Steven Spielberg wanted to tell a very personal story with “The Fabelmans,” one that would have left the Oscar-winning director vulnerable and light as he portrayed a semi-autobiographical look at his childhood as a movie-loving kid in Arizona and Northern California. It helped, Spielberg admits, that most of the cast of “The Fablemans” were veterans of many of the filmmakers’ previous productions, with collaborators like editor Michael Kahn beginning their association as far back as 1977’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” ”
“It was great to have so many friends and colleagues and people talking to each other and definitely to me in a brief way,” Spielberg said during a panel discussion on “The Fabelmans” for Variety’s FYC. “And it made making this movie so much easier than it could have been. It’s easier for me to cry in front of friends than it is in front of a completely weird new pickup crew.”
In addition to Kahn, other panelists included producer Kristi Macosko-Krieger (who began working with Spielberg on the 1998 documentary “Last Days”), cinematographer Janusz Kaminski (a mainstay of Spielberg’s since 1993’s “Schindler’s List”), and production designer Rick Carter (a frequent collaborator with Spielberg since 1993’s “Jurassic Park”), editor Sarah Brochar (a member of Spielberg’s group since 2017’s “The Post”), and re-recording mixer/sound designer/supervising sound editor Gary Rydstrom (a veteran of Spielberg films such as “Saving Private Ryan” and “Bridge of Spies”). Only one member, costume designer Mark Bridges, was a first-time addition to Spielberg’s troop. Since all of these artists are in such high demand, it falls to Macosko Krieger to try to align their schedules when Spielberg is ready to make his next movie.
“We are all in regular contact with each other,” Macosko Krieger said. “I just kind of communicate my feelings to everyone and say, ‘This will come next.'” Will you be available? We like to make close collaborators as close as possible in human terms.”
The Fabelmans is unlike most of Spielberg’s previous films. The director is known for painting on an epic canvas, shooting action adventures about dinosaurs, sharks, aliens or world-wandering archaeologists, as well as historical dramas set in World War II or the Civil War. It may be Spielberg’s most intimate film since crime thriller The Sugarland Express in 1974. But the production team insists the smaller scale hasn’t really changed their approach.
“I saw this movie as a rather big, big movie because of the story we’re telling,” says Kaminsky. The canvas may be small, but the emotional content of the story is very powerful. Indeed, this film allows you to understand why and how [Steven] He made the other movies before this one, because it allows us to see this little glimpse into his personal life.”
In fact, says Carter, making The Fabelmans provided him with a deeper understanding of what made Spielberg so successful and versatile.
“When we’ve all watched, Stephen, the films that you’ve made, sometimes you’ve wondered how you’re going to go to these two different areas throughout your career…as people have often wondered why you’d go from ‘Jurassic Park’ to ‘Schindler’s List’ or ‘Amistad’.” “In ‘The Lost World’ and ‘Saving Private Ryan,’ show these literal dichotomies over and over again,” says Carter.
He thinks the answer to this ability to switch between populist fare and darker material might be a scene in which Judd Hirsch, who plays Spielberg’s uncle Boris, a lion tamer and former film handler, lectures Gabriel LaBelle Sammy (Spielberg’s understudy) about sacrifices. to be an artist.
“For artistic people especially, when they get to this scene with Judd Hirsch, Boris’s uncle, illustrating the duality between art and family, and how it tears both of you apart, that’s real and profound, and it’s epic,” Carter says.
To create the look and feel of “The Fabelmans,” Spielberg shared photos and home movies (including “war movies” he shot with his friends as an aspiring teen filmmaker). These proved invaluable, but Bridges says he was not slavish in his efforts to recreate the objects as accurately as they appeared in the archival material. Bend to color to express feelings.
“Judd Hirsch gave me an interesting little piece,” Bridges says. He considered this a memory play. He says, “Stephen Sinker would deny that it is a memory play, but I think it is a memory play.”
As Spielberg suggests, working on “The Fabelmans,” which depicts the dissolution of his parents’ marriage, took a lot from the director.
“What was amazing was that we were running dailies with Stephen the whole time,” Kahn says. “And then he came along and was really affected by those scenes emotionally. You could see he was looking away and sometimes he would just stop and look away.”
There’s a reason the production crew of “The Fabelmans” is eager to join forces once again on Spielberg’s next film.
“Steven is really great at bringing out the best in everyone,” Brochard says. “So it makes you feel like you’re giving 110%, and it makes you feel really good about your contributions.”
“Working on Steven films is the same thing as being on the movie itself, in ‘The Fabelmans,’ and it’s the joy of filmmaking, and it’s rarer than you think—that pure joy of creating something cinematic, of telling a story, of being part of a crew that tells that story.” Rydstrom says.
And Spielberg hints that he’s ready to see all of these collaborators embark on a new project soon.
“We have to deal with the West,” he says. “And I think what would make it unique is let’s do a Western without horses. Everyone just runs after each other on foot.”
Watch the full conversation in the video below.