2016 Oscars: Best Supporting Actor Won By Mark Rylance

In his acceptance speech, Mark Rylance salutes Steven Spielberg, calling him “one of the greatest story-tellers of our time”. 

“Unlike some of the leaders we’re being presented with these days, he leads with such love that he’s surrounded by masters in every craft.”

Out of its six nominations, Bridge of Spies wins only 1 Oscar – but an important one: It’s only the second Spielberg-directed film to win an Academy Award for one of its actors – following Daniel Day-Lewis for Lincoln (2012). Little by little, the Academy recognizes Spielberg’s craft as an actor’s director.

All nominations and wins of Bridge of Spies.

Mark Rylance plays the title role in Steven Spielberg’s The BFG (2016). Christopher Nolan casts Mark Rylance for his World War II film Dunkirk (2017). 

2016 Oscars: Best Supporting Actor Won By Mark Rylance

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2016
Steven Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies is nominated as Best Picture by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences

Spielberg now holds the record for producing more films that have been nominated as best picture than anyone else. Bridge of Spies is his ninth Academy Awards nomination in the category.

The film receives six Oscar nominations in the following categories (click the links for background information).

Best Picture: Produced by Steven Spielberg, Marc Platt and Kristie Macosko Krieger

Best Actor in a Supporting Role: Mark Rylance

Best Production Design: Adam Stockhausen; Set Decoration: Rena DeAngelo and Bernhard Henrich

Best Writing (Original Screenplay): Matt Charman and Ethan Coen & Joel Coen

Best Music (Original Score): Thomas Newman

Best Sound Mixing: Andy Nelson, Gary Rydstrom and Drew Kunin.

All Academy Award nominees and winners


Bridge of Spies is also nominated for the following awards (among others):

Golden Globes: Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture (Mark Rylance)

Producers Guild of America (PGA): Darryl F. Zanuck Award for Outstanding Producer of Theatrical Motion Pictures (Steven Spielberg Marc Platt, Kristie Macosko Krieger)

Screen Actors Guild Awards (SAG): Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role (Mark Rylance)

The Writers Guild of America (WGA): Best Original Screenplay (Matt Charman and Ethan Coen & Joel Coen)

American Society of Cinematographers (ASC): Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography in a Theatrical Release (Janusz Kaminski)

Art Directors Guild of America (ADG): Excellence in Production Design for a Feature Film, Period Film (Adam Stockhausen)

Satellite Awards: Best Motion Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Film Editing, Best Art Direction & Production Design

Bridge of Spies wins the following awards:

Academy Awards: Best Supporting Actor (Mark Rylance)

AFI Awards: Movie of the Year

British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA): Best Supporting Actor (Mark Rylance)

Boston Society of Film Critics Awards: Best Supporting Actor (Mark Rylance)

Hollywood Film Awards: Cinematographer of the Year (Janusz Kaminski), Sound of the Year (Gary Rydstrom)

Indiewire Critics’ Poll: Best Supporting Actor (Mark Rylance)

National Board of Review (USA): NBR Award, Top Films

National Society of Film Critics Awards (USA): Best Supporting Actor (Mark Rylance)

New York Film Critics Circle Awards: Best Supporting Actor (Mark Rylance)

Toronto Film Critics Association Awards: Best Supporting Actor (Mark Rylance).

Photo: © 2015 Twentieth Century Fox

2012
Steven Spielberg
’s masterpiece Lincoln covers the final few months of US President Abraham Lincoln’s life, focusing on his efforts to have the Thirteenth Amendment to the US Constitution passed by the House of Representatives – resulting in the abolition of slavery in the United States of America. Lincoln is teaching us how to reach a consensus and succeed in backstage politics when pressing issues of society need to be solved. So, in essence, it’s a contemporary story told in a historic setting.

The film is produced by Spielberg and Kathleen Kennedy, the screenplay is based in part on Doris Kearns Goodwin’s biography Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. Spielberg on his motivation to do the film:

“The
Lincoln project is something that I have been fascinated with all my
life. Like the kid in Minority Report, I used to cut out the profiles of
Presidents in third grade. Lincoln was my favorite profile. (…) As I
got older, I began reading history books and I became like a history
major. I never really majored in history in school but it was my most
favorite subject. (…) I realized that Lincoln changed the history of
the world.”

Daniel Day-Lewis brilliantly portrays President Abraham Lincoln, leading a formidable cast that includes Sally Field, David Strathairn, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, James Spader, Hal Holbrook, Tim Blake Nelson, Lukas Haas, and Tommy Lee Jones

Adam Driver – who will be cast as the villain in Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) – plays Washington war-room telegraph officer Samuel Beckwith. Kevin Kline makes a cameo appearance as a wounded soldier.

In preparation for The Unfinished Journey (1999) – a 21-minute short film directed by Spielberg and screened at the 2000 Millennium Gala in Washington DC, right in front of the Lincoln Memorial – Spielberg consults historians such as Stephen Ambrose, and Doris Goodwin. Asked about her current projects, Goodwin tells Spielberg that she is writing a book called “Team of Rivals” about Lincoln and his cabinet. Spielberg buys the film rights on the spot.

In the early stages of development, John Logan signs on to write a first draft. It is rewritten by playwright Paul Webb. He prefers to cover the entirety of Lincoln’s term as President. Due to Spielberg’s dissatisfaction with the script, the filming is delayed. He assigns another playwright who impressed Spielberg with his script for Munich (2005): Tony Kushner.

Kushner finds the Lincoln script assignment daunting because “I don’t understand what he did any more than I understand how William Shakespeare wrote Hamlet or Mozart wrote Così fan tutte.” Kushner’s initial 491-page draft focuses on four months in the life of Lincoln, and by 2009 he rewrites it to mostly cover two months in Lincoln’s life when he is preoccupied with adopting the Thirteenth Amendment.

Initially, Liam Neeson is cast as Lincoln, having previously worked with Spielberg in Schindler’s List (1993). In preparation for the role, Neeson studies Lincoln extensively – but leaves the project in 2010, stating that he realized during a table read that the part was not right for him. Neeson suggests Daniel Day-Lewis as his replacement and personally argues him into accepting the part. Spielberg and Kushner fly to Ireland to meet with Day-Lewis, followed by more rewrites before the actor finally agrees (after some more encouragement from Leonardo DiCaprio).

Financing the film takes nearly three years. Spielberg pitches the movie at Paramount, following the purchase of DreamWorks by Paramount’s parent company Viacom, in 2006, but the studio complains the budget, even pared to $50 million, is too high and its subject too close to Spielberg’s Amistad (1997), one of his least commercially successful movies.

Frustrated by the financing problems, Spielberg admits Lincoln came “this close” to premiering on HBO as opposed to premiering in theaters. When DreamWorks sets up a new distribution arrangement with The Walt Disney Company, the studio agrees to take North American rights. 20th Century Fox takes international rights, putting up half the production cost. To lay off some risk, DreamWorks turns to another frequent partner, Participant Media, and the film can finally be made.

Principal photography is completed in 64 days, most of it taking place in Richmond, Fredericksburg, and Petersburg, Virginia. A former AMF Bowling plant in Mechanicsville, is used for a set that re-creates the interiors of the White House. “We worked hard to be as historically accurate as possible, all the way to the room where Mary and Lincoln had their scenes,” says production designer Rick Carter. “The wallpaper, rugs, everything was as accurate as it could possibly be.”

According to Director of Photography Janusz Kamiński, he and Spielberg agree on the first day to go for dim lighting that would reflect the use of candles and gaslight in the era. “We knew this was a haunted movie about a man carrying a tremendous burden,” says Rick Carter. “We wanted to go with almost a black-and-white photo yet always be able to pick out what was important in the frame.” The low light is a tool to direct the viewer’s eye. “I wanted to create depth of Lincoln’s character through lighting,” says Kamiński. “In group shots in his office, I set the light so your eye would go to Lincoln.” In later scenes, while the amendment is passed, Kamiński seeks to play against Lincoln’s iconic image. The result is an angelic but natural shot of Lincoln bathed in light. “I wanted to create a very intimate image of this man on the most important day of his life: He’s still a father, and he’s still allocating time to be with his family and his son.”

On set, cast and crew act reverential towards the subject at hand: Conversations between scenes are kept to a whisper, and no one talks to Day-Lewis unless it is necessary. Spielberg, whose typical attire when directing is a baseball cap and jeans, wears suits and ties. He not only addresses Day-Lewis as “Mr. President” but also calls many of the actors by their characters’ names as he immerses himself in American history.

Describing his experience playing Abraham Lincoln, Daniel Day-Lewis says, “I never, ever felt that depth of love for another human being that I never met. And that’s, I think, probably the effect that Lincoln has on most people that take the time to discover him… I wish he had stayed [with me] forever.”

“The toughest part about actually making the film,” says Spielberg, “was that it was eventually going to come to an end. After the first day of shooting, I started mourning the last day of shooting. (…) It’s rare that this has ever happened. E.T. might be the only other time.”

Lincoln is shot on 35mm film and cut on Avid, marking the third time that Michael Kahn edits digitally for Spielberg. “Steven saw how efficient it was, how it saved it a lot of time, so we’ve been on Avid ever since,” says Kahn, who was noted for his speed on the Moviola and KEM. He admits that he’s never cut a film comparable to Lincoln before. “This picture has more dialogue, more getting into people’s heads. A lot of editors say dialogue is the hardest thing to make work, and after Lincoln I have to agree. Audiences won’t see our decisions to cut or not to cut, but the decisions are there.”

For his restrained and respectful composition of the film score, John Williams continues to laboriously write his notes by hand with pencil and paper at a piano – rejecting modern technologies and still managing to yield music of his established, superior quality.

Lincoln receives widespread critical acclaim, with major praise directed to the acting, especially Day-Lewis’ performance, as well as the direction and production merits.

Roger Ebert gives the film 4 out of 4 stars and says in his review, “The hallmark of the man, performed so powerfully by Daniel Day-Lewis in Lincoln, is calm self-confidence, patience and a willingness to play politics in a realistic way.”

A. O. Scott from The New York Times states the film “is finally a movie about how difficult and costly it has been for the United States to recognize the full and equal humanity of black people” and concludes that the movie is “a rough and noble democratic masterpiece” – a portrait that is “intimate but also decorous, drawn with extraordinary sensitivity and insight and focused, above all, on Lincoln’s character as a politician. This is, in other words, less a biopic than a political thriller, a civics lesson that is energetically staged and alive with moral energy.”

Despite its running time of 150 minutes, the film is also a huge commercial success, proving that a lot of moviegoers approach it as more than just a dull history lesson. In only its first four weekends of wide release, Lincoln grosses more than $275 million worldwide (against a budget of $65 million). Washington insiders see the film as an object lesson in how a president should work with Congress (the film is screened at the White House and the Senate).

The film is nominated for seven Golden Globe Awards including Best Motion Picture – Drama, Best Director for Spielberg, winning Best Actor (Motion Picture – Drama) for Daniel Day-Lewis.

At the Academy Awards, the film is nominated for 12 Academy Awards including Best Picture, winning for Best Production Design and Best Actor for Daniel Day-Lewis – becoming the very first actor to win an acting Oscar for a movie directed by Steven Spielberg.

2011
Steven Spielberg
’s touching World War I drama War Horse is based on Michael Morpurgo’s 1982 children’s novel of the same name. The film is produced by Spielberg and Kathleen Kennedy, with executive producers Frank Marshall and Revel Guest.

Michael Morpurgo tries to adapt his book into a film screenplay, working for over five years, but nothing comes out of it. However, the novel is successfully adapted for a stage play by Nick Stafford in 2007. The film cannot be told solely through the horse’s viewpoint (as in the book), so most of the film is based on the narrative approach of the stage play. Unlike the play, which features puppet horses, the film uses real horses as well as practical effects (and extremely limited computer-generated imagery).

In 2009, film producer Kathleen Kennedy attends the stage play in London’s West End and tells Spielberg about it. Eventually DreamWorks acquires the film rights to the book. Spielberg goes to see the stage play in early 2010 and meets some of the London cast, admitting to being moved to tears by their performance.

DreamWorks executive Stacey Snider suggests Richard Curtis to work on rewrites for the drafts that Michael Morpurgo and Lee Hall have turned in. Curtis produces more than a dozen drafts in three months, working closely with Spielberg who is set to produce the film. Excited by the results, Spielberg finally decides to also direct – while he is waiting for the animations of his other 2011-release film, The Adventures of Tintin, to be completed.

After having hundreds of young boys read for the lead role, resulting in some speculation, that Eddie Redmayne might have been cast for it, Spielberg chooses relatively unknown stage actor Jeremy Irvine instead, describing his performance as “very natural, very authentic.” It is his first film role, and he has never ridden a horse prior to War Horse.

The film’s brilliant cast includes British, French and German actors (playing characters of their respective nationalities), among them Emily Watson, David Thewlis, Tom Hiddleston, Benedict Cumberbatch, Eddie Marsan, Toby Kebbell, David Kross, and Peter Mullan. Robert Emms, lead actor in the London stage play, is cast as David Lyons. In addition to the main cast, some 5,800 extras are used in the film. Michael Morpurgo can be seen in a cameo role at the auction – as he is visiting the set several times.

Principal photography lasts for about 64 days, beginning with the cavalry charge, where the British cavalry, 130 horses in total and many hundreds of extras, charge the German machine gun lines. It is is filmed at Stratfield Saye House in north Hampshire, and results in one of the most devastating war sequences directed by Spielberg.

As Jeremy Irvine remembers: 

“It was terrifying. The smoke and the smell and the taste of the guns firing. It’s not difficult to act scared in that situation. There’s no doubt this was deliberate: not only to have the film look great, but to have that effect on the actors. It was an eye-opening scene.”

Tom Hiddleston recalls Spielberg’s advice: 

“He said, ‘Give me your war face, and the camera’s going to move across, and as you feel it come up in front of you, I want you to de-age yourself by 20 years. So you’re 29, and when you see those machine guns, you’re 9 years old. I want to see the child in you.’ And I just thought that was one of the most astonishing acting notes I’d ever been given.“ 

Emily Watson also praises Spielberg’s directing: 

"On set, he’d come in, in the morning, and say, ‘I couldn’t sleep last night. I was worrying about this shot!’ Which was great! He’s human and he’s still working in an impassioned way, like a 21-year-old, trying to make the best out of everything.”

When Kathleen Kennedy sends Spielberg photographs of the various countryside locations she has scouted for him, he decides to cut other elements of the story to enable more filming in Dartmoor, Devon. Spielberg: “I have never before, in my long and eclectic career, been gifted with such an abundance of natural beauty as I experienced filming War Horse on Dartmoor.”

After working on James Cameron’s Avatar (2009), production designer Rick Carter, Spielberg’s long-term collaborator, joins the War Horse crew. This time, he does not have to create a new reality, but rather to take a living landscape and make it as much a character in the film as any human being – or horse.

The famous horse’s image from the final scene, shot against the saturated red sky, looks like a nod to epics like Gone With the Wind (1939), but according to cinematographer Janusz Kamiński, the resemblance is unconscious: "I didn’t even know there was an image similar to that!” Kamiński acknowledges that he used John Ford’s The Searchers (1956) as a template for his exterior filming, paying particular attention to Ford’s panoramic sky, landscape and terrain.

After having directed six films with World War II themes, Spielberg tackles his first film dealing with World War I. Sequences in the barbed wire trenches recall World War I classics such as Lewis Milestone’s All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) and Stanley Kubrick’s Paths of Glory (1957).

During filming, fourteen different horses are used as the main
horse character Joey, eight of them portraying him as an adult animal,
four as a colt and two as foals. Up to 280 horses are used in a
single scene. An animatronic horse is used for some parts of the scenes where Joey is trapped in barbed wire (the wire is rubber prop wire). Working with horses – on this scale – is new to Spielberg

“When I’m on an Indy movie, I’m watching Indiana Jones, not the horse he is riding … Suddenly I’m faced with the challenge of making a movie where I not only had to watch the horse, I had to compel the audience to watch it along with me. I had to pay attention to what it was doing and understand its feelings. It was a whole new experience for me.”

Michael Kahn edits War Horse during
filming
in his trailer on set. Kahn and Spielberg cut the scenes digitally on an Avid, rather than on film.

Visual effects for the film are created by London-based company Framestore. According to Spielberg, the film’s only digital effects are three shots lasting three seconds, which were undertaken to ensure the safety of the horse: “That’s the thing I’m most proud of. Everything you see on screen really happened.”

Spielberg comments on the film score composed by John Williams: “I feel that John has made a special gift to me of this music,
which was inspired not only by my film but also by many of the
picturesque settings of the poet William Wordsworth, whose vivid
descriptions of the British landscape inspired much of what you are
going to hear.”

The film opens to positive reviews, with Roger
Ebert
saying the film contains
“surely some of the best footage Spielberg has ever directed”. He writes: “The film is made with superb artistry. Spielberg is the master of an
awesome canvas. Most people will enjoy it, as I did." 

War Horse is a financial success, grossing $177 million worldwide (against a budget of $66 million). The film receives six Academy Award nominations including Best Picture – winning none.

2005
Steven Spielberg
’s political thriller Munich follows a squad of Mossad assassins as they track down and kill alleged supporters of the group Black September, which is responsible for the kidnapping and murder of eleven Israeli athletes at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich.

Eric Bana stars as the leader of the assassins group, Avner Kaufman. The international cast includes actors such as Ciarán Hinds, Omar Metwally, Mathieu Kassovitz, Hanns Zischler, Ayelet Zurer, Gila Almagor, Karim Saleh, Ziad Adwan, Moritz Bleibtreu, and Meret Becker. The film also stars a future James Bond actor (Daniel Craig) plus actors of a former (Michael Lonsdale) and a later (Mathieu Amalric) Bond villain.

The role of Ephraim (played by Geoffrey Rush) is originally intended for Ben Kingsley but he has to opt out due to a reshoot of Steven Spielberg’s The Terminal (2004) which causes the start of the production for Munich to be pushed back a few weeks later, thus conflicting with Kingsley’s work schedule on Roman Polanski’s Oliver Twist (2005).

After six years of preparation, Spielberg directs his most ambitious project since Schindler ’s List, fully aware that he is risking his reputation as a filmmaker and his capital of mass audience appeal, but determined to speak his mind on a subject that deeply concerns him. In his portrayal about the opening days of the perpetual cycle of terror-styled violence between Israelis and Palestinians, he does his best to tell the story in an unbiased manner, giving both a voice and condemning the deadly attacks on both sides. 

The screenplay, written by Tony Kushner and Eric Roth, is based on George Jonas’ controversial book Vengeance: The True Story of an Israeli Counter-Terrorist Team (published in 1984), after Producer Kathleen Kennedy brought the book to Spielberg’s attention. After acquiring the film rights, Spielberg commissions three scripts: one from David Webb Peoples and Janet Peoples, one from Charles Randolph, and one from Eric Roth, eventually selecting Roth’s script which is revised by Tony Kushner. In order to clarify that the film is a dramatization of historic and fictional events it begins with an opening title saying “Inspired by real events“.

Spielberg asserts that many people would have felt more comfortable if he made a film that said all targeted assassinations are a bad or a good thing:

"But the movie doesn’t take either of those positions. It refuses to. Many of those pundits on the left and right would love the film to land somewhere definite. It puts a real burden on the audience to figure out for themselves how they feel about these issues. There are no easy answers to the most complex story of the last 50 years. (…) What I’m trying to say is, if this movie bothers you, frightens you, upsets you, maybe it’s not a good idea to ignore that. Maybe you need to think about why you’re having that reaction.”

As Spielberg puts it, there are “unintended consequences“ in everything that has to do with violence, and in his film he depicts the growing disproportions of the counterterrorism response. The assassins’ futile attempts at minimizing collateral damage and the deaths of innocents is summed up in a Hitchcock-inspired sequence (videoclip) where the team must coordinate the bombing of a target in Paris without killing the man’s wife and child: A truck obscures the car holding the Mossad assassins, preventing them from seeing the man’s daughter return and pick up the rigged phone meant to kill her father. This time, they barely manage to deactivate the trigger, though once the girl leaves again, they set off the explosive without compunction. It’s a brief show of moral superiority to terrorists who put civilians in harm’s way, but it doesn’t last. Similar to Schindler’s List, Spielberg uses the little girl (again dressed in red) as a metaphor, representing the people that are accidentally killed during the mission.

According to Spielberg, Munich is “the most European film I have ever made“, drawing inspiration from classics such as Costa-Gavras’ Z (1969), Fred Zinnemann’s The Day of the Jackal (1973), and William Friedkin’s The French Connection (1971). Director of Photography, Janusz Kamiński applies the long lenses and zooms as well as the colors typical for that period of film. Kamiński on the notorious sex scene featuring Eric Bana, intercut with the murder of Israeli Olympic athletes as he orgasms: “It’s almost over-the-top to some degree, right?” (…) “It’s not a delicate little scene,” Kaminski says. “It is what it is, and [Spielberg] wanted to take this chance because it reflected the movie: his anger, his primal fear, his primal desire to be alive.” And his feeling of trauma and guilt that strips him of his own humanity in service of a dubious “an eye for an eye” scheme…

Spielberg calls Munich his Prayer for Peace, exploring his conflicts and concerns about how a nation should respond to terrorist attacks. By depicting the Twin Towers of the New York World Trade Center in the film’s final shot, Spielberg links Munich’s subtext to the present, i.e. the US government’s response to the 9/11 attacks, with Spielberg questioning it as excessive and a potential trigger for another perpetual cycle of terror in the Middle East.

The time span between the start of production to the film’s release date is less than six months. Principal photography takes place in Malta, Budapest, Paris, New York, and Munich. In order to finish the film on time, Michael Kahn edits all of the scenes shot in Malta and Hungary on the spot. Each day Spielberg reviews an edited scene that has been shot two days earlier. Two copies of the edited material are sent out, one to John Williams as reference for his composition and the other to Ben Burtt for sound effects. The Paris and New York scenes are edited two weeks after wrapping, and the final cut is completed after another two weeks.

The film’s mournful atmosphere and melancholy between both the Israelis and Palestinians is interpreted by John Williams’ magnificent score, sharing musical themes across cultures, with restrained beauty and subtle instrumentation.

The film is a critical success but is also one of Spielberg’s lowest-grossing films, earning $130.4 million at the worldwide box office (against a budget of $70 million). Conservative circles in Israel and the US attack Munich for what they call the film’s equating the Israeli assassins with “terrorists”. The heated discussion results in the depiction of Spielberg’s face on the covers of Time magazine, Germany’s DER SPIEGEL and other international media.

Munich receives five Academy Awards nominations: Best Picture, Best Director (Spielberg), Best Adapted Screenplay (Kushner and Roth), Best Film Editing (Michael Kahn) and Best Original Score (John Williams), winning none.

In his review, Roger Ebert concludes: “With this film [Spielberg] has dramatically opened a wider dialogue, helping to make the inarguable into the debatable.“ 

Ian Nathan writes in his review for Empire: Munich is Steven Spielberg’s most difficult film. It arrives already inflamed by controversy… This is Spielberg operating at his peak — an exceptionally made, provocative and vital film for our times.“

Munich concludes Spielberg’s 2005 double salvo of films which can both be read as parables on the nation’s mindset after 9/11.

1998
Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan
is notable for its graphic and realistic portrayal of war, and for the intensity of its opening 27 minutes, which depict the Omaha Beach assault of June 6, 1944. The film’s use of desaturated colors and hand-held cameras has influenced many other directors. Steven Spielberg personally holds and operates the camera for many shots during the Omaha beach battle.

The story is inspired by similar events in the American Civil War and very loosely based on the real-life case of the Niland brothers during WWII. It follows Captain John H. Miller (Tom Hanks) and his squad (Tom Sizemore, Edward Burns, Barry Pepper, Vin Diesel, Giovanni Ribisi, Adam Goldberg, and Jeremy Davies) as they search for a paratrooper, Private Ryan, the last-surviving brother of four soldiers.

Robin Williams introduces Matt Damon to Spielberg on the set of Good Will Hunting (1997), and Spielberg casts Damon for the part of Private Ryan.

Producer Mark Gordon accepts Robert Rodat’s script after eleven drafts and shares it with Tom Hanks, who likes it and passes it along to Spielberg to direct. On Spielberg’s request, Scott Frank and Frank Darabont do further rewrites.

Spielberg on his motivation to do the film: “I think that World War II is the most significant event of the last 100 years; the fate of the baby boomers and even Generation X was linked to the outcome. Beyond that, I’ve just always been interested in World War II. My earliest films, which I made when I was about 14 years old, were combat pictures that were set both on the ground and in the air. For years now, I’ve been looking for the right World War II story to shoot, and when Robert Rodat wrote Saving Private Ryan, I found it.”

Before filming begins, all principal actors undergo ten days of “boot camp” training led by Marine veteran Dale Dye. Matt Damon is intentionally not brought into the camp, to make the rest of the group feel resentment towards the character.

The Omaha Beach battle involves up to 1,500 extras and is filmed in sequence over a 4-week period, moving the action up the beach shot by shot and day by day. Spielberg does not use storyboards for the sequence, as he wants spontaneous reactions and for “the action to inspire me as to where to put the camera”.

Spielberg on his collaboration with cinematographer Janusz Kamiński: “Early on, we both knew that we did not want this to look like a Technicolor extravaganza about World War II, but more like color newsreel footage from the 1940s, which is very desaturated and low-tech.” Kamiński has the protective coating stripped from the camera lenses, making them closer to 1940s lenses. The overall effect is completed by putting the negative through bleach bypass, a process that reduces brightness and color saturation.

For many of the battle sequences, the camera’s shutter angle is set to 90 or 45 degrees, as opposed to the standard of 180 degrees to attain “a certain staccato in the actors’ movements and a certain crispness in the explosions, which makes them slightly more realistic.“ A similar technique was used by cinematographer Douglas Milsome on the set of Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket (1987). Kamiński also applies an Image Shaker to vibrate the camera in order to approximate the impact of explosions.

Industrial Light & Magic contributes subtle but highly necessary effects as most of the bullet hits in the battle are digitally created.

Saving Private Ryan is released the same year as Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line. It is the second time that Spielberg and Malick touch similar topics in their films (the first time: Badlands / The Sugarland Express).

The Thin Red Line receives generally favorable reviews and is nominated for seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture (winning none of them). At a budget of $52 million, it makes a moderate profit, grossing $98 million worldwide.

Saving Private Ryan receives more favorable reviews and is nominated for eleven Academy Awards, with 5 wins for Best Cinematography, Best Sound, Best Sound Effects Editing, Best Film Editing, and Best Director (Spielberg’s second Best Director Oscar). Spielberg’s film loses the Best Picture award to Shakespeare in Love, being one of a few that have won the Best Director award without also winning Best Picture. 

This is the last film edited on a non-digital editing system to win an Academy Award for Best Film Editing. After Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Schindler’s List, Michael Kahn receives his third Oscar for Best Editing.

Despite its R-rating, the second DreamWorks production directed by Spielberg is a huge commercial success (worldwide box office is $481.8 million, against a budget of $70 million).

Although Saving Private Ryan earns some criticism for ignoring the contributions of several other countries to the D-Day landings, many veterans of D-Day congratulate director Steven Spielberg for the film’s authenticity, including actor James Doohan, best known as Scotty from Star Trek.

According to Spielberg, “Saving private Ryan was a tribute to my dad, this World War Two movie was one hundred percent for my dad. When I got the Oscar, I said: “dad, this is for you”.”

Quentin Tarantino expresses admiration for the film and cites it as an influence on his war epic, Inglourious Basterds (2009). Oliver Stone accuses the film of promoting “the worship of World War II as the good war,” This film (among others) may have inadvertently contributed to Americans’ readiness for the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

1993
Like no other film, Schindler’s List changes Spielberg not only as a director, but also as a person. For the first time, Spielberg confronts his Jewish identity and the Holocaust in one of his films. What Spielberg always feared in the anti-semitic suburbs of his childhood (and beyond) now comes only naturally to him: embracing his Jewish faith.

In his novel Schindler’s Ark, Thomas Keneally tells the story of several Jewish families between 1939 and 1945. They are saved from being murdered in concentration camps by the Sudeten German Oskar Schindler who hires them for “war-critical production” in his Krakow factory. The book is based on interviews with 50 of the 1,200 so-called “Schindler Jews”.

One of them is Leopold “Poldek” Pfefferberg. After the war, he makes it his life’s mission to thank his savior by communicating Schindler’s story to the world. As early as 1963, he tries to produce a biopic, but the project gets cancelled. In 1980, he meets Thomas Keneally and sparks his interest to write a book about Schindler. Spielberg later signs Pfefferberg as a consultant for the location shoot in Poland.

When Keneally’s novel is published in 1982 Universal studio boss Sid Sheinberg purchases the film rights for $500,000, with Steven Spielberg attached as director. However, Spielberg hesitates and nearly passes the project over to colleagues such as Martin Scorsese, Roman Polanski and Billy Wilder, before he finally takes it into his own hands (encouraged by Billy Wilder). “I didn’t go to work on it right away because I didn’t know how to do it. The story didn’t have the same shape as the films I have made. […] I needed time to mature within myself and develop my own consciousness about the Holocaust.”

Spielberg’s decision to make the film is triggered by the growing media presence of Holocaust deniers and the rise of the neo-Nazi movement after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Spielberg waives his fee as a director and any profit sharing.

Screenwriter Steven Zaillian focuses on Oskar Schindler (played by Liam Neeson) and combines several people to create the figure of Schindler’s accountant Itzhak Stern (Ben Kingsley). Spielberg adds more stories of Schindler Jews that he is told. “I wanted the story to be less vertical – less a story of just Oskar Schindler, and more of a horizontal approach, taking in the Holocaust as the raison d’être of the whole project. What I really wanted to see was the relationship between Oskar Schindler – the German point of view – and Itzhak Stern – the Jewish point of view. And I wanted to invoke more of the actual stories of the victims […].”

Spielberg avoids simple explanations for Schindler’s motivation to help the Jews, and put at risk his business and his life. He portrays Schindler in an ambigious constellation similar to Faust & Mephistopheles: torn between the life of luxury and liquidation, represented by camp commandant Amon Goeth (Ralph Fiennes), and his human conscience, represented by Itzhak Stern. His accountant eventually helps him to set up the titular list of persons that Schindler signs to work in his factory. Spielberg lets Itzhak Stern speak the famous phrases from the novel that are missing in Zaillian’s screenplay: “This list… is an absolute good. The list is life. All around its cramped margins lies the gulf.“

For the first time, Spielberg works with the Polish-born cinematographer Janusz Kamiński (and continues to do so in all his movies to this date). The two of them develop a cinematic language that has little in common with the techniques of Spielberg’s previous films and instead follows a documentary approach. To emphasize the authenticity of events, large parts of the film are shot with a handheld camera. Spielberg feels “like more of a journalist than a director of this movie. I feel like I’m reporting more than creating. […] I’m sort of interpreting history, trying to find a way of communicating that history to people, but I’m not really using the strengths that I usually use to entertain people.” „The authenticity of the story was too important to fall back on the commercial techniques that had gotten me a certain reputation in the area of craft and polish.“

Spielberg insists to shoot the film in black and white and categorically rejects advances by the studio to shoot the film on color negative (for a potential release of a color version). “The Holocaust was life without light. For me the symbol of life is color. That’s why a film about the Holocaust has to be black-and-white.“ In front of the black and white ghetto scenes, Spielberg can effectively employ his concept of the girl in a red coat: here, it is a symbol for life, but shortly after, Schindler and the audience discover the girl on a pile of corpses. The girl is a cipher, representing approximately 6 million murdered Jews.

Unlike Jurassic Park, the film he has finished just three months before, Spielberg directs Schindler’s List spontaneously – like in a fever – and abstains from using storyboards, creating up to 40 shots per day (the film wraps 4 days ahead of schedule). Some ideas emerge only a few hours before the shooting or on the film set. Amidst principal photography, Spielberg conceives a new epilogue in which we see the actual survivors together with their performers – building a bridge between past and present, reality and film.

Before the credits roll, Spielberg dedicates his film to Steve Ross. The philanthropist and CEO of Warner Communications has inspired Spielberg during the development of the film character Oskar Schindler: “Steve Ross gave me more insights into Schindler than anybody I’ve ever known. […] Before I shot the movie, I sent Liam all my home movies of Steve. I said, „Study his walk, study his manner, get to know him real well, because that’s who this guy is“. Ross supports Spielberg as mentor and – like Itzhak Stern – helps to turn a non-political showman into a mensch who is committed to contribute to a better world.

During the 72-day location shoot in Poland, Spielberg is drained physically, and pushed to the limits of his emotional strength. Kate Capshaw and his children rent a house near the set for the duration of filming, so they can give him support. Robin Williams calls Spielberg on a regular basis in order to cheer him up.

For Schindler’s List, film composer John Williams collaborates with famous violinist Itzhak Perlman (with whom he worked on the 1971 film adaptation of the musical Fiddler on the Roof). Williams creates a mournful score that remains one of his most cherished accomplishments. “When he showed me Schindler’s List,” says Williams, “I was so moved I
could barely speak. I remember saying to him, ‘Steven, you need a better
composer than I am to do this film.’ And he said, ‘I know, but they’re
all dead.’ ”

At the film’s release, the critics response is almost unanimously enthusiastic. Filmmakers Jean-Luc Godard, Claude Lanzmann and Michael Haneke accuse Spielberg of using Hollywood techniques to depict the Shoah.

At the Academy Awards, Schindler’s List receives 12 nominations and is awarded in the categories Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Original Score, Best Film Editing, Best Cinematography and Best Art Direction. This is Spielberg’s first Oscar for Best Director. Brilliant actors Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes are nominated, but go away empty-handed.

No one expects the enormous audience appeal of the more than three-hour black and white film. At a budget of $22 million Schindler’s List grosses more than $320 million worldwide. All proceeds from the film are used for the Shoah Foundation. It is founded by Spielberg with the goal of providing an archive for the filmed testimony of as many survivors of the Holocaust as possible.

1993
Spielberg directs two films in the same year. The first is Schindler’s List, in Spielberg’s own words his “most significant film”. The second is Jurassic Park, a groundbreaking movie full of wonder, thrills and adventure, which Spielberg describes as a mere “good sequel to Jaws, on land”.

Spielberg plans to shoot Schindler’s List first but MCA president Sid Sheinberg greenlights the Holocaust film on the condition that Spielberg makes Jurassic Park first. As Spielberg explains: “He knew that once I had directed Schindler I wouldn’t be able to do Jurassic Park.” Sheinberg’s decision forces Spielberg to supervise Jurassic Park’s post production via satellite hook-up while he is already shooting Schindler’s List in Poland.

Jurassic Park is based on Michael Crichton’s best-selling novel about a wildlife park on a remote tropical island featuring cloned dinosaurs. In a fierce bidding war, Universal buys the film rights for $1.5 million plus a percentage of the film’s gross receipts and pays Crichton another $500,000 for a first draft screenplay (compare Peter Benchley who received only $150,000 for the film rights to his novel Jaws plus $25,000 for a first draft script).

Crichton’s draft gets a rewrite by Malia Scotch Marmo (Hook) who tries to merge the characters of Grant and Malcolm – a film adaptation technique also used by Steven Zaillian for his Schindler’s List script. When David Koepp is brought in to write the final screenplay, Scotch Marmo’s idea of merging Grant and Malcolm is (luckily) dropped.

On Spielberg’s request, Koepp introduces significant changes to the novel such as the animated “pre-show” presented by Mr. DNA, a young female computer nerd and a “heroic” return of the T. rex in the film’s climax. Park creator John Hammond (Sir Richard Attenborough) is not portrayed as the book’s one-dimensional villain but as a flamboyant Walt Disney-type dreamer who is obsessed with showmanship – similar to Spielberg. Paleobotanist Dr. Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) is given more presence than in the novel, and paleontologist Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill, replacing Spielberg’s original choice Harrison Ford) is allowed more character development: His discomfort with children eventually dissolves when “life finds a way” and T. rex & co. threaten the lives of Hammond’s grandchildren. They all have to get off the island before the park succumbs to chaos as predicted by mathematician Ian Malcolm (brilliantly performed by Jeff Goldblum). Unlike in the novel, Malcolm and Hammond survive, and Malcolm gets a lot more sarcastic one-liners to say, such as this: “If The Pirates of the Caribbean breaks down, the pirates don’t eat the tourists.”

Spielberg not only enhances the book’s cardboard protagonists for his film, he even adds character to the dinosaurs. As Paul Bullock elaborates in his profound e-book analysis, Jurassic Park is much more than a triumph of technical expertise or an escape from reality, it is an “escape with reality”. Below the thrilling surface of his film, Spielberg wants to teach his audience the virtues of humility before nature over scientific arrogance as well as each one’s responsibility to act and help others (a topic Schindler’s List deals with more in detail). In his more ambiguous comment on the era of blockbusters, Spielberg depicts a store stuffed with merchandise that is actually available after the film’s release.

Contrasting worlds of lush landscapes and sterile high-tech environments are created by cinematographer Dean Cundey, with the help of production designer Rick Carter who is working on a Spielberg-directed film for the first time.

Fay Wray gets invited to the set and advises young actress Ariana Richards (Lex) on how to scream like hell. 

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Fay Wray, sitting in center, lead actress from the original King Kong (1933), which is a huge inspiration for Jurassic Park, Also in the photo (left to right): Michael Crichton, Kathleen Kennedy, Stan Winston and Steven Spielberg. Photo: © The Making of Jurassic Park (Don Shay, Ballantine Books 1993)

Thanks to heavy use of storyboards and meticulous preparation by producers Kathleen Kennedy and Gerald R. Molen, principal photography wraps after 98 days, 12 days ahead of schedule at a budget of $63 million (less than what was spent on Hook). Quite an achievement, considering the location was hit by Iniki, the most powerful hurricane to hit Hawaii in recorded history. While cast and crew spends a day in the shelter of their hotel, Spielberg kills time by telling ghost stories to the kids.

Steven Spielberg directing scenes on the Jurassic Park set.

Originally, Steven Spielberg wants to employ go-motion animated dino miniatures from Phil Tippett combined in post-production with larger animatronic dinosaurs constructed by special make-up effects creator Stan Winston. But then ILM visual effects supervisor Dennis Muren tells Spielberg about new CGI technologies and says he might be able to create dinos in the computer. When Muren shows Spielberg and Tippett a first CGI animatic of the Tyrannosaurus chasing a herd of Gallimimus, Spielberg says to Tippet, “You’re out of a job,” to which he replies, “Don’t you mean extinct?” Spielberg lets both the animatic and this dialogue write into the script (as a conversation between Malcolm and Grant).

The Tyrannosaurus’ roars are created by Gary Rydstrom as a combination of dog, penguin, tiger, alligator, and elephant sounds (inspired by the way sound designer Ben Burtt created alien “languages” and sound effects for Star Wars).

John Williams delivers one of the most beautiful (and memorable) scores of his career.

Jurassic Park receives widespread critical acclaim and three Academy Awards for Best Visual Effects, Best Sound Mixing and Best Sound Editing. It grosses over $900 million worldwide and is the highest grossing film directed by Spielberg, his third “All Time Box Office” champion, replacing Spielberg’s own E.T. – The Extraterrestrial.

Today, Jurassic Park still holds 17th place (adjusted for inflation) and spawns three sequels, one of it directed by Steven Spielberg (The Lost World: Jurassic Park). Spielberg’s net worth gains $250 million through the first Jurassic Park movie alone. 

An animated TV series based on Jurassic Park’s events and characters is cancelled during pre-production when Spielberg objects for undisclosed reasons.

1985
Spielberg watches Whoopi Goldberg perform in a Broadway show and immediately casts her as Celie, the lead role in his screen adaptation of Alice Walker’s novel The Color Purple. The cast includes such fine actors as Danny Glover, Oprah Winfrey and Margaret Avery.

In his ambitious film, Spielberg tackles a variety of delicate issues such as domestic violence and incest among African-Americans, lesbianism, religion, and racism during the early 1900s – which is a bold departure from his previous series of mainstream blockbuster movies. 

Spielberg on his motivation to do the film: 

The big difference in The Color Purple is that the story is not larger than the lives of these people (…) I didn’t want to make another movie that dwarfs the characters. But here, the characters are the story.” … “I really wanted to challenge myself with something that was not stereotypically a Spielberg movie.” … “It’s as if I’ve been swimming in water up to my waist all my life -and I’m great at it – but now I’m going into the deep section of the pool.”

Spielberg’s achievement is not to be underestimated, considering Alice Walker’s novel is told in a series of letters. Screenwriter Menno Meyjes does an incredible job of translating them into a cinematic plot while maintaining the novel‘s essence. Cinematographer Allen Daviau masters the challenge of combining harsh reality with poetic imagery. 

The Color Purple is a surprise hit at the box office and receives mostly positive reviews. As expected, the film causes  a lot of controversy, but opens the door to more films like this – plus a Broadway musical.

Filmmaker Oliver Stone calls Spielberg’s adapation of Walker’s novel “an excellent movie, and it was an attempt to deal with an issue that had
been overlooked, and it wouldn’t have been done if it hadn’t been
Spielberg. And it’s not like everyone says, that he ruined the book.
That’s horseshit. Nobody was going to do the book. He made the book live again
.”

The film gets eleven Academy Award nominations, none for its director, and goes away empty-handed – not the first but the heaviest slap Spielberg receives by the Academy. For consolation (and for the first time), Spielberg gets the DGA Award from the Directors Guild of America.

Co-star Oprah Winfrey (who was raped aged nine in real life) is the first woman who, after her incredible performance in The Color Purple, produces her own talk show, the
highest-rated program of its kind in history.

Due to the film’s topics Spielberg chooses to replace his master composer John Williams by Quincy Jones who creates a brilliant score featuring jazz, ragtime, gospel, African music and blues. Spielberg can be heard whistling the main cue on the soundtrack.