Why did Steven Spielberg start making films?

Steven Spielberg: When the play instinct and visions make you sick

Finding someone who says bad things about Steven Spielberg is difficult. “Nice guy”, “eternal child”, “unbelievable energy” - that's how companions describe him. Only he considers himself a "little dictator". This is due to his urge to perfect. However, that should have been helpful for his success.

Almost 50 films in 40 years, as many viewers as the director of “The Jaws”, “E.T.” or “Indiana Jones” has so far not attracted anyone else to the cinema. He doesn't like to just talk about his work. But a conversation about his career? He doesn't say no at a meeting in San Diego.

World on Sunday: This Sunday you celebrate your 65th birthday. Good occasion to look back. The first thought when you think about your childhood?

Steven Spielberg: Freedom. The greatest possible that one can imagine. I enjoyed a very free upbringing. That was nice. Hardly any constraints, few regulations. At home everyone was somehow creative. Okay, there hasn't been a TV that the whole family could gather in front of every day or every weekend.

World on Sunday: Is it true that you got your dad's Super 8 camera because he was such a bad filmmaker?

Spielberg: Well, he went to the best of his ability. But filming wasn't one of his talents. The camera was a gift from my mother and he really wanted to use it. Every family outing was filmed. But unfortunately there wasn't much to see on the material. Lots of shadows and outlines. So I asked him if I could film. And he agreed.

Welt am Sonntag: You were ten years old at the time. Did you know then that you wanted to be a filmmaker?

Spielberg: It's hard to say in retrospect. On the other hand, it starts with me that I can remember things that were a long time ago better than those that just happened. Am I getting old now? But it may be that I already wanted to become a director back then. I can still remember being amazed at how quickly and playfully I managed not only to record individual scenes, but to turn them into a story. What I had always experienced in the past with my parents and grandparents, that they were able to conjure up something long forgotten with their stories, seemed to me to succeed with the medium of film.

World on Sunday: How did your parents react when you wanted to study film?

Spielberg: I think they were quite relieved at one point when I was rejected by the university twice. So they probably thought: “Now the boy will change his mind.” Nobody ever accused me of wanting to be a filmmaker. The success soon came. However, if I had been unsuccessful for over 20 years, I would certainly have been able to listen to a few sayings.

World on Sunday: And how did you actually do it almost 50 years ago?

Spielberg: Wow, almost 50 years! I feel older and older. But it's true. My beginnings as a filmmaker really go back that far. To the time, to say the same to young people, when there was no longer any silent film (laughs). It would be hard to believe if it were made into a film, but I walked from studio to studio like a representative with my 8mm films and a projector and just showed them by appointment.

World on Sunday: Sounds like a humiliating event.

Spielberg: No, not really. Don't forget that I was very young then. I broke off my training at the film school because I realized that my path would be different. Which is not to say that universities are a bad place to be a filmmaker. Through this tinkering and selling myself, I quickly noticed what was wanted and what I could deliver. And where the dividing lines run.

World on Sunday: Since then you have made many of the most successful films in film history. Are there any mementos that you always have with you?

Spielberg: Oh no, I think all of these things are very fleeting. Luckily. I have no idea what a director's chair would look like today if I had used it over and over since that time. No, there is actually only one thing that - apart from loyal friends and co-workers - has accompanied me over the decades: the saying "Stick to the point, don't forget the focus!"

Too many times I've seen movies start with the best of intentions. And then suddenly finances or sensitivities played a role that definitely had no place on the set. Therefore, if I notice that someone is not focused during the shooting, I can become a little dictator.

World on Sunday: Has a film ever pushed you to your limits?

Spielberg: I would almost like to say: every film. It's always difficult to start a new project. But once I've started, this playful instinct comes through. Then I want to bring my vision to the canvas. It's really fun. I can only remember stress in 1992/1993, which can also bring you to the hospital.

World on Sunday: At that time you filmed “Schindler's List” and “Jurassic Park” at the same time.

Spielberg: Yes. Sometimes I am amazed that I survived this stress. I have to go back a little. You might think that Spielberg is planning to make these two films. But of course that's nonsense.

World on Sunday: How did it go then?

Spielberg: In the week when “E.T.” was released in German cinemas in 1982, I bought the rights to “Schindler's List”. At that time there were already a few colleagues who advised me to try the material. But I was undecided. How would people have reacted if the director of "E.T." had made such a film? I think it would have been some kind of flick back then, but not “Schindler's List”.