/06/15/reviews/l). "I don’t think I’ll ever top Jaws commercially," Spielberg says, "But I define my own peak. The minute Jaws became so successful, people kept saying, ‘How can you top that?’ But I don’t run my career on what people think. The peak of my own career will come when I make the best film I ever make ever make. I have the right to determine when I have peaked, and when I’ve slid the other way." (Klemersrud http://www.nytimes.com/books/97/06/15/reviews/). Spielberg in fact was wrong about topping Jaws; he in fact topped it on more than one occasion. First with ET: The Extraterrestrial, and later with Jurassic Park. Back in 1975 many were critical of Spielberg's early success and labeled him "spent", that his career had hit its climax. "Listen, I’ve only made three films up to now, I haven’t really started my career yet, and a lot of people are saying, ‘He’s wrapped his career, where does he go from here?’ I agree that Jaws came too soon, but I think I have everywhere to go." "Jaws was a hit of vast proportions, inspiring executives to go for the home run instead of the base hit. And it came out in the summer, a season the major studios had generally ceded to cheaper exploitation films. Within a few years, the Jaws model would inspire an industry in which budgets ran wild because the rewards seemed limitless, in which summer action pictures dominated the industry, and when the hottest young directors wanted to make the Great American Blockbuster." (Ebert http://cgi.pathfinder.com/time/asia/magizine/1998/980608/spielberg.html).

And everywhere he did go, from the depths of Martha’s Vineyard for Jaws and now to the outer most limits of the universe for Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Close Encounters was Spielberg's "baby" he not only directed the film but also wrote the film, and had a hand in the special effects. The inspiration for close encounters is said to have come from the following event in Spielberg’s childhood.

"My dad took me out to see a meteor shower when I was a little kid, and it was scary for me because he woke me up in the middle of the night. My heart was beating; I didn’t know what he wanted to do. He wouldn’t tell me, and he put me in the car and went off, and I saw all these people lying on blankets, looking up at the sky. And my dad spread out a blanket. We lay down and looked at the sky, and I saw for the first time all these meteors. What scared me was being awakened in the middle of the night and taken somewhere without being told where. But what didn’t scare me, but was very soothing was watching this cosmic meteor shower. And I think from that moment on I never looked at the sky and thought it was a bad place." (Ebert http://cgi.pathfinder.com/time/asia/magazine/1998/980608/spielberg.html).

Close Encounters of the Third Kind was a movie that showed us a new perspective of the Universe. It showed us the friendlier more intelligible world, rather than the space invasion and killing aliens.

"The Indiana Jones series was as entertaining as it was successful [earning an Academy Award Nomination] and both Spielberg and Lucas, entertainment genius knew it when they began work on the project. The idea of Raiders of the Lost Arc was hatched on a beach in Miami, where George Lucas and now ex-wife Marcia were taking a vacation as Lucas’ Star Wars continued to be radioactive in the box office. Spielberg soon turned up on the tropical island to help his pal celebrate. Together these two men shared their ideas on future projects they were thinking of. Spielberg mentioned he wanted to make a James Bond-Style movie with a swaggering playboy character in the lead. Lucas confided he wanted to make a homage to Saturday matinee serials. They decided to combine their ideas, creating Raiders of the Lost Arc and the Indiana Jones series." "I wanted to create that same kind of entertainment with Raiders, a film that took itself seriously when we had to be logical, but could be humorous without sending up anything. All the humor in the movie had to come from the characters, not the situation." (Sanello 91). Raiders went on to become a major success, "I made George Promise that if the first [Raiders] was successful, I would do two more. It wasn’t a contract. It was just sort of a friendly handshake. But George is one of my closest friends, and I take that as a promise," Spielberg said. (Sanello 93). And so two more were made Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. It is also rumored that a fourth Indiana is on the way, it will likely do just as well as the first three. Twenty million was spent on Raiders, and 363 million was pulled in.

It was Spielberg’s most successful movie of all time, it broke the unprecedented record set by Jaws, and it was the movie that America fell in love with it was ET. "two thumbs up, way up, ET is a reminder of what movies are for… some are to make us think, some to make us feel, some to take us away from our problems, some to help us examine them. What is enchanting about ET is that in some measure it does all of those things." Says Roger Ebert. (Sanello 108). "ET is as close to an autobiographical movie as Spielberg has given us with the themes of loneliness, fear of separation and longing for friendship, they seem to come straight from Spielberg’s own lonely, peripatetic childhood." (Sanello 104). "What inspired me to do ET more than anything else was that my father was a computer expert and he kept getting better jobs. And we would go from town to town. And It would just happen I would find a best friend, and I would finally become an insider at school, and at the moment of my greatest comfort and tranquility… we’d move somewhere else. There was always the good-bye scene ET reflects a lot of that. When Elliot finds ET, he hangs on to him. He announces in no uncertain terms, ‘I’m keeping him,’ and he means it." (Sanello 104). ET was a movie that more people saw, perhaps, than any other. What deeper need did it fill than simple entertainment? Why does a story of a little boy and a goofy-looking extraterrestrial make people cry who never cry at movies? Spielberg himself did not expect the rave reviews, and adult turnout. "I’m greedy about trying to please as many people, all in the same tent, at the same time," he says. "I've just always wanted to please, more than I've wanted to create controversy and exclude people. And yet, when I made ET, I really though I was making it, not for everybody in the world, but for kids. I actually told George Lucas that parents would drop their kids off at ET and the parents would go off and see another movie playing a block away." (Ebert http://www.geocities.com/~scruffles/article_6.html). Spielberg was nominated for an Oscar for ET but was beat out by Gahndi; it was a controversial move by the Academy. ET made in fact over a billion dollars from the box office and from merchandising.

After completing ET for most directors they could retire and fade away from the scene, having completed a successful career. Spielberg did no such thing he went on to make one of the highest grossing films of all time Jurassic Park. Jurassic Park was a technological masterpiece using fully computer-animated dinosaurs, and transposing them onto the big screen creating the most realistic effects to date.

With Schindler’s List Spielberg has broken his mold of entertainment moneymakers, by portraying an event of extreme importance, which requires the utmost attention. Many critics such as Andrew Salirs felt the same way about Spielberg’s films. "There is still too much of the world between the children’s room and outer space left unexplored in the cinema of Steven Spielberg. He does not have to remake The Grapes of Wrath. All I ask is that sometime before he reaches the age of fifty, he should become somewhat more skeptical of his own self-induced euphoria." (Brode 228). The black and white social epic may not be the remake of The Grapes of Wrath but for many critics it changed their view of Spielberg and his work. "Rising brilliantly to the challenge of this material and displaying an electrifying creative intelligence, Mr. Spielberg has made sure that neither he nor the Holocaust will ever be thought of in the same way again. With every frame, he demonstrates the power of the film maker to distill complex events into fiercely indelible images." (Maslin http://www.nytimes.com/books/97/06/15/reviews/spielberg-schindler.html). Spielberg finally got the Academy Award that he deserved, after being passed over for his movies, The Color Purple, and ET.

"Steven Spielberg’s soberly magnificent new war film, the second such pinnacle in a career of magical versatility, has been made in the same spirit of urgent communication. It is the ultimate devastating letter home." Wrote Janet Maslin of the New York Times. "Since the end of World War II and the virtual death of the western, the combat film has disintegrated into a showcase for swagger, cynicism, obscenely overblown violence and hollow, self-serving victories. Now with stunning efficacy, Spielberg turns back the clock. He restores passion and meaning to the genre with such whirlwind force that he seems to reimagine it entirely, dazzling with the breadth and intensity of that imagination. No received notions, dramatic or ideological, intrude on this achievement. This film simply looks at war as if war had not been looked at before." (Maslin http://www.nytimes.com/library/film). "For this film, I wanted to bring myself to the experience with the fresh eye of a combat cameraman, not someone how had preconceived notions of what combat was like. I think it’s helped the authenticity a lot." Spielberg says. (Gritten http://www.geociteis.com/~scruffles/saving_private_ryan_article_1.html). Spielberg ordered the use of handheld cameras "About half is hand held, again, I’m trying to re-create combat footage and handheld really heightens the drama. We’ve even gone so far as to throw the camera upside down sometimes, to convey a movement when the cameraman would have dropped it before he got the courage to come out of his foxhole and pick it up." (Gritten http://www.geociteis.com/~scruffles/saving_private_ryan_article_1.html). Saving Private Ryan’s violence is shown in the twenty-five minute battle on Omaha Beach. "its vision of combat is never allowed to grow numbing. Like the soldiers, viewers are made furiously alive to each new crisis and never free to rest." (Maslin http://www.nytimes.com/library/film). "I knew I didn’t want to make a slick World War II movie," says Spielberg. "War is horror, and some of the carnage and chaos at Omaha Beach were captured by combat cameramen. That twenty five minutes is my attempt to portray the landing as honestly as I knew how." (Gritten http://www.geociteis.com/~scruffles/saving_private_ryan_article_1.html). "The battle scenes avoid conventional suspense and sensationalism; they disturb not by being manipulative but by being hellishly frank." (Maslin http://www.nytimes.com/library/film). Spielberg has once again used his magic to make us become part of a movie, and not just viewers. We sit there, watching the gruesome violence of war, hearing gun shots constantly, with out a break. At the end of the movie the theatres around the country were dead with silence, no one would move, no one would speak. They just sat there amazed, staring blankly at a now fading American flag, then the transition to the credits.

"Mr. Spielberg’s success, say friends who are top Hollywood executives, has been achieved in large part by workaholoism, ambition and pragmatism." (Andrews http://www.nytimes.com/books/97/06/15/reviews/). He is easily Hollywood’s most successful director and producer, with credits that read like guideposts to an entire generation’s pop culture. Beginning with his 1975 summer horror-adventure, Jaws, Spielberg has direct six of the 25 top-grossing films." (Grover http://www.geocities.com/~scruffles/article_12.html). "We need more artisans with his acute eye and gift for camera placement and movement, lighting, editing and the care and feeding of actors. But he is also a compulsive teller of stories about himself as he once was and still is. Each new film directs or oversees like another chapter in the autobiography of a modern Peter Pan." (Corliss http://www.geocities.com/~scruffles/article_11.html). "If he never directed another film, his place in history would be secure. No other director has been more successful at the box office. Few other directors have placed more titles on various lists of the greatest films. How many other directors have bridged the gap between popular and critical success? Not many; one thinks of Chaplin and Keaton, Ford and Hitchcock, Huston and de Mille, and although the list could go on, the important thing is to establish the company that Spielberg finds himself in." (Ebert http://www.geocities.com/~scruffles/article_6.html). If Spielberg had never directed a single film however, he would still qualify as one of Hollywood’s most successful producers. With titles like Who Framed Roger Rabbit, the three Back to the Future movies, Gremlins, The Goonies, and even The Mask of Zorro. To make a good movie is very difficult. To make a popular movie is not easy. To make both, time after time, is the Holy Grail which Hollywood seeks. (Ebert http://www.geocities.com/~scruffles/article_6.html). Spielberg sums up his work in this one simple phrase, "I dream for a living." (Corliss http://www.geocities.com/~scruffles/article_11.html).

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    Spielberg, Steven, director. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

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    Spielberg, Steven, producer. Back to the Future III.

    Spielberg, Steven, producer. Tiny Toon Adventures.

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    Spielberg, Steven, producer. The Money Pit.

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    Spielberg, Steven, director. Hook.

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