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Steven Spielberg: A True Visionary

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Steven Spielberg is one of the greatest film directors in Hollywood history whose films have influenced many of Hollywood’s most artistic film directors including JJ Abrams, Guillermo Del Toro, Ridley Scott, and Peter Jackson. His career spans over a forty-year period which includes credits as a director, producer, and writer to his name for his work in both television and films. The 32 films he has directed and the hundreds films he has produced, have grossed nearly $8.5 billion worldwide making him the highest grossing filmmaker of all time and highest earning filmmaker in Hollywood with a net worth of $3 billion. Three of his highest grossing which includes his work as the director of Jaws (1975), E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982), and Jurassic Park (1982) are the highest grossing movies at the time of their release. His films have addressed humanistic issues including family, the Holocaust, the transatlantic slave trade, war, and terrorism. The settings of his films often take place in suburban areas instead of areas with a higher population and features characters that face unexpected obstacles in their journey.

Spielberg's interest in film began in 1958 at the age of 12 when he became a Boy Scout after fulfilling the requirement for the photography merit badge by making a 9-minute 8 mm film called “The Last Gunfight.” In 1962, Spielberg won first prize at a film festival for a 40-minute film titled “Escape to Nowhere,” a World War II film that featured children including his sister Anne as soldiers. His first independent feature film as a director and writer, “Firelight” (1964), would become the basis for his 1977 film, “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” a 140-minute science fiction shot on a budget of $500, screened at a local cinema in Phoenix, Arizona for a dollar per ticket, earning about $501 in ticket sales. He earned his Bachelor Degree in Film and Electronic Art in 2002 from California State University, Long Beach, thirty-five years after he enrolled.

His big break in film came while working as an intern at Universal Studios, where he shot his first short film in 1968 called “Amblin.” The short film follows the story of a young couple in the late 1960s, on their journey from a desert to a beach, the film has no dialogue and is silent except for an acoustic guitar-led soundtrack. He would later use the title of the film for his production company “Amblin Entertainment.” Following the release of the short film, he went on to direct episodes for TV shows including a segment called “Eyes” for the 1969 pilot episode for Night Gallery. Universal Studios, later signed Spielberg on to make four made for TV movies. The first TV film he made was an adaptation of “The Duel,” based on the Richard Matheson story of the same name. Spielberg’s first full-length feature film released in 1974 was “Sugarland Express” starring Goldie Hawn, which told the story of a married couple on the run from the police as they try to regain custody of their child. Following his work directing TV shows and a movie, Steven Spielberg became a household name following the release of the 1975 move “Jaws.”

After purchasing the film rights to the adaptation of “Jaws,” based on the novel by Peter Benchley. Universal Studios approached Steven Spielberg as the director a year after he directed “Sugarland Express.” The movie told the story of a small New England town who falls victim to a Great White Shark and the efforts to capture and kill the beast before it strikes again. It featured Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss, and Robert Shaw. The film was a production nightmare for both the cast and the crew. The first problem of filming was where to begin filming. At the time no director who had shot a film on open water had ever repeated the process again due to how unpredictable the weather is on the ocean. Spielberg was asked by the studio to film on a back lot so that he could manage the hydraulics of the situation but he refused saying, “I want to go out and battle the elements. I want people to think this is really happening; that the shark is really in the ocean and I want a real ocean. I don't want this to look like The Old Man and the Sea, with the painted background and all cycloramas and all of that.” Among the challenges of filming “Jaws,” was its budget. David Brown a producer for the film said the budget “was $4 million and the picture wound up costing and the picture wound up costing $9 million.” Another problem was the mechanical shark in the film breaking down resulting in the shark being shown less in the film. Despite all of the difficulties of filming “Jaws,” it went on to earn over $470 million at the box office and critical acclaim. An admirer of the film director Alfred Hitchcock praised Spielberg, saying, “He's the first one of us who doesn't see the proscenium arch.” “Jaws,” went on to earn Spielberg his first Academy Award nomination, winning three Oscars including best visual effects and best original score. The movie spawned three sequels each failing to live up to the first film.

Following the success of “Jaws,” Spielberg moved on to other film projects that showed how artistic he can be. Two years after the release of “Jaws,” he directed “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” which saw him working again with actor Richard Dreyfus. This film began with the recurring theme in his movies about family, which later became an important theme in E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial. The theme of broken families, was used in his films to show how it has related to him in his life because of his parent's divorce.

Steven Spielberg: A Biography, Second Edition

© 2020 Nathan Neel

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