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By Jarrod Sarafin
June 17, 2007
Steven Spielberg on the set of WAR OF THE WORLDS (2005).
© Paramount Pictures
I began the Star Spotlight column back on March 4, 2007 featuring George Lucas as one of the Godfathers of Modern Cinema. It featured one of the men responsible for changing the landscapes of Hollywood over the last 30 years. A man who shell shocked pop culture into believing that anything can be done given the right motivations and the right tools of the trade. You can read that column right here.
There are four Godfathers of Modern Cinema and they all stood together at the last Academy Awards at the presentation of the Best Director award. These four visionaries whom helped change the last few generations of movie audiences are George Lucas, Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese & this week’s focus, Steven Spielberg.
Ever since Steven was a kid, he had his eye on making movies though not even he could imagine the success and powerful influence he would build in his adult life. With most future stars, sure they say the fell in love with acting or movies early on by watching them as much as they could in their childhood years. Steven Spielberg goes farther then that. When he was a kid, he was actually making amateur movies on his 8 mm camera and charging admission for his home movies. Even as a kid, he was a business minded genius. He had 3 younger sisters, one of them sold popcorn during these “special shows”.
At the age of 13, Spielberg filmed a 40 minute war movie titled Escape to Nowhere.
Think about that for a second. Already at 13, he already had the vision of direction for what he wanted in life and how he was going to accomplish the task of making that vision a reality. We’re talking about serious dedication, Maniacs.
At the age of 16 while attending Arcadia High School in Arizona, Spielberg both wrote and directed a 140 minute science fiction film titled Firelight using a budget of 400 dollars. He would actually get this film shown in a local movie theater where he would gain a profit of 100.
Like I say, his business sense involved with creating movies has always been with him.
It was around this time where his parents would divorce. His mother and 3 younger sisters would stay behind in Arizona and he would travel to California with his father and this is a memorable time for Spielberg, albeit for difficult and painful reasons. It seems he went through hell finishing his highschool years in California. He was rediculed in his senior year of high school after the move. One of the bullies favorite nicknames for him was “Spielbug”. Judging about his family themes in his later movies, being seperated from his sisters and the splitting of his family didn’t help the situation at all. He describes his first years in California as “hell on Earth” and the “worse experience of his life”.
Obviously things would get better for him as time moved forward. Those bullies who haunted him would probably beg to be in the place of influence and power within Hollywood that Spielberg would go on to become.
They wouldn’t be the only ones whom would later question their decisions in regards to Steven. You see, during this same period of time, Spielberg also applied three separate times to attend film schools at UCLA and USC. He was rejectec every single time because of his poor grade average, a C grade average. Obviously, this wouldn’t stop him from his future career. Years later after he became a Godfather of Modern Cinema, he would receive a honorary degree from USC. At the time though, since the above schools rejected him, he would go onto attend California State University at Long Beach. He wouldn’t stay in college long though. While attending the college, he began a 3 week long intern job at Universal Studios. This would be the catalyst that would change his life. While there, he made another short movie titled Amblin. (Similar in name to his early production company name). The 24 minute long movie was immediately noticed by Sidney Sheinberg, the Vice President in charge of television production for Universal.
Just like that, Steven Spielberg’s future was in motion.
He would drop out of college now and become the youngest signed director for Universal. Under the long term contract and now out of college, Spielberg’s first job was putting together portions of the pilot, Night Gallery. He would go onward to do some more tv shows for the studios from 68-early 70s before landing a 3 tv movie deal for the studio. Universal liked what they saw out of his tv work and gave him 3 tv movies to create.
His first tv movie would become a favorite of mine.
Maniacs, if you haven’t had a chance to watch this movie, I’d recommend it. Not only was his first hollywood backed movie but it was also pretty suspenseful. It featured Richard Matheson as a yuppie like driver who cut off a sinister looking trucker while driving down the lone desert like highways. Obviously this was a bad move or the trucker was having a really…really bad day because the sinister looking truck ended up chasing the Matheson around for the next hour trying to kill him in some very tense moments. Yes, there’s a bit of cheesy goodness when the truck finally falls off a cliff while making T-Rex like roaring noises but damn if this movie didn’t spell a talent in director Spielberg. It was definitely an early glimpse into his vision.
His second movie was never actually distributed or released but his third and final tv movie as part of the deal by directing a movie pilot for a future show titled Savage which starred Martin Landau.
It was around this time where his fellow Modern Day Godfathers, Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas, were creating The Godfather and American Graffitti. Spielberg would be making his first big screen release at the same time making The Sugarland Express. While the film did poorly at the box office, it did get him noticed in circles and it gave him critical success from the trade magazines like The Hollywood Reporter. This achievement in gaining notice got him the attention of producers Brown and Zanuck who were looking to get a Peter Benchley based horror movie off the ground.
You folks of course know what I’m talking about here.
Once again, you see the patterns here. Spielberg is making Jaws. Coppola has wrapped up The Godfather is working on Apocolapyse Now. George Lucas is working a little known film which Fox thinks will be a miserable failure titled Star Wars. Cinema is now changing by the visions and imaginations of the men named above. Think of it as a runaway locomotive chugging along though the popular culture and these men are the conductors who lead the charge and the change into the history books.
From Jaws onward, Spielberg will be known to just about everyone inside and outside of Hollywood.
To name his movies is to see how far a success he would become over the next two decades both in critical circles and in box office successful receipts.
Movies directed by Steven Spielberg:
The Last Gun (1959)------Childhood movie
Fighter Squad (1961)------Childhood movie
Escape to Nowhere (1961)—Childhood movie
Firelight (1964)----Childhood movie
Amblin’ (1968)----Got him noticed and signed by Universal Studios
Night Gallery (1969)---First tv project
Duel (1971)----First tv movie
Something Evil (1972)---Second tv movie
Savage (1973)---Third tv movie
The Sugarland Express (1974)---First Big Screen movie
Jaws (1975)----Where he met stardom and began his impact on the public conscious
Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)--based off his childhoood movie Firelight
Indiana Jones & Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
E.T the Extra Terrestrial (1982)
Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983)
Indiana Jones & The Temple of Doom (1984)
The Color Purple (1985)
Empire of the Sun (1987)
Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade (1989)
Jurassic Park (1993)
Schinder’s List (1993)
The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997)
Saving Private Ryan (1997)
The Unfinished Journey (1999)
Artificial Intelligence: AI (2001)
Minority Report (2002)
Catch Me if You Can (2002)
The Terminal (2004)
War of the Worlds (2005)
Future Movies Directed by Steven Spielberg
Indiana Jones 4 (Memorial Day Weekend, 2008)
Future Movies Produced by Steven Spielberg
Nine Lives (2007)---mini series
Jurassic Park IV (2008)
The Talisman (2008)—mini series---based on Stephen King’s work
The Pacific (2008)----mini series----based alongside Band of Brothers companion
Awards won by Steven Spielberg
Best Director Oscaraward for Saving Private Ryan
Best Director Oscar award for Schindler’s List
Best Picture Oscar award for Schinder’s List
Irving G. Thalberg Memorial award in 1987
Best Director Saturn award for Minority Report
Best Writing Saturn award for Artificial Intelligence
Best Director Saturn award for Jurassic Park
Best Director Saturn award for Temple of Doom
Best Director Saturn award for Close Encounters of the Third Kind
Best Writing Saturn award for Close Encounters of the Third Kind
Note: If I were to list his foreign awards and his various lifetime achievements, I go on for another 10 pages of listing awards. Needless to say, he has a lot of awards to store in his trophy case.
The last few years, Spielberg has been in the top rankings in most trade magazines “Top 100 Most Influential People” for the obvious reasons that he is one of the most influential people around the industry. He’s a powerhouse. His studio Dreamworks may have had financial trouble in which Paramount has helped bail them out but that doesn’t stop Spielberg from being as powerful as he was before. Also, with him being on top of so many lists and within so much influential circles, he finds himself as a target for a lot of people. When anyone is on top, they have a bullseye for those below them. Same case for Spielberg.
Whatever the case on his critics, his impact on Hollywood and Cinema is fact and his status is already edging upon legendary status. I’ll finish this in the same closing statement as I did for fellow compadre, George Lucas.
It’s the Godfathers of Modern Cinema such as George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Francis Ford Coppola & Martin Scorsese whom give credence to the old adage “Dreams really do come true”. They’re the men who brought their masterpieces to real life using script paper as a canvas and camera lens as their paintbrush. They open up their imaginations for the world to see and give us all a chance to be apart of it.