Picture a giant boulder rolling toward you. That's how fast you have to run through Steven Spielberg's movies if you want to hit even the high points: Jaws, Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, Schindler's List... (The low points, like Hook, are also interesting.) This month, the Oscar-winning director, 64, debuts two new movies, The Adventures of Tintin and War Horse. And he just started shooting his next film, Lincoln, starring Daniel Day-Lewis. Here, he reflects on his twoscore-and-three-year career.
Let's start at the beginning. I just watched your first short film, Amblin' (1968).
Good, I'm glad. You got spared the pain of my sort-of attempt at a Pepsi commercial.
A lot of people know Amblin as the name of your production company, but probably few of them have seen the short.
It was going to be a tone poem about a boy and a girl who meet in the desert, hitchhiking their way to the Pacific Ocean. Very simple story. I wrote it in a day.
At the end of the short, you find out the boy is not a hippie. Inside the guitar case is just a suit, a tie, a book...
He was me, basically. He was dressed as a hippie, but he was a secret square. It was no secret that I was a square. And I think, to my children today, it's still no secret.
I read somewhere that you were nauseous every day while making Amblin'. True?
Yes. I've always had shpilkes [Yiddish for ''nerves''].
You didn't have a career yet what were you worried about?
It's not even about the career. I have shpilkes now and I have a career. I think it's my fuel, basically my nervous stomach. That's what keeps me honest, right? And a little bit humble, in the sense that when I make a movie, I never think I have all the answers. I think I've stayed collaborative my entire career because I don't have all the answers. I come onto the set whether it was my first movie, The Sugarland Express, or Lincoln and it cuts me down to size. It's a good feeling to have.
Your first features, the TV movie Duel (1971) and The Sugarland Express (1974), are both about life or death on the road.
I've always been interested in that. I grew up in Arizona, and we subscribed to a magazine called Arizona Highways. It was always shots of roads going to infinity, going off into the vanishing point. One of my favorite movies was a film called Vanishing Point. And I remember a wonderful poster for a movie called It Came From Outer Space that had this lonely road going to nowhere, which I tried to appropriate a little bit for Close Encounters. So the idea of a straight-line highway going to a vanishing point is compelling.