Steven Spielberg Biography

PHOTO: Steven Spielberg

The adult that wanted to make the movies he saw as a child made Indiana Jones, and the director who wanted the shark to work had his career made when it didn't in Jaws.

Steven Allan Spielberg was born to parents Arnold and Leahanni Spielberg. The older brother to three younger sisters, Spielberg began experimenting with film in his early teens making movies he would show at his family house.

At 13, Spielberg was already showing glimpses of future greatness, even winning a prize for his 40-minute war film 'Escape to Nowhere'.

The family often moved with his father's job and it was at Arcadia High School in Phoenix, Arizona that he produced his first feature-length film, 'Firelight', a science fiction movie with a budget of $400. Foreshadowing his future success, the film turned a tidy $100 profit after it was shown at a local theatre.

After his parents divorced, Spielberg moved to California with his father. He repeatedly applied to the UCLA School of Theatre, Film and Television and the University of Southern California's School of Cinema and Television but failed to gain entry. He attended California State University, Long Beach and got his first job in the film industry as an unpaid intern in the editing department of Universal Studios.

The job at Universal came almost by accident as he jumped from a tour bus and ventured inside one of the buildings on the studio grounds. His enthusiasm made such an impression on one of the workers, they gave him a pass to come back and watch directors at work. Spielberg made a point of being friendly with the security guards on the lot and on the fourth day he just waved rather than displaying his pass.

Every day for a summer, he returned to the set, found himself an office and just moved in.

"Everybody assumed I was related to someone working on the lot, or to an executive, and no-one really threw me off the set," he explained.

It was during this time he made his first professional release: a 24-minute film called
'Amblin'. The film, about a boy and girl who meet hitch-hiking to a beach, would later lend its title to Spielberg's production company. Executives at Universal were so impressed they signed Spielberg as a television director. He dropped out of college to take the job in 1969 and did not finish his degree until 33 years later in 2002.

Spielberg's first forays into professional directing came in television working on shows such as 'Night Gallery', 'Name of the Game', 'Marcus Welby M.D.', 'Owen Marshall', and 'Columbo'. His first movie was a made-for-TV film called 'Duel about a giant truck that menaced a man driving a smaller car through desert roads that would become a recurring sight in his later works.
Spielberg claims to enjoy the theme of menacing, saying it appeals to the primal fears of the audience.

Spielberg's debut into full-length theatrical releases came with 1974's 'Sugarland Express' with a young Goldie Hawn. Though the film did poorly at the box office, Spielberg was marked by critics and industry executives as a potential star.

The film that set the Spielberg juggernaut in action was the 1975 hit 'Jaws'. The horror film about a giant killer shark with its iconic atmospheric music won three Academy Awards for editing, original score, and sound, and was nominated for Best Picture losing out to 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest'. 'Jaws' set box office records grossing over US$100 million and made Spielberg a millionaire in his early 30s.

His next film, 'Close Encounters of the Third Kind', cemented Spielberg's rise. The science fiction film starring 'Jaws' actor Richard Dreyfuss was written and directed by Spielberg and garnered six Academy Award nominations, including Best Director. It won two awards for Cinematography and a Special Achievement Award for Sound Effects Editing.

The war farce '1941' had the distinction of being Spielberg's first flop, with critics and audiences alike but this was quickly followed by a string of action-adventure blockbusters in the early 1980s. The adventure movie 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' with friend and 'Star Wars' creator George Lucas was the biggest movie of 1981 and gained Spielberg his second Best Director nomination.

In 1983, Spielberg released 'E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial'. The film about a small boy befriending and saving an alien became the highest-grossing film in history and was nominated for nine Academy Awards. A second 'Indiana Jones' film, 'Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom' was followed by 'Poltergeist', 'The Twilight Zone', and 'The Goonies', all recording impressive returns at the box office.

Two years later, Spielberg made his first foray into drama with 'The Colour Purple' (1985). The film, about a group of Depression-era African-American women, was a massive hit with critics and crowds and earned 11 Oscar nominations. It seemed Spielberg could do no wrong.

His next film 'Empire of the Sun', a drama about an English boy separated from his parents in war-torn China, received critical acclaim but did not fare so well at the box office.

The 'Indiana Jones' franchise was revived in 1989 with 'Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade', this time adding Sean Connery to the mix as Jones senior alongside Harrison Ford.

Changing tack again, Spielberg then made the romantic drama 'Always' which crashed at the box office and was panned by critics. Returning to adventure in 1991, Spielberg made 'Hook', based on the story of Peter Pan and starring Robin Williams as a grown up Pan brought back to Neverland.

Teaming up again with Lucas, Spielberg then made 'Jurassic Park'. The film, about a lost island of cloned, killer dinosaurs, would go on to become the highest grossing film of all-time, overtaking Spielberg's previous record set with 'E.T'.

Despite dominating Hollywood for over 15 years, Spielberg did not receive his first Best Director Academy Award until 1993's 'Schindler's List'. Starring Liam Neeson, the film told the story of Oskar Schindler, a German industrialist who helped over 1,000 Jews escape death during the Holocaust. Though a box office and critical smash, Spielberg did not receive payment for the film, instead preferring his profit to go to setting up the Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation which chronicles and stores the testimony of Holocaust survivors.

Spielberg took a break from directing in the mid-1990s to set up his own film studio 'DreamWorks'. He returned in 1997 with the sequel to 'Jurassic Park: The Lost World' and then 'Amistad', a movie about a rebellion on a slave ship.

DreamWorks' first hit was the Spielberg-directed World War Two film 'Saving Private Ryan', which was about a group of soldiers trying to find their missing comrade in war-torn France. 'Saving Private Ryan' was followed in 2001 by 'A.I'., a sci-fi film started but left uncompleted by legendary director Stanley Kubrick after he died. Another science fiction film followed with 2002's 'Minority Report' based on a Philip K Dick novel and starring Tom Cruise.

The blockbusters kept rolling on with 'Catch Me If You Can' in 2002 and 'The Terminal' in 2004. Another sci-fi film saw Spielberg again collaborating with George Lucas and Tom Cruise in 'War of the Worlds' in 2005.

Spielberg returned to drama and made his second “Jewish’’ film in 2005 with 'Munich', which told the story of a team of Israeli intelligence operatives exacting revenge after the attack on Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics.

He returned to the 'Indiana Jones' franchise in 2008, directing 'Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull' with Harrison Ford and Cate Blanchett. It was the first of his films not to be released by DreamWorks since 1997 and was received positively. It has grossed over $786 million worldwide.

In 2009, he started directing the first in a planned trilogy of motion capture films based on 'The Adventures of Tintin' but it was not released until 2011 due to the complexity of the art work. 'The Secret of the Unicorn' performed well at the box office and Spielberg is set to produce the second 'Tintin' film, which will be directed by Peter Jackson.

In 2011, Spielberg's 'War Horse' was made and within the first week of its release on 13 January 2012, it topped the UK box office.

Talking at the press conference for the film, Spielberg said: "I have no plans to quit. Clint Eastwood is one of my best friends, and we have an almost jokey relationship about retirement."

He is currently directing 'Lincoln' - a biopic about US president Abraham Lincoln starring Daniel Day Lewis and Joseph Gordon Levitt. It will be released in 2012.

Complementing a long and distinguished career as a director, Spielberg has also produced many films and TV shows. He produced the TV Show 'ER' for a time and also helmed 'SeaQuest DSV'. He was the producer on the cartoons 'Tiny Toon Adventures', 'Animaniacs, Pinky and the Brain', 'Toonsylvania' and 'Freakazoid!'.

Movies he has produced include 'Back To The Future', 'An American Tail', 'Mask of Zorro', 'Men In Black', 'Deep Impact', 'Memoirs of a Geisha', and Clint Eastwood's 'Flags of Our Fathers' and 'Letters from Iwo Jima'. He executive produced 'The Haunting', 'Shrek', 'Monster House', 'Evolution', and 'Disturbia'.

Spielberg's films have often been criticised for staying too close to the mainstream but his knack for story-telling and his ability to produce crowd-pleasers is unequalled in movie history. His films normally pack in adventure, emotion, mystery, and scale as encapsulated in his quote about his film making process: "Before I go off and direct a movie, I always look at four films. They tend to be The Seven Samurai, Lawrence Of Arabia, It's A Wonderful Life and The Searchers".

In 1985, Spielberg married actress Amy Irving and the couple had a son, Max. The couple divorced in 1989 and Spielberg married actress Kate Capshaw who was in 'Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom'. They have four children: Theo, Sasha, Sawyer and Destry - Capshaw has a daughter, Jessica, from a previous marriage. They also have two adopted children, Mikaela and Theo, and Spielberg's god-daughter Janet also lives with them.

Spielberg is a supporter of the Democratic Party and has donated significantly funds to the party. He endorsed Republican senator Arnold Schwarzenegger for re-election as Governor of California and in 2007, he backed Hilary Rodham Clinton for President.

2006 saw Spielberg named as the most powerful person in movies by film magazine Premiere. Time magazine listed him in its 100 Greatest People of the Century and Life magazine named him the most influential person of his generation.

He has won three Academy Awards and in 2001, he was made a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire. His fortune is estimated to be in excess of US $3 billion.
Spielberg is known for buying historical film artifacts and donating them to the Academy and supporting Jewish organisations, particularly Holocaust survivor groups.

In 2002 Steven Spielberg returned to California State University Long Beach and finished the degree he started 35 years earlier. He gained a B.A. in Film Production and Electronic Arts with an option in Film/Video Production.

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