Bullwhips. Reese’s Pieces. Plastic cups of water jolting inside the back of a car.
Not much on their own of course, but factor in the work of Steven Spielberg and suddenly they’re significant artefacts of box-office behemoths, visible reminders of unforgettable moments and childhood defining cinema.
But even if you weren’t lucky enough to grow up on a heavy diet of Raiders’, E.T. and Jurassic Park, happen introduced to Spielberg’s work a generation earlier – the pioneering summer blockbuster Jaws, or, for the hipsters among you, his breakneck directorial debut Duel – there’s enough in the great man’s back catalogue to ensure he’s left his mark on you at some point.
One man who understands his genius better than most is Hollywood screenwriter Bob Gale (left in the picture above), a long-time collaborator with the director thanks to productions such as 1941 and Back to the Future. So, to mark the release of The Steven Spielberg: Directors Collection on Blu-ray, ShortList.com asked Gale to tell us what makes Spielberg tick...
[Images: Director's Collection, Universal Pictures, All Star Picture Library, Amblin Entertainment]
He was one exuberant kid
Always drawn to the spectacular
"Here was a guy who could put anything on the screen that we could write. Anything. That’s what a big deal Steven was when we first worked with him. Our first project came about when Zemeckis and I finished at USC. We'd written a script for a black comedy loosely based on a historical event in Los Angeles in 1942 when a false air raid siren went off and had people believing Japanese war planes were flying over. We took it over to John Milius, another USC alumnus who told us he wanted to do for us what Francis Ford Coppola had done for him [Milius wrote the screenplay for Apocalypse Now]. John liked it so much he told his good friend Steven Spielberg about it, and as soon as Steven heard about the story, specifically a dogfight on Hollywood Blvd between two planes, he told John he had to direct it. He loved the insanity and audacity of it. The man was drawn to the spectacular. He still is."
Close Encounters Of The Geeky Kind
"Steven was working on Close Encounters' at the time he agreed to direct our film. So he asked Zemeckis and I to travel down to where he was shooting in Mobile, Alabama, so we could start writing edits for what would later be titled 1941. One thing we loved was how Steven owned his own 16mm print of Dr Strangelove, which he’d make us watch two or three times a week. That was the quintessential black comedy of all-time, which we all hoped would inspire some of the humour in our film. Steven's humour isn't as dark as Zemeckis’s or my own, he really doesn’t have a dark side of his personality, much like his movies, so Steven added gags that we would question - personally, I think he went overboard with John Belushi doing a lot of slapstick. And we did share plenty of other loves, like John Ford, Alfred Hitchcock and above all Frank Capra - just look at Back to the Future, with the white picket fences down to the over-the-top characters like Biff, the Capra-esque influences were all over it."
The guy you want to have your back
"No studio wanted to make Back To The Future until Bob had a hit with Romancing The Stone. Then everyone wanted to make it, but we took it to Steven and the timing couldn't have been better - he’d just made E.T. and was setting up Amblin Entertainment. He told us Back To The Future would be Amblin’s first production, and it helped that Steven was behind us because he protected us against the studio, Universal. During filming we had one executive keep asking us to change the title to Spaceman From Pluto, a reference to the comic seen in the barn, which we ignored. Eventually he became to adament of changing the movie title he sent us a memo about it. Unsure how to handle it, we took the memo to Steven, who told us ‘Don’t worry, I know how to handle him,’ before writing a letter back which said, ‘Hi Sid, thanks for your most humorous memo, we all got a big laugh out of it, keep ‘em coming.’ Steven knew he would too embarrassed to say that he wanted us to take the letter seriously. Luckily nobody questioned the title after that. Without Steven, it could have all been very different."
If You have to win him over, you do it in style
The Steven Spielberg: Directors Collection is out now on Blu-ray