Steven Spielberg has described his semi-autobiographical picture The Fabelmans, delving into the teenage experiences that led him into filmmaking, as the most “daunting” project of his six-decade, blockbuster filmmaking career.
The feature, which releases in the U.S. via Universal on November 23, world premiered at the Toronto Film Festival on Friday evening to rave reviews and predictions of awards season glory.
The thinly veiled account of Spielberg’s own formative years, stars rising Canadian actor Gabriel LaBelle as movie-obsessed teenage Sammy Fabelman, in a cast also featuring Michelle Williams, Paul Dano, Seth Rogen and Judd Hirsch.
“I thought it was going to be a lot easier than it turned out to be. I know the material and I’ve known all the characters my entire life, but I found it to be a very daunting experience,” Spielberg told a Toronto press conference.
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“I was attempting in a semi-autobiographical way to recreate huge recollections, not only in my life but in the lives of my three sisters and my mother and father who were no longer with us and the responsibility of that began to build,” he told a Toronto press conference.
Spielberg joked that he had turned long-time collaborator Tony Kushner into his “therapy” and “counsellor” as they tried to get the story out of him. The pair co-wrote the screenplay over Zoom in the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2000.
“As we started working on this, I realised there would be no aesthetic distance between me and the experience. I wasn’t going to be able to put a camera, the way Sammy is able to put a camera between himself and horribly realistic things that are happening to him,” said Spielberg.
“I’ve always been able to put a camera between me to protect myself and I couldn’t do it telling this story. The cast knows this was, emotionally, a very difficult experience. Not all of it, but some of it was really, really hard to get through.”
The director said that the 8mm movies shot by Sammy and running through the film were recreations of real 8mm films he had shot as a teenager, although he joked he had improved them from the originals.
Spielberg revealed that one of the featured titles Escape To Nowhere had pre-empted ideas he later used in Saving Private Ryan and that he had shown the film to the cast while shooting the Omaha beach scene in Ireland.
“They were all gathered around the monitor. I wanted to show them, this old movie I had made when I was like 16 years old. I think to an actor, they all felt. ‘What are we doing in Ireland with this guy? Is it gonna look like that? Why is he showing us this?’,” he recalled.
Spielberg said it had been “joyful” recreating the films and wistfully recalled the craft involved in making them,
“Not a lot of people were going out and shooting 8mm. It was physical, it was a craft. There were no pro tools. You had to sit there with a bud splicer and scape the emulsion off in order to get a seal when you put glue on it. You literally had to glue the film together. I miss it. I was the very last person to cut on film in Hollywood.”
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