Friday, September 9, 2011

USC Moment #3 - The Man. The Myth. The Spielberg.

Okay, so moments 4 and 5 were all well and good, but now it's time to get to the real top-shelf stuff. The "remember it like it was yesterday for the rest of your life" stuff. And that's what these final three moments are, without a doubt.

My #3 (though could easily be #1) favorite USC film school moment is when Steven Spielberg came to the Steven Spielberg be interviewed and field questions from students.

First, just a blurb about the "Spielberg Class" that I was in. I happened upon it rather fortuitously, having already planned to take a directing class on Wednesday nights. I was hanging out around campus killing time until my directing class started and a friend mentioned she was going to sit in for the first half-hour of Spielberg before heading to our directing class. I tagged along and was wowed by the preeminent Critical Studies professor at USC, Drew Casper.

The first class opened with a Spielberg video montage followed by Prof Casper riding into the theater on a bike dressed in a red hoodie sweatshirt to the E.T. soundtrack.

Needless to say, I dropped my directing class the next day and decided I could probably learn more from watching the complete works of Spielberg than spending three hours each night arguing about the 180 degree line.

CUT TO: Some two months and roughly ten Spielberg movies later and the big night was upon us. Casper explained that Spielberg would come in, he'd interview him for a bit, and then the floor - and the majority of the time - would be open to student questions.

Okay, so I am prone to hyperbole from time to time, but let me just say - the roughly 90 minutes that Spielberg was in the theater, talking and answering questions, was among one of the warmest, happiest, most thrilling, fascinating and inspiring nights of my life. It was like the equivalent of actually BEING in a Spielberg movie (with respects to the Jurassic Park ride at Universal). I've never felt such kindness, warmth, and emotion flow from a speaker to a crowd of 300 people. To hijack a line from Spielberg's first Oscar winning film.....

"The Spielberg visit is an absolute good."

"Why?" the cynical, critical, and curious may ask. Well, just his persona was so comfortable and you knew he was really truly happy to be there. It helped, of course, that as a class we'd been studying the man and the work for weeks and there was equal amounts of joy for us that he was there. But these are vague, I'll share a few specifics:

Firstly, I asked Spielberg the second question of the night. I actually kinda talked to the man. My opening was better than my actual question, though, when I stood up...scruffy beard, Cubs cap on, untucked flannel.....and said "Hello Mr. Spielberg, thank you so much for coming, I'm a big fan of all of your work, though I think my favorite thing you've done is your cameo performance as the Assessor of Cook County in the movie 'The Blues Brothers.'

Big laugh. Spielberg too.

He might have said "thank you" or something but how the fuck do I know, I was kind blacked out while I was talking. Talking to Steven Spielberg, did I mention that? Anyway, I asked a real softball question (2nd of the night, remember) about what it was like coming up with a group of young filmmakers like Coppola and Lucas and he gave a decent answer. It didn't matter. My night was made.

Some other highlights included seeing my friend have the thesis of her paper get proved from the mouth of Spielberg himself when she asked about how 'Amblin' - S.S.'s first short - seemed to diverge from what he usually did in films. He agreed and said that in 'Amblin' he was trying to make a movie that was more popular at that time - about teens, drugs, and sex - rather than something truly near and dear to his heart.

There were other great moments: he dispensed some advice for young directors - "The hardest thing is knowing what you want," he really opened up when asked about Schindler's List and how that film was important to him, and a great moment of hilarity when a very well-spoken fanboy demanded to know why the Tyrannosaurus Rex, the "hero" of Jurassic Park and star of the JP franchise, was allowed to be so easily killed in JP:3. Which Spielberg did not direct, only exec produced.

"As you said," Spielberg replied, "I did not direct it."

Crowd laughed.

"But, you have a really good and true point.....let's just say.....I'll make it up to you when we make the fourth one."

Aaaand the crowd went wild.

There were tons of those little moments that were fun - sometimes because it was blowing our minds that this legendary guy was here, other times were just because he had very interesting, smart things to say and it didn't matter how much his movies grossed - but the conversation was always engaging from both sides.

One other very cool moment is a tip of the cap to Casper who told Spielberg about a play he'd seen in London called "War Horse."

S.S. said he's been meaning to see it.

Casper said "I expect 'War Horse' will be your next big live-action feature." The crowd laughed and cheered - we'd heard this before. Spielberg said he'd have to check it out. This was fall of 2009.

WAR HORSE, directed by Steven Spielberg, opens everywhere this Christmas.

So, all in all, it was a pretty amazing and special night, capped off by S.S. stepping forward to directly address all the students. He reached out to us and gave us an edict from the heart about us being the next generation of filmmakers.

"The future of the industry isn't in my hands - it's in yours."

With that we thanked him with thunderous applause and he graciously bowed and thanked us, and my buddy a few seat down snapped a pic -  

It was a perfect ending to a really amazing evening - I'm pretty sure it was somehow scored by John Williams also - and looking back it's a great reminder of how this annoying crappy industry can have these moments reach a level beyond "special" or "magical" and can only be defined as "Spielbergian."


Thomas Riley said...

Dude, that was a great story!


Bill Henriks said...

Whoah - great post. Do you know if anyone filmed the interview/Q&A session and put it up on YouTube? I'd love to see it.