Steven Spieldberg on Story

Here some quotes from Spieldberg that I think are pretty powerful. 

“The older I get, the more I look at movies as a moving miracle. Audiences are harder to please if you’re just giving them special effects, but they’re easy to please if it’s a good story. The audience is also the toughest critic – a good story that exists in your world may not be the first choice for an audience. So I just do the best I can.

I’m as guilty as anyone, because I helped to herald the digital era with “Jurassic Park”. But the danger is that it can be abused to the point where nothing is eye-popping any more. The difference between making “Jaws” 31 years ago and “War of the Worlds” is that today, anything I can imagine, I can realize on film. Then, when my mechanical shark was being repaired and I had to shoot something, I had to make the water scary. I relied on the audience’s imagination, aided by where I put the camera. Today, it would be a digital shark. It would cost a hell of a lot more, but never break down. As a result, I probably would have used it four times as much, which would have made the film four times less scary. Jaws is scary because of what you don’t see, not because of what you do. We need to bring the audience back into partnership with storytelling.

[When asked about being conflicted whether to make more artistic films, or more commercial films]: All the time, but when you have a story that is very commercial and simple, you have to find the art. You have to take the other elements of the film and make them as good as possible, and doing that will uplift the film.

I’ve learned that we can do just about anything under the sun with computers. So the question becomes, should we? Or, should we remind ourselves, as filmmakers, to be careful and remember that there is nothing more important than how a story is told? If storytelling becomes a byproduct of the digital revolution, then the medium itself is corrupted. On the other hand, if digital tools are simply a way to enhance a conventional story, then in that case, they can make telling that story easier. It’s easier and more practical to show 20,000 soldiers in the Crimean War using computers, obviously. So, that’s fine. But now, we have technology that can replace actors, or an entire performance in an already existing movie. We could cut out Humphrey Bogart and replace him with Vin Diesel, if somebody wanted. Who would want to? Well, there might be people who would. That’s why we have to be careful. Movies reflect our cultural heritage from the period in time in which they were made. Therefore, altering them can destroy that historical perspective. That’s disrespectful of history, which is a big issue for me. The situation is like walking a tightrope – we have to move forward, but we have to be careful.

I’ve never used John Williams to tell people how to feel. I use John Williams to enhance my vision and my thoughts emotionally from scene to scene. He’ll signal when the shark is coming, which are the most famous single notes next to Beethoven’s Fifth. In telling a story, I will use every tool in my arsenal. I will do anything in my power to communicate the best story as I know how.”

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