EN­COUNTER OF A RARE KIND

Hol­ly­wood great Steven Spiel­berg shares his be­hind-the-scenes sto­ries and film­mak­ing in­sights with China Daily film writer Ray­mond Zhou in an in­ter­view in Beijing.

China Daily (USA) - - FILM |LIFE - Con­tact the writer at ray­mondzhou@china daily.com.cn

Steven Spiel­berg is of­ten per­ceived as a sym­bol of Hol­ly­wood — both for those who love it and those who re­vile it. “I’mproud to be a mem­ber of theHol­ly­wood film­mak­ing com­mu­nity. I never take of­fense when some­one says, ‘You’re aHol­ly­wood guy,’” says the di­rec­tor of who sat down for a rare one-on-one in­ter­viewwith China Daily dur­ing a re­cent pro­mo­tional tour in China of his new movie. “When I was a kid, I wanted to go toHol­ly­wood and make movies. It’s the end of the rain­bow. It’s Oz for me,” he says, giv­ing ex­am­ples of se­ri­ous movies that do not seem to be profit-driven but are funded and made in­Hol­ly­wood.

Some com­men­ta­tors say Spiel­berg had toned down the dark­ness in the orig­i­nal chil­dren’s book writ­ten by Roald Dahl when he adapted The BFG for the big screen.

Spiel­berg ex­plains there is still a lot of dark­ness in the movie ver­sion. There is a great mes­sage in the book about the dan­gers of bul­ly­ing, he says, which the movie has kept. But he didn’t find the book “too dark” when he read it to his chil­dren when they were lit­tle.

How­ever, the movie doesn’t need one to read the book first as it pro­vides back sto­ries for the main char­ac­ters and may ac­tu­ally en­cour­age movie­go­ers to go pick up the book.

I askhimabouthowhe­m­an­ages au­di­ence ex­pec­ta­tions — be­tween those who love him for his ex­ist­ing work and those who want their fa­vorite film­mak­ers to con­stantly rein­vent them­selves.

In re­sponse, he clearly sep­a­rates his movies into two cat­e­gories — the type that he doesn’t know of or care for au­di­ence par­tic­i­pa­tion and those for which he would try to think from the au­di­ence’s seat.

For the for­mer, he says he need­stom­akethem­for him­self and isn’t sure at all whether they would be pop­u­lar; for movies like the In­di­ana Jones fran­chise, he is “not ashamed” that he ac­tively an­tic­i­pates au­di­ence re­ac­tion.

“As I got older, my films have be­come more per­sonal. I’m a lit­tle less at­ten­tive to au­di­ence needs and more about what I’m feel­ing at this time in my life,” he says.

I con­firm with Spiel­berg that Schindler’s List and Sav­ing Pri­vate Ryan were the “sur­prise hits” that he didn’t make with the­box­of­fice in­mind, and he adds Lin­coln to the list.

“I also had a lot of un­happy sur­prises”, which is the na­ture of the film busi­ness as he sees it.

I ask him about the most dif­fi­cult filmshe­has­made, andhe again men­tions Schindler’s List and Sav­ing Pri­vate Ryan.

“When the sub­ject mat­ter is so emo­tional that I can­not TheBFG. cre­ate a dis­tance be­tween my­self and the story I’m telling and we lose our ob­jec­tiv­ity, we be­come al­most too in­vested emo­tion­ally in what we’re do­ing.”

On­the setof Schindler’sList, in Poland where theHolo­caust had taken place, a day didn’t go by when some­one broke down or cast mem­bers couldn’t con­tinue and just col­lapsed on the ground, he re­calls.

Spiel­berg cred­its the mak­ing of so­cially con­scious films like Lin­coln with ma­tu­rity, which comes with age. “I couldn’t have made those movies while younger.”

He had ac­quired the rights to the book, Schindler’s List, in 1982. He waited a decade be­fore mak­ing it be­cause he was still “too happy” and was not a fa­ther yet.

“I had to reach a point inmy life where I could throw out the bag of en­ter­tain­ment tricks be­fore I could do it hon­estly and au­then­ti­cally.”

Work­ing with ac­tors

Spiel­berg says he ac­tors who are nat­u­rals.

“When I cast Ruby Barn­hill for the role of So­phie, she was al­ready So­phie,” the girl in The BFG. “I didn’t di­rect her so that finds she would be self-con­scious. I didn’t want to do any­thing to get in the way of the magic she was bring­ing to the char­ac­ter.”

As a di­rec­tor, he only ex­plained how movies were made but didn’t talk much about the char­ac­ter with her. “I let her in­vent her own char­ac­ter.”

“The best a di­rec­tor can do with kids is not to di­rect,” Spiel­berg in­sists.

He usu­ally needs “fewer takes” with an un­trained kid than with trained movie stars, he adds.

When talk­ing about su­per­stars like Tom Hanks and Leonardo DiCaprio, Spiel­berg says they love chal­lenges. They seek roles that bring out parts of them­selves that are un­fa­mil­iar with and might even scare them. When Hanks started out on Bridge of Spies, he ad­mit­ted he didn’t know how to play his char­ac­ter. But he found the char­ac­ter when shoot­ing started.

Asked about Daniel DayLewis who fa­mously stays in char­ac­ter even when not shoot­ing, Spiel­berg says DayLewis was an ut­ter pro­fes­sional but did not dis­cuss his craft.

“He just kept his Lin­col­nian ac­cent. I felt I spent three and half months with Abra­ham Lin­coln. When the shoot was over, he started talk­ing like­him­self again. AndI cried, be­cause I miss Abra­ham Lin­coln.”

All great ac­tors he worked with have their own process, tech­nique and tal­is­man, ac­cord­ing to Spiel­berg, “and I didn’t get into that be­cause it’s per­sonal”.

AboutMarkRy­lance, a theater vet­eran who got an Academy Award for his sup­port­ing role in Bridge of Spies, Spiel­berg says he no­ticed a kind­ness in him and a twin­kle in his eyes, which made him per­fect for the friendly gi­ant in The BFG.

Theater ac­tors are the most pre­pared and most open to change be­cause in theater you may get new lines af­ter the 20th per­for­mance, he adds.

Bal­anc­ing act

While I agree that film­mak­ers grad­u­ate from fun en­ter­tain­ment to se­ri­ous fare, it sur­prises me to see Spiel­berg “switch gears” in the same year and make two com­pletely dif­fer­ent movies. His an­swer: “It’s ther­apy.”

Af­ter mak­ing a dark film, he needs a re­lief, some­thing light and frol­ick­ing like Catch Me If You Can to get the heavy stuff out of his sys­tem be­fore he finds some­thing for “the other side of my­self” and to tell sto­ries with so­cial mean­ing.

I ask him what movies he wanted to make but some­how has yet to make them, he cites the quin­tes­sen­tial ro­bot movie. He would also love to do a song-and-dance mu­si­cal.

Tak­ing a cue from an au­di­ence ques­tion about bal­anc­ing work and a fam­ily of seven kids, I jok­ingly ask if he had ever thought of re­mak­ing The Sound of Mu­sic. He says his kids would not want him to touch that clas­sic be­cause they love it so much.

Spiel­berg ad­mits he is very mucha fam­ily man. He rel­e­gated film­mak­ing to sec­ond pri­or­ity when he started hav­ing chil­dren. But now they have all grownu­pandthe younge­stone has gone to col­lege.

“My ev­ery­day life is re­ally bor­ing,” he says. “Mostly writ­ing and do­ing story boards.”

His wife, Kate Cap­shaw, makes it in­ter­est­ing and “brings me to the world”, he adds.

PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

TheBFG, di­rected by Steven Spiel­berg, will be re­leased in main­land the­aters on Fri­day.

FENG YONGBIN / CHINA DAILY

Steven Spiel­berg with Huang Yici, a voice ac­tress for

PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Steven Spiel­berg, chair­man of Am­blin Part­ners, and Jack Ma, chair­man of Alibaba Group, at­tend an event to an­nounce a part­ner­ship in Beijing on Sun­day.

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