Spielberg Honored by Abrams & Cameron at DGA
Membership definitely has its privileges. As a member of the Directors Guild of America I have access to special events unavailable to the general public, or even other union members within the same industry. Usually this means I get to see the latest movies for free in the Guild’s private screening room. But sometimes the rewards are a little bit cooler.
This year, in celebration of its 75th anniversary, the Directors Guild of America (DGA) has been hosting a variety of special events designed to focus on the game changers of our craft. Earlier this year there was an event with George Lucas and another with Martin Scorsese. Last month Clint Eastwood was on hand to discus the impact and significance of John Ford’s “Stagecoach”. And last Saturday night, three of the hottest filmmakers in the world took the stage at 7920 Sunset Blvd. to discus the impact of one of the biggest game changers the industry has ever known. JJ Abrams and James Cameron joined Steven Spielberg in an intimate conversation about his work and how it has influenced generations of filmmakers, including themselves. To say this was a once in a lifetime experience is truly an understatement. I mean how often do you get the opportunity to listen in on a conversation between the likes of these three men? I don’t know about you, but I can honestly say, not very often.
Director Taylor Hackford (“Ray”), the current President of the DGA, introduced the event with a warm and generous affection for both the DGA as an organization and the night’s guest of honor. He then handed the reigns off to the event’s designated moderator, former DGA President, Michael Apted (“Coal Miner’s Daughter”). In this case Apted’s role was to keep things moving between clips culled from Spielberg’s ample body of work. Abrams and Cameron made their choices based on personal favorite moments that had a significant impact upon them as filmmakers. As you can imagine the clips were the crème de la crème, likely the same clips you or I, or any fan would have chosen, and the discussion ranged from inspiration to process to capturing those lucky accidents.
The three talked like old friends who also happen to be professional colleagues, who also happen to be the most successful directors in the world. Although there is a significant age difference between Abrams and Spielberg, the elder treated the younger as nothing less than a peer. And even though Cameron is close in age to Spielberg, his words revealed that he obviously reveres the man and his work as an iconic influence upon his own stellar career. Even though it was a large room the sincere generosity of heart these three men have for each other was quite palpable. There were lots of laughs and insights shared.
And there was one particular moment when Abrams spoke directly about what Spielberg has meant to him personally as an inspiration and a friend that so moved Spielberg he had to reach out and take hold of Abrams’ arm. You could have heard a pin drop. I think half the audience of over 500 people was tearing up at the same time. I know I was. Cameron then had the unenviable task of following Abrams with his own tribute, but managed to rise to the task with his own words of honest praise and gratitude.
Truly a uniquely humble person, Spielberg accepted the accolades, and yet kept bringing the conversation back to the extraordinary ability of all directors to make each job their very own. He went out of his way to state his belief that no two directors could ever make the same movie even when given the same script. Because of this he said he was particularly proud of the work he did on his own personal favorite film within his oeuvre, “Schindler’s List” and the significant work it has accomplished as an entity within the world. He knows no one else could have done the same job, and it is the film that makes him most proud. Spielberg went on to say how “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” was the film that came closest to fulfilling the original vision he had for a film, and how “E.T.” held a special place in his heart as the film that inspired him to have children, and that above all else he is most proud of his children and marriage.
The Directors Guild of America did record the evening for the availability of its members unable to attend the event. Eventually the video will be posted on the DGA’s official website, but only members have access to view this and other similar events. To become a member there are a few different ways to complete the requirements such as graduating from the Trainee program, or work 600 days as a Production Assistant or non-union Assistant Director - a process that can take 2 to 6 years or longer. After being a fly on the wall to a conversation like the one on Saturday night I can say the effort was well worth it.