As part of the DGA's 75th Anniversary, DGA Lifetime Achievement Award recipient and three-time DGA Award winner, Steven Spielberg, was celebrated on June 11, 2011. Featuring a lively and engaging panel discussion with fellow visionary directors J.J. Abrams (Super 8) and James Cameron (Avatar), and moderated by 75th Anniversary Committee Chair Michael Apted, this "Game-Changer" event drew a maximum capacity crowd at the DGA Theater in Los Angeles and provided a deeply intimate, highly engaging reflection on one of the most influential and beloved filmmakers of all time.
"Spielberg's films are a permanent part of our cultural identity," said DGA President Taylor Hackford, "and his influence on modern cinema cannot be understated." DGA 75th Anniversary Committee chair and event moderator, Michael Apted, next welcomed Spielberg to the stage along with special guests J.J. Abrams and James Cameron. Abrams and Cameron selected three clips apiece from Spielberg's prolific 40-year career—no small feat, according to Cameron, who noted the difficulty in choosing only three moments out of Spielberg's truly prolific body of work. Classic moments from Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, Jurassic Park and Schindler's List, were screened and then discussed with an energetic audience. Each carefully chosen clip illustrated the points each panelist felt important to make about Steven's films and his influence on their own work, both professionally and personally.
Applauding Spielberg's passion and childlike enthusiasm for the open wonder of possibility, Cameron and Abrams listened intently as Spielberg explained how he balanced the "magic of the moment with the necessary architecture of each scene." Spielberg was vividly forthright in discussing everything from dealing with a disastrous first day of shooting on Jaws, thanks to an inebriated Robert Shaw, to the creative genesis of Close Encounters which led to the discovery that the key to accessibility in science fiction is personal, human relationships: "Create characters you really want to be with."
Abrams selected the "Flying Wing" fist fight from Raiders of the Lost Ark, which Spielberg explained to be a case of pure collaborative inspiration, made up entirely on-the-fly as they went along. Spielberg was touchingly candid in discussing E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (also an Abrams selection), revealing he wanted to "take those kids home with me. I didn't have kids before E.T., but making E.T. made me want to have kids."
The final set of clips, selected by Cameron, were touchstone moments from the 1993 blockbuster Jurassic Park and the DGA Award-winning Schindler's List. Spielberg explained it took 10 years before he felt he could do the Schindler story justice. "I was afraid of doing anything to sanitize it or sweeten it or put it any other context than semi-documentary– which I had never done before." He felt it the "most important" film he's ever made and the one he is most proud of. Polar opposites in subject matter and style, Spielberg helmed both films in tandem. He would fly to Poland for principal work on Schindler then video-conference back to the States to review the dailies on Jurassic Park. The revolutionary digital technology of Jurassic Park led to the revelation that, although open-minded to new technology, Spielberg is admittedly "old school" in that he still cuts on film. "I'm just not ready for digital, Jim," Spielberg told Cameron, to much laughter.
Apted closed the night with a probing two-part question: Who was the game-changing influence for Spielberg, and why was Spielberg a game-changer for Abrams and Cameron. For Spielberg, the biggest game changer to affect his life was Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. "I'm still living off the adrenaline that I experienced in 1968 watching that film at the Pantages for the first time."
When Apted turned the question on Abrams and Cameron, Abrams said he most admired Spielberg's sense of "looking at the world as though anything is possible. Your films are a physical manifestation of the potential of possibility." Cameron's response was a fitting closer to the evening by drawing attention to the evolution of the work of Stanley Kubrick to the work of Steven Spielberg, in that there is "the humanization of imagination. I'm not sure I could have got to where I am without your films."