The first time I met Steven Spielberg in person, I was doing an on-air entertainment piece for Fox News in Chicago. He was in town promoting "Saving Private Ryan."
A small camera crew set up in his hotel suite, which is how it usually goes with these type of things. The interviewee rarely notices the behind-the-scenes hoopla.
Remind him that he personally re-arranged the lighting, moved the camera guy to a better spot and made sure the room was very quiet. He even calmed my fears when I joked about wanting to look thinner on camera.
"Give me a camera and some lighting and I'm directing!" laughs one of the best directors in film history who is calling me on an early Sunday morning.
In the background, he mentions you might hear some sound effects that he loves, but didn't create. His children and wife Kate Capshaw are around and there are several horses rumbling through the grounds getting their morning workout.
Ask the man who directed two holiday films — "War Horse" and "The Adventures of Tintin" — how he feels about his work and the words tumble out of his mouth in a breathless rush.
"I have the same excitement making movies today that I had as a boy making 8 millimeter films in the 1960s," he says.
He says aging and hitting 65 hasn't slowed him down a bit.
"I don't want to examine why too much, but the excitement of making movies never goes away. It redefines itself, but it never gets old or worn. It's always just as intoxicating.
"I'd go shoot a film this morning if I could," Spielberg mentions.
He has called the shots for classic movies including "E.T.," "Schindler's List," "Saving Private Ryan," "Jaws," "The Color Purple," and "Close Encounters of the Third Kind."
Just don't remind him that he's one of the greats.
"Great is a word I never use – especially when I think about starting a new project. I just set out to make a movie," Spielberg says. "I set out to make my audience feel something. That's all I want in a movie theater. I want a reason to sit in that seat for two hours while I'm being moved by what I'm experiencing."
SPIELBERG TALKS ABOUT "WAR HORSE"
His new film "War Horse" is based on a Tony-winning play that made Spielberg cry when he first saw it. He knew that it could be translated to the big screen.
"It was the story that interested me the most," he says. "At the core, this was a story about a family of farmers who are just trying to survive. They needed a plow horse to work the land to pay their landlord the rent. The father, who gets drunk quite often, just buys the wrong horse.
"Instead of a plow horse, he buys this elegant, warm blooded, wonderful creature named Joey," he says. "His son Albert (Jeremy Irvine) trains that horse to plow the field, but more importantly it's the beginning of a beautiful friendship between Albert and Joey."
World War I separates boy and horse.
"The British cavalry comes looking for mounts and the father sells the horse. The boy realizes much too late and vows to follow the horse who is taken to fight," Spielberg previews.
Spielberg is a horse expert thanks to the women in his life.
"I live on a property with my kids, my wife and ten horses. My wife rides and so does my daughter. When I look back, I realize I've lived with horses for 15 years."
"I wake up in the morning and open the front door and see horses. I hear and smell them all day long – and I like it," he says with a laugh. "So, I guess I have an affinity in that sense. I realize that they are noble creatures."
How does even Spielberg direct a horse?
"I couldn't believe how the main horse playing Joey would actually listen to an actor during a scene…and respond," he marvels. "I was astonished by the intelligence and sensitivity I saw from the animals. It was almost otherworldly.
"I truly believe horses come from the same place as whales and dolphins," he says.
Spielberg produced some of the biggest hits of 2011 including "Super 8," "Transformers: Dark Side of the Moon" and "Real Steel."
He says there is no pressure for him to choose projects.
"I don't pick the project. The project has and will always pick me," Spielberg says. "I'm the chosen one by the work.
"I'm not on a search mission every single day looking for new stories," he mentions. "Yes, I read a lot. I'm certainly aware of the world."
The rest of his life centers on his family including his children, five with wife Kate Capshaw and one with ex-wife Amy Irving.
"My kids come to me with music or tell me I must watch something they've seen on TV. I'd never watch some of these things without their guidance. They also talk to me about new ways of turning the English language.
"Or should I say new ways of corrupting the English language," he says.
His audience is also like family to him.
"I hope my audience not only continues to trust me, but will always know more than I do," he says. "If they really knew me, they would see someone who always struggles with doubt."
"I think doubt is what keeps me making movies," Spielberg admits. "It keeps me sweating – and I sweat everything."
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