Conversation: Abrams, Cameron and Spielberg

Posted on July 7, 2011

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DGA Tribute to Steven Spielberg

DGA 75th Anniversary “Game Changers” Series: A Tribute to Steven Spielberg, 6/11/2011

Steven Spielberg has been praised as being the most commercial director ever … and vilified for the same. Whether you care for Spielberg’s films or not – and I most certainly do – you can’t deny his contribution to the artform. He singlehandedly introduced the summer blockbuster to the industry and, while some would curse him for such a thing, it’s a concept that has managed to keep the industry afloat and growing for the better part of 40 years.

His greatest gift, of course, has been to cultivate such a universal accessibility for film. This is, surprisingly, a rare ability and I can honestly say that there is likely no other director in the history of the medium who is as skilled at it as Spielberg. There are plenty of affable people out there who make “mainstream” films, but so often they tend to not include all of the elements that make Spielberg’s work scream. As a result, I think people tend to look at his work through a filter of the sub-par popular schlock that has either tried to emulate what he does or veers so far from it by overemphasizing a singular element to the point of fetishism. I think Michael Bay with his Action Bay-llet is a prime example of this. (And no, the irony of the two collaborating on the woeful Transformers live-action franchise is not lost on me.)

I think his next greatest gift is one that is definitive of an exceptional leader: the trust and insight to surround yourself with immensely talented people. In certain ways, Spielberg has been looked at as a technician (though certainly not to the degree that a George Lucas or a James Cameron is), but even he admits this is far from the truth. He merely opens himself up to the skill and ability of those around him, let’s them wow him, and gives them full support to push forward make things a reality. And he does this in every aspect of the filmmaking process, from the writers to the actors to the various members of the crew from all disciplines.

Spielberg’s guiding force is the story, and a humanistic story at that. This is what makes his films so accessible, even works like Schindler’s List, Munich, and Saving Private Ryan, which all feature grim subject matter. I think this also sets him up to be thrashed by hipper-than-thou critics of his work nowadays. He’s somehow looked at as unexciting or boring or safe. The teaser trailer for his latest movie, War Horse, recently premiered and the reaction online was less than stellar. Personally, though I can’t say I’m that enthralled with the subject matter of the film from what I know of it, I was absolutely mesmerized by just this snippit. His command and self-assuredness was easily evident, but the teaser also gave us just enough of the human story – that in – to let us know we can trust the master.

I’m not a fan of all of his work. I think the period in the late ’90s-early 2000s where he seemed to be searching for ways to grow produced some of his weaker films. And yet, even in movies like War of the Worlds, Minority Report, and The Terminal, I found myself captivated by the genuine emotion and distinct characterization he allowed to breathe. (A.I.: Artificial Intelligence was a real mixed bag for me because it felt too much like Spielberg was trying to make a Kubrick film.) I challenge anyone to sit down with any of his movies and not to be hooked by someone in the story. It’s a very underappreciated ability too often dismissed with snide asides.

This humanistic approach is something touched on at good length in a wonderful conversation between directors James Cameron, J.J. Abrams, and Spielberg, moderated by director Michael Apted. As part of a series recognizing “Game Changers” in honor of its 75th anniversary, the Directors Guild of America brought these four gentlemen together for an intimate and compelling chat about Spielberg’s career. It’s nearly two hours long and a splendid investment if you are interested in film or filmmaking. See below for the video.

Video
The video can’t be embedded, but if you click on the picture below, you’ll be taken to the DGA website to view the discussion and see a photo gallery from the evening’s event.

DGA Tribute to Director Steven Spielberg

Credit to Slashfilm for bringing this to my attention: “Watch a 2-Hour Discussion Between Steven Spielberg, JJ Abrams and James Cameron

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Posted in: Movies