Steven Spielberg: A Journey of Family and Filmmaking

Amidst the chaos and uncertainty of the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, acclaimed filmmaker Steven Spielberg found himself reflecting on the importance of family. Watching his 103-year-old father, Arnold, deteriorate only deepened his sense of loss and longing. Spielberg and his father had reconnected after a period of distance, forging a close bond in their later years. The filmmaker cherished their regular movie nights, music sessions, and conversations on the patio. But with his father’s condition worsening and the pandemic throwing everything into disarray, Spielberg couldn’t shake the feeling of impending loss.

The pandemic had forced people worldwide to confront their mortality and reflect on the significance of family. Spielberg was no exception. As he grappled with his own grief and the uncertainty of the times, he felt a profound desire to tell a deeply personal story. Throughout his illustrious 50-year career, Spielberg had often explored the themes of family, adventure, and wonder in his blockbuster films. Now, however, he yearned to tell a different kind of story, one imbued with vulnerability and introspection.

Thus, “The Fabelmans” was born. This upcoming film is Spielberg’s most intimate and vulnerable project to date. It delves into his own childhood and explores the dissolution of his parents’ marriage. With Michelle Williams portraying a fictionalized version of his mother, Paul Dano bringing his father to life, and Gabriel LaBelle playing the young Spielberg himself, the movie captures a pivotal moment in the filmmaker’s life. It all begins when the family takes young Sammy to the cinema for the first time, igniting his fascination with film and setting him on a lifelong journey of storytelling.

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For Spielberg, “The Fabelmans” represents his first foray into a coming-of-age narrative. Reflecting on his formative years, he recalls the moment he began seeing his parents not just as caregivers but as complex individuals. The film is shot in meticulously recreated versions of Spielberg’s childhood homes, and scenes from his early 8mm and 16mm films are faithfully reenacted. It is, in many ways, a personal home movie, a testament to the enduring power of family and the impact it has on shaping one’s identity.

Collaborating with acclaimed screenwriter Tony Kushner, who has been a vital creative partner for Spielberg over the years, proved pivotal in bringing this deeply personal story to the screen. Kushner himself was moved by Spielberg’s childhood revelation, how the camera had captured something that the family hadn’t noticed. It became clear to him that this was a story that needed to be told.

During the lockdown, Spielberg and Kushner spent countless hours on Zoom, delving into memories and crafting an outline that would eventually become the script for “The Fabelmans.” The director’s grief and contemplation over his parents’ passing fueled their writing sessions. Spielberg used the creative process as a way to work through his emotions, even as he navigated the challenges of a world without his parents. This film became an outlet for catharsis, a way to explore his past, and a tribute to his beloved family.

As Spielberg immersed himself in the project, his attention to detail and commitment to authenticity were apparent. The production painstakingly recreated the settings from his childhood, ensuring that they mirrored his memories. The actors playing his parents had access to Spielberg’s sisters and home movies, enabling them to capture the essence of the family dynamics. For Spielberg, it was both a nostalgic and emotional experience, walking onto sets that mirrored the house he grew up in and reflecting on the impact his family had on his life.

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“The Fabelmans” is not just a personal journey for Spielberg; it’s also a celebration of the women of the ’60s. It explores the evolving roles of women during that era, challenging societal expectations of housewives and mothers. Spielberg and Kushner delved into the sacrifices their mothers made as artists, highlighting the importance of self-possession and self-ownership. The film also touches on the impact of antisemitic bullying, an experience that profoundly shaped Spielberg’s worldview and influenced his storytelling.

Throughout the production, Spielberg remained passionate and driven, immersing himself in every aspect of the filmmaking process. From early morning walks on set, notebook in hand, to his dedication to capturing the perfect shot, Spielberg’s enthusiasm was undeniable. He pushed himself and his cast to create a film that would resonate not only with his personal journey but also with audiences who may be discovering his work for the first time. For Spielberg, this film was an opportunity to share a deeply personal story with the world, an invitation to step into his heart and experience his most cherished memories.

As “The Fabelmans” made its debut at the Toronto Film Festival, winning the audience award, it became clear that Spielberg’s storytelling prowess had once again struck a chord with viewers. The film represents a new chapter in his illustrious career, a testament to his enduring passion for filmmaking. And while Spielberg recently passed the torch for the Indiana Jones franchise to another director, he shows no signs of slowing down. As his producer, Kristie Macosko Krieger, affirms, Spielberg’s love for storytelling is unwavering, and he will continue delighting audiences for years to come.

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As “The Fabelmans” draws to a close, Spielberg finds solace in the fact that despite his parents’ divorce, they remained friends in their later years. This reconciliation was a rare gift, one that he and his sisters often reflect upon. For Spielberg, family has always been at the core of his life and work. It has shaped him as both an artist and a person. With “The Fabelmans,” he invites us to step into his world, to witness the power of family bonds, and to celebrate the extraordinary journey of a true cinematic master.

This article appeared originally in The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Subscribe here to get more exclusive content.