Steven Spielberg, the self-declared nerd who became the most famous Hollywood director of all time, has lost none of his determination. At his press conference in Beverly Hills for his latest movie The Post, he’s there for one purpose and one purpose only – to make sure the film gets all possible award season recognition.
Thus far he’s succeeded. The National Board Of Review gave it three of its top awards, Best Picture, Best Actor to Tom Hanks, and Best Actress to Meryl Streep.
But no Best Director award.
After a lifetime of successes beyond anyone’s wildest dreams, the 71-year-old takes it in stride. This is the man who in one year was responsible for both his classic Oscar-winning Schindler’s List and, at the time. the all-time biggest moneymaker Jurassic Park.
Should it surprise anyone that he has his share of detractors? In Hollywood, the name of the game is envy. As Neil Simon once said it: “Success is having the No. 1 movie at the box office, and your best friend’s movie has just bombed.”
Spielberg has two Oscars for Best Director – one for Schindler’s List and the other for Saving Private Ryan. After winning the Oscar a second time, I asked him if he’s no longer the kid with the most expensive toy in the world (as Orson Welles described filmmaking) and if so how has he changed?
He replied: “As I grow older, I find myself having a responsibility to tell stories that are more authentic. Since Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan, I’ve shifted my point of view.
“I haven’t changed my mind about things, but I see the world today as a very protective father would.”
His latest movie, The Post, tells the story of an expose of a cover-up of government secrets that spans three decades in the United States.
The Post happened so quickly – it only started shooting in February (2017) and was shown to the press in November. How was that possible?
I was busy making another movie, Ready Player One, when (producer) Amy Pascal sent me a script which had been written by a 31-year-old writer. I couldn’t believe the timing. I thought that the issues and the answers in this particular story needed to be told immediately and not wait until I am available again to make a movie in 2018.
You’ll be travelling with the film promoting it in different countries. Is that something you enjoy?
I’m not a good traveller. I go where movies take me, and when I am not making movies, I go where my wife (actress Kate Capshaw) tells me to go, and she is a great traveller.
I think probably the most fascinating and compelling place that I have ever visited was China.
You’ve been at the forefront in hiring women. Ever wondered why?
I have had a lot of female co-workers. You’re right. My companies have been run by women, starting with Kathleen Kennedy, who ran Amblin for me for many, many years, and then transitioning with Laurie MacDonald who with her husband Walter Parks ran Dreamworks for about 12 years, and then Stacy Snyder, who ran Dreamworks for the next seven years.
And I am probably looking for a woman to run this new iteration of Amblin partners right now. The reason I guess, I had a very strong mum, and my mum was more of a friend to me than a primary caregiver. I learned so much from her, particularly about managing relationships, managing difficult personalities.
But beyond that I like that women are better attuned to creating a kind of ambiance, a family culture. And that’s the kind of culture where I can be most creative.
I am better working in that kind of culture than I am working, like on Saving Private Ryan, surrounded by guys all day long for three months.
You’ve talked about the importance of the Asian market. Are they a different audience?
The Asian market has very, very hungry people who are looking for not just tent pole Marvel type movies, but movies of substance and movies about something real.
And those markets statistically, have opened up beyond what I imagined 20 years ago.
Knowing what you know now, what advice would you give your younger self?
I would probably have said to my younger self, you are going to really succeed, so why don’t you just relax? And stop biting your fingernails, because it’s going to happen eventually. Don’t worry so much about it.
Do you still bite your fingernails?
I started biting my nails again about three weeks ago when I finished The Post.
Your HBO documentary (Spielberg, released in 2017) reveals a close knit family of young filmmakers. Are you still that close?
The thing was, George Lucas and Francis Coppola and (Martin) Scorsese and Brian De Palma and the whole group of us, we just wanted to make movies and tell stories. We didn’t think anybody would let us do it.
Francis was the first success; he broke through with You’re A Big Boy Now and then The Godfather. And then he became our Godfather, giving us the encouragement to keep making those 16mm films we were making.
Francis was a real mentor for all of us. We weren’t looking for the success we later achieved. If we could simply continue to tell stories on film, we would be satisfied for the rest of our lives. We weren’t expecting any of this.
And the most amazing thing is that we have stayed collaborators and mentors for each other, ever since Marty and I met in 1967 and George and I met in 1968 and Brian and I met in 1968. And even though it all happened a long time ago, we have stayed together.
What does it take to succeed in Hollywood, luck or talent?
I think it has to be talent. And of course hard work. I mean every single movie is hard physical labour.
It’s not just standing around all day, and when I say physical labour, it’s about creating something … like building a house. It’s like assembling many pieces, and every piece requires the collaboration of a hundred people.
So, it’s extraordinary to sit back, which every once in a while I do, and just watch everyone build the set and light the set and observe the actors working on their dialogue off in a corner. Nobody is drinking coffee and kibitzing.
It’s the most collaborative business in the world and the most exciting hard work that you could ever imagine yourself doing.
Wearing so many hats – producer, director, writer, film mogul, head of a studio, friend of Presidents – when do you find time to be a parent to seven kids?
My children always come first. I mean, people have waited hours to get me into a business meeting or a script meeting because I am doing a carpool, I’m taking my kids to school, I’m watching my kids get some kind of award.
That has always come first for me ever since I began having children. That’s always been my priority and everything else simply has to wait.