The Life Of An Auteur: Steven Spielberg

Born in 1946, Steven Spielberg would go on to become one of the founders of the New Hollywood era, establishing himself as one of the most respected and prolific directors of all time. In his youth, he worked in television while having a few minor film releases before becoming a household name with his film Jaws in 1975. The film went on to be called the first summer blockbuster, giving him enough credit to make other films such as Raiders of the Lost Ark, Jurassic Park, E.T., and countless others. Known for his incredible versatility, see what makes Spielberg one of the greatest directors of all time, and how he got there.

He Was In The Boy Scouts When He Discovered His Love For Film

Steven Spielberg in Rome
Mondadori via Getty Images
Mondadori via Getty Images

For a lot of successful directors, their passion for film started at a young age, which was the case for Steven Spielberg. It came about while he was involved with the Boy Scouts.

In the program, Spielberg would become an Eagle Scout, the highest rank achievable. While earning his photography badge, he ran into an issue when he realized that his father’s camera was broken, so he made a short film instead, which was a 9-minute long film titled The Last Gunfight.

He Was The Youngest Director To Land A Long-Term Contract Deal

Spielberg with a megaphone
Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

When Spielberg was attending California State University, Long Beach, he scored an unpaid internship at the Universal Studios editing department. There, he was allowed to create a short film of his own, which he titled Amblin.

The short film caught the attention and was met with high praise, especially from Sidney Sheinberg, Universal Studio’s vice president. Sheinberg then offered Spielberg a 7-year directing contract with the company, establishing him as the youngest director to ever earn one.

He Didn’t Earn His College Degree Until The 2000s

Steven Spielberg graduating
Maury Phillips/WireImage
Maury Phillips/WireImage

After his offer from Universal Studios, Spielberg decided to drop out of California State University, Long Beach and work full time. Throughout his life, he managed to acquire five different honorary degrees, although he always regretted not finishing one of his own.

Then, in 2002, 34 years after he dropped out, he went back to CSU Long Beach and earned his BA in Film Production and Electronic Arts, even wearing his cap and gown during graduation. He claims he did it for his kids and all young people to show the importance of a college education.

He Owns 2.5% Of The First Star Wars Movie

George Lucas and Steven Spielberg
Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images
Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images

Often associated with each other, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas have been long time friends, constantly visiting each other’s film sets. In their position as early filmmakers, in 1976, the two made an agreement.

At the time, Spielberg was working on Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Lucas was making the first Stars Wars, and they agreed they would give each other 2.5% of their earnings from their films. Star Wars garnered Spielberg a heft $40 million, whereas Close Encounters of the Third Kind earned Lucas $13 million.

He Didn’t Take A Salary For Schindler’s List

Steven Spielberg giving a speech
Carlo Allegri/Getty Images
Carlo Allegri/Getty Images

Although Steven Spielberg has made an insane amount of films throughout his career, he claims the one that had the biggest impact on him was Schindler’s List in 1993. It earned Liam Neeson an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor and grossed over $300 million, which Spielberg never saw a dime of.

He noted that it would be “blood money” to take and that the movie’s message had more than monetary value. Instead, he used his profits to establish the Shoah Foundation to honor survivors of the Holocaust. He also got school credit for the film.

His Dog Had Quite A Reputation

Spielberg giving a speech
Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images
Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images

Before his dog passed, Spielberg made sure that the cocker spaniel, Elmer, was featured in several of his films.

For instance, Elmer was featured in films including Close Encounters of the Third Kind, 1941, Jaws, The Sugarland Express, and more, making him one of the most consistent actors in any of his films. While many dogs in his films die on screen, he could never have Elmer suffer the same fate.

He Suffers From Dyslexia

Spielberg giving a speech
Michael Short/Getty Images
Michael Short/Getty Images

Many people consider Steven Spielberg to be unstoppable in the film industry and have no idea he struggles with dyslexia. In his youth, he was often made fun of for his inability to read well even though his dyslexia went undiagnosed.

He wasn’t diagnosed until he was 60 years old! Well after he had already established himself as one of the greatest filmmakers in history. It’s clear that Spielberg wasn’t going to let a learning disability set him back by any means.

He Made $1 From His First Film

Spielberg at a premier
Michael Tran/FilmMagic
Michael Tran/FilmMagic

Although Steven Spielberg is worth billions of dollars today, the director wasn’t always made of money. When Spielberg was just 16 years old, his first film was a science fiction movie titled Firelight.

His budget consisted of $500 and was spent on his high school friends, a clarinet, and his garage. The film was shown at the Phoenix Little Theater in Arizona, earning him a whopping $1 in profits. It may not have been his greatest success, but he had to start somewhere.

He Likes His Firearms

Spielberg wearing a hat
Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic
Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic

Interestingly, Steven Spielberg actually owns one of the biggest gun collections on the East Coast and is known to shoot in his free time.

According to actor Shia LaBeouf, he’s actually pretty good with a shotgun, claiming that “He’s an Olympic shot. The Hand-eye coordination of that man is unlike anything I’ve seen. If he weren’t a great director, he could be one of our greatest snipers.” Most people see Spielberg behind a camera, and definitely not a gun!

He’s Been Turned Down To Direct James Bond Twice

Spielberg giving a speech
Michael Kovac/Getty Images
Michael Kovac/Getty Images

Considering Spielberg’s incredible success throughout his career, it’s curious that anybody would turn him down for directing a film. Well, he’s been turned down from directing James Bond not once but twice.

Towards the beginning of his career, Spielberg approached James Bond director Albert Broccoli about being involved in one of his films. Broccoli told Spielberg that he needed more experience before he could direct one of his films. By the time Spielberg asked for a second time, he was too expensive for the studio to afford.

He Worked In Television

Spielberg clapping
Franco Origlia/WireImage
Franco Origlia/WireImage

After the success of his debut film Amblin’ in 1969, Spielberg found himself doing professional television work on the series Night Gallery, a follow-up show to The Twilight Zone.

His first job was a segment for the pilot episode titled “Eyes,” starring Joan Crawford, about a blind woman who gets an eye transplant just before a blackout. Spielberg struggled in his position, with the show needing to be saved in the editing room. He was almost even fired while working on the second segment called “Make Me Laugh.”

He Almost Made A Movie Devoted To Toilets

Steven Spielberg at an event
Frazer Harrison/Getty Images
Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

After releasing Duel in 1971, Spielberg was interested in adapting Wallace Reyburn’s 1969 book about the invention of toilets titled Flushed With Pride: The Story of Thomas Crapper. For his project, Spielberg managed to get the soon to be famous writers for American Graffiti, Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz to write a treatment for it.

However, Spielberg’s agent was far from impressed with the directors idea for the film and told him, “Steven, if this is the kind of movie you want to make, I don’t want to represent you.”

Shooting Jaws Scarred Him

Spielberg in front of poster -160167013
Universal/Getty Images
Universal/Getty Images

Today, the struggles that Spielberg faced while filming Jaws are nothing short of legendary. From the mechanical shark, named “Bruce,” always breaking down to dealing with the weather while filming on the coast, the entire shoot was traumatic for Spielberg.

The director recalls that filming Jaws was the hardest time of his life, resulting in him experiencing several mental breakdowns for the fear that his career was going down the drain. Luckily, the film was a major hit and even gave way to the summer blockbuster.

He Wanted To Get His Own Hands Dirty

Spielberg receives a lifetime achievement award
Franco Origlia/Getty Images
Franco Origlia/Getty Images

Although Poltergeist is considered to be a horror classic today, at the time, a lot of people assumed that the movie would have turned out differently had it not been put in the hands of a horror director such as Tobe Hooper. Some horror fans thought that Spielberg was too family-friendly of a director, although he proved many of them wrong.

One memorable scene in the film is when Marty, played by Martin Casella, begins tearing off his own face when looking in the mirror. As it turns out, Spielberg thought the scene seemed so fun to film that it’s his own hands peeling the gelatin mask off Casella.

He Helped Introduce PG-13 Ratings

Steven Spielberg at Cannes
Ian Gavan/WireImage for Electrolux
Ian Gavan/WireImage for Electrolux

After several of his films were criticized by audiences for being too scary for children such as Gremlins and Raiders of the Lost Ark, Spielberg suggested a rating between PG and R to president Jack Valenti of the Motion Picture Association of America.

In an interview with Vanity Fair Spielberg recalled saying “Let’s call it PG-13 or PG-14, depending on how you want to design the slide rule.” In the end, Valenti believed that PG-13 would be “the right age for that temperature of movie.”

He Stood Up For George Lucas

Lucas and Spielberg
Bettmann/Getty Images
Bettmann/Getty Images

George Lucas helped come up with the story that would become Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull in 2008. Although the film turned out to be a commercial success, fans couldn’t seem to find enough to complain about it.

One scene in particular that shocked the fandom when Jones survives a nuclear explosion by crawling into a refrigerator that is lined with lead. To take some of the heat off Lucas for this scene, Spielberg claimed that the refrigerator scene was his idea although Lucas insists that “he’s trying to protect me.”

He Had Issues With His Father

Spielberg and his father
Michael Kovac/Getty Images
Michael Kovac/Getty Images

While Steven Spielberg helped to put his family’s name on the map, his father Arnold, was a successful man in his own right. Not only was he one of the developers of the first computer, but also invented to the first cash register on an electronic network and the first electronic library system, among other accomplishments.

However, it seems that Arnold wasn’t all that impressed with his son’s passion for filmmaking, even kicking him out when editing his first movie because he was taking up too much space. Supposedly, his father was also a harsh critic throughout his life regarding several of his popular films.

He Is The Godfather Of Two Hollywood A-List Actors

Spielberg and Barrymore
Michael Kovac/WireImage
Michael Kovac/WireImage

Considering that Steven Spielberg is hailed as one of the greatest directors to ever be behind the camera, it’s unsurprising that he has close relations to numerous Hollywood celebrities. In fact, he’s the godfather to two Hollywood actresses that were featured in his films in their youth.

Drew Barrymore can be seen in E.T., and Gwyneth Paltrow had an almost unnoticeable role in Hook. When Barrymore was once featured in Playboy magazine, Spielberg made sure to show his disapproval by sending her a quilt with a note telling her to “cover up.”

He Has Purchased Several Classic Oscars

Spielberg with Oscar
Frank Trapper/Corbis via Getty Images
Frank Trapper/Corbis via Getty Images

It’s no secret that Steven Spielberg has one of the biggest bank accounts in all of Hollywood. And he’s made sure to use some of his fortune to help preserve the history of film. Over the years, Spielberg has personally purchased numerous Academy Awards and then re-donated the Oscars to the Academy.

These awards include Clark Gable’s 1934 Best Actor Oscar for It Happened One Night and Bette Davis’ Best Actress award for Dangerous and Jezebel. In total, he spent $1,365,500 on the three statues.

He’s Never Had A Cup Of Coffee

Steven Spielberg with glasses
Laurent KOFFEL/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images
Laurent KOFFEL/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

Since Steven Spielberg is usually hard at work, most people might assume that he drinks coffee by the gallon, but that’s far from the truth. According to Spielberg, he has never had a cup of coffee in his whole life, something that’s unbelievable for most of us.

He commented, “I don’t drink coffee. I’ve never had a cup of coffee in my entire life. That’s probably something you don’t know about me. I’ve hated the taste since I was a kid.”