9 Things We Learned From ‘Spielberg’

We’re in the age of television, and Hollywood knows it. There’s only a small handful of names that can pack a movie theater, and one of those belongs to a man who needs little introduction. Like Cher or Beyonce or Adele or Madonna, this man has achieved a certain iconic level where only one name is necessary: Spielberg. As one of the most prolific directors in history, it’s every movie-lover and wanna-be-director’s dream to get inside the head of Steven Spielberg, the man behind some of Hollywood’s best and most beloved films and HBO‘s newest documentary Spielberg does just that.

Lawrence of Arabia almost ended Spielberg’s career before it even began.

Spielberg details a story of seeing Lawrence of Arabia when he was 16 and it made him think maybe he couldn’t be a film director because the bar was too high. “I had such a profound reaction the film making, I went back and saw the film a week later. And the week after that, and the week after that,” he said. “I realized this was going to be what I was going to do or I was going to die trying.” At the end of the doc, he said he still watches Lawrence of Arabia at least once every year.

He never went to film school because he couldn’t get in.

Due to his “C’s get degrees” attitude as a kid, he was rejected from USC’s film school, which spurred the birth of a Hollywood legend. The story goes: a young Spielberg snuck into Universal Studios, claimed an office, put his name on the door and convinced everyone around he belonged there (much like Leonardo DiCaprio’s character in Catch Me If You Can), however, this is neither confirmed nor denied. He score a seven-year TV contract by impressing Universal Television’s Sidney Sheinberg, which led to him taking on big projects and big stars at the ripe age of 21.

A lot of Jaws wasn’t written until hours before they were supposed to start filming each day.

“Shooting started May 2 and I was hired on, I think, May 3,” Richard Dreyfuss said. “They had no shark, no script and no cast when they started.” Spielberg recalls never having the script locked into place, making every day a surprise if they were going to have pages for the cast or not.

Spielberg thrives on making decisions out of panic and fear of failure.

Despite the massive success he’s achieved over the years, Spielberg said he never does well when he plans out a movie or knows what he’s doing going into a day of shooting. “The more I’m feeling confident and secure about something, the less i’m going to put out,” he said. “The more I’m feeling ‘Uh oh, this could be a major problem on getting the story out,’ I’m going to work overtime to meet the challenge and get the job done.” Despite his dislike of the stress and nerves, it’s a feeling he says he needs in order to create his best ideas. Throughout the doc, Spielberg credits a lot of his success to his intuition and never second guessing himself in the moment.

During the ’60s, Spielberg, Martin Scoresese, Brian De Palma, Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas were a sort of rat pack known as “the movie brats.”

In their early years, the five now iconic directors spent a lot of time together bouncing off ideas, critique each other’s work and, in some cases, working together. “When we got together it was like a fraternity of directors,” De Palma said.

Close Encounters of The Third Kind was based on a film Spielberg wrote and shot at age 17 called Firelight.

Spielberg was under a lot of pressure when making Close Encounters of The Third Kind. This was his first film after Jaws and he was charged with proving the success of that film wasn’t a fluke while Sony Pictures was close to bankruptcy and “bet the whole farm” on the success of this film. He took a film he had written when he was 17 that was about the first meeting between humans and aliens and turned it into a major motion picture.

A lot of his movies and their iconic scenes were spawned from his insecurities and the damage caused by his parent’s divorce.

There’s an obsession with the idea of an absent father that comes from his real life. When is parents divorced, he took a lot of anger out on his father (with whom he didn’t speak to for 15 years). He recalls one day he saw his father breakdown in the kitchen and he remembers being so mad at him for crying. “He was crying like a little boy,” he said. “I just started screaming ‘cry baby’ at him as loud as I could.” Cut to a nearly identical scene in Close Encounters. He said it was the most personal film he had made to that point because it was about the “disillusion of a family.” This was also prevalent in E.T., Catch Me If You Can, and even the Indiana Jones movies to an extent.

Studios originally denied working with Spielberg on Indiana Jones because of his reputation for going over budget.

After the failure of 1941, George Lucas pitched Raiders of the Lost Ark to Spielberg, who was at first more interested in doing a James Bond film. But, because of his reputation for going over budget and imploding schedules, no studio wanted to touch it: “Every studio said no,” Lucas recalls. “Some of them even said, ‘If you can get a different director we’ll do it, but Steven can’t make that film for $20 million.'” But, Spielberg refused to let his friend down and was determined to make it work by any means necessary.

Spielberg lead the charge on the use of special effects in films twice.

Citing 2001: A Space Odyssey as his inspiration, Spielberg wanted to take Close Encounters of The Third Kind even further as a before-its-time film. It was the first time two images were superimposed together with moving special effects. Then, several years later, Spielberg was working on Jurassic Park and was in search of a dinosaur robot that could run — a tall order for the early 1990s. Dennis Muren called Spielberg and his team and told them he was working on something that could be a game-changer, which ultimately ended up being the computer-animated dinosaurs that gave the look and feel Spielberg needed to make these prehistoric beasts real.

Spielberg premiers Saturday, October 7 at 8pm ET on HBO, and will be available that night on-demand.