Steven Spielberg delivers a thought-provoking speech at Harvard University and once again proves to be highly entertaining – even from behind the lectern.

Read the transcript

The list of previous
Commencement Day Speakers

is quite impressive…


Steven Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies
– a dramatic historical thriller written by Matt Charman and Ethan & Joel Coen – stars Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Amy Ryan, and Alan Alda. The supporting cast includes Austin Stowell, Domenick Lombardozzi, Michael Gaton, Sebastian Koch, and Burghart Klaußner.

This is Tom Hanks’ fourth film collaboration with Spielberg (their first in over ten years). Bridge of Spies allows Spielberg to finally do a genuine spy thriller… 

“I’ve always wanted to make a spy movie. This is not James Bond. Only James Bond can be James Bond. I’ve always been fascinated with the entertainment value of the James Bond spy series of movies, as well as the serious John le Carre spy novels, especially the Martin Ritt movie The Spy Who Came in From the Cold. Also spy pictures like The Quiller Memorandum and The Ipcress File, and Torn Curtain by Hitchcock in the ‘60s.”


Photo: © 2015 Twentieth Century Fox

Click here for a photo gallery.

The story is based on James B. Donovan’s book “Strangers on a Bridge: The Case of Colonel Abel and Francis Gary Powers” (1964) and Gilles Whittell’s book “Bridge of Spies: A True Story of the Cold War” (2010).

The film follows Brooklyn lawyer James B. Donovan (Tom Hanks) who has to cope with the Cold War’s repercussions when he is given a mission to negotiate the release of Francis Gary Powers, a pilot whose U-2 spy plane was shot down over the Soviet Union. Donovan is determined to get the situation solved, declaring “The next mistake our countries make could be the last one.”

In the official video for the film, Spielberg talks about how significant the U-2 incident was to him. His father Arnold, an electrical engineer, was on an exchange visit to Russia in 1960 when the U-2 spy plane crisis occurred.“The Russians were putting the pilot Gary Powers’ helmet and his flight suit and the remains of the U-2 plane on show for everyone in Russia to see. A military man saw my father’s American passport and took him to the head of the queue and repeated really angrily to the crowd, ‘look what your country is doing to us.’”

“I never forgot that story,” he says, “and because of that I never forgot what happened to Francis Gary Powers.”

Read this fascinating account of historical facts vs. cinematic fiction.

Matt Charman writes the script and pitches it to DreamWorks. Steven Spielberg quickly decides to direct and has Joel & Ethan Coen revise Charman’s original script. On March 3, 2015, co-producer Marc Platt reveals the title to be Bridge of Spies.

Principal photography begins under the working title of St. James Place on September 8, 2014, in Brooklyn, New York City. Filming continues in DUMBO, Astoria, and Manhattan. In order to match the style of the 1950s, Director of Photography Janusz Kamiński chooses to film on 35 mm film using anamorphic lenses in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1.

Further shooting is done at Babelsberg Studios in Berlin and Potsdam, Germany, and lasts there through the end of November. Filming in Berlin begins at the former Tempelhof Airport, for scenes that actually took place there, such as Donovan’s descending from a historic C-54 Skymaster. Another scene includes the prisoner exchange filmed on the Glienicke Bridge (also known as the “Bridge of Spies”) where the historical exchange actually took place in 1962.

The Glienicke Bridge is located near Wannsee, where the Wannsee
with Adolf Eichmann and the other architects of the Holocaust
took place – a fact that chills Spielberg twice as much during the winter shoot. The bridge is closed to traffic for filming over the last weekend of November. German Chancellor Angela Merkel visits the set to watch the filming of these scenes.

To film crucial Berlin Wall sequences, the production team travels to Wrolcaw, Poland where parts of the Berlin Wall and surrounding areas are reconstructed – supervised by production designer Adam Stockhausen who has won an Academy Award for his contributions to Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014). Costume designer Kasia Walicka Maimone who has collaborated with Anderson and Stockhausen on Moonrise Kingdom (2012) immerses herself in Cold War fashion. Janusz Kamiński can finally work in his home country again, after he experienced his first collaboration with Spielberg on Schindler’s List (1993).

Production wraps in Beale Air Force Base, near Marysville, California. Francis Gary Powers, Jr., founder of The Cold War Museum and the pilot’s son, is brought on as a technical consultant and has a cameo in the film.

The film’s score is composed by Thomas Newman. It is the first time a Steven Spielberg film is not scored by John Williams since The Color Purple (1985). Newman replaces him due to Williams’ commitment to compose the music for J.J. Abram’s Star Wars – The Force Awakens (2015) and a temporary health issue.

The first poster for Bridge of Spies is released on June 4, 2015, with the first trailer appearing online the following day. In European film posters, the US flag is replaced by an abstract illustration of the Glienicke Bridge in the style of the 60s famous poster and title designer Saul Bass.

Bridge of Spies is produced by Steven Spielberg, Marc Platt, and Kristie Macosko Krieger and  distributed by Touchstone Pictures in North America, with 20th Century Fox covering the remaining territories.

The film has its world premiere on October 4, 2015, at the 53rd New York Film Festival. Tom Hanks, Steven Spielberg, Amy Ryan, Mark Rylance, and Sebastian Koch attend in person. After the screening, Bridge of Spies gets the crowd to its feet for a standing ovation and opens to universal acclaim by critics and audiences.

Variety’s Kristopher Tapley praises Spielberg’s sturdy craftsmanship, Tom Hanks’ and Mark Rylance’s strong performances and the film’s story that he describes as “thematically potent, dealing in notions of idealism particularly
meaningful in the face of today’s perceived Constitutional slippery

The European premiere takes place in the Berlin Zoo Palast on November 13, 2015. Steven Spielberg, Kate Capshaw, Tom Hanks, Amy Ryan and Sebastian Koch attend the premiere.

Following the event, Steven Spielberg intends to travel to Paris to attend the French premiere of his film. However, the terrorist attacks in Paris put an end to these plans: 20th Century Fox cancels the premiere which was scheduled for November 15.


Bridge of Spies grosses more than $162 million worldwide (against a budget of $40 million). 

For more behind-the-scenes information on the making of the film, jump to our Bridge of Spies Special.

Steven Spielberg
accepts the AFI Life Achievement Award from the hands of his mentor Sid Sheinberg. At the ceremony, Spielberg reconciles with his father Arnold who is sitting next to Spielberg’s mother Leah.

The Trustees of the American Film Institute make the following statement (abridged):

The youngest recipient of this award, Spielberg is one of the finest talents of his generation and the most commercially successful filmmaker in the history of the cinema.

Some may believe that such overwhelming popularity must indicate a lack of serious artistic intent. But Spielberg has proved repeatedly that intelligent, heartfelt cinema can hold a mass public spellbound. Success on the scale of Spielberg’s is only possible when an emotional and visceral chord is struck deep in audiences’ hearts and minds. His films’ images and ideas of hope, beauty, excitement and nobility speak to the best that is in us. (…)

Spielberg made his mark in television first, but his work was always distinguished by its cinematic style. DUEL (1971), that nail-biting exercise in pure kinetic cinema, was an eye-opener, signaling to everyone who was paying attention that a striking new talent was on the scene. (…)

Ironically, Spielberg is often classified as a filmmaker of sentimental fantasy, but his range of subject matter and his variety of cinematic style are impressive. Indeed, you can scan the history of Hollywood without finding a parallel to his remarkable achievement of 1993 when, within the space of a few months, Spielberg released JURASSIC PARK and SCHINDLER’S LIST: one, a brilliant and exhilarating masterpiece of special effects, the other, a bitter, moving and heartfelt exploration of this century’s greatest tragedy. Few filmmakers, past or present, have been capable of such diverse statements, so perfectly realized, within so brief a span of time.

Steven Spielberg’s Life Achievement Award comes to him at a time when, conceivably, his best days are still to come. Consider some of the other directors who have received this honor: John Ford, Frank Capra, Alfred Hitchcock, Billy Wilder, David Lean. When they were Spielberg’s age they had THE SEARCHERS, IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE, VERTIGO, SOME LIKE IT HOT and LAWRENCE OF ARABIA ahead of them.

With the magical and memorable body of work he has already produced, just try and imagine what treasures Steven Spielberg still has in store.“

In his acceptance speech, Spielberg dedicates his award to his two most important collaborators, composer John Williams and editor Michael Kahn, to his parents and his family.

Spielberg is an AFI Trustee since 1986.

by his experience making Schindler’s List, Steven Spielberg establishes the Survivors
of the Shoah Visual History Foundation
Its mission: to videotape, before it is too late, the first-person
accounts of Holocaust survivors and other witnesses, e.g. homosexual
survivors, political prisoners, Roma and
Sinti survivors, and survivors of Eugenics policies.

All profits from Schindler’s List (and parts of Spielberg’s private assets) are channeled into the Foundation which today maintains one of the largest video digital libraries in the world: nearly 52,000
video testimonies in 32 languages and from 56 countries.

For many years, Spielberg’s father Arnold is a mentor and active supporter of the Foundation.

In 2006, the Foundation partners with and relocates to the University of Southern California and is renamed the USC Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education.

I Witness, the Institute’s educational website for teachers and their students, provides access to more than 1,500 testimonies for guided exploration. More than 39,000 educators around the world have been trained by the Institute to incorporate testimony into classroom lessons.

Always, the second film of Spielberg’s 1989 double salvo, is his first remake of a theatrical film.

While working together on Jaws (1975), Steven Spielberg and Richard Dreyfuss shared their affection for the 1943 melodrama A Guy Named Joe. Years later, they decide to do a remake. However, audiences and critics do not seem to find a connection to their enthusiasm for the dated story. Even film critic Roger Ebert, one of Spielberg’s most loyal patrons, rates Always as “Spielberg’s weakest film since 1941.”

Spielberg concludes: “Some movies don’t take off and there’s a thousand reasons why.”

In the original, WWII bomber pilot Pete, played by Spencer Tracy, dies in combat and returns as an invisible “angel” to find a new man for his love, Dorinda (Irene Dunne). 

In Spielberg’s version, Pete (Richard Dreyfuss) is a reckless firefighting pilot who cannot confess his love for Dorinda (Holly Hunter) before he dies in his crashing plane. Other notable cast members include John Goodman as Pete’s friend Al and Audrey Hepburn (in her last film) as Hap.

In Spielberg’s childhood, A Guy Named Joe was “one of the films that inspired him to become a movie director”. It created an emotional connection to his father’s war experiences as a communications chief of a WWII bomb squadron. On another level, Always gives Spielberg an opportunity to deal with the divorce from his wife Amy Irving and the loss that he feels.

Spielberg chooses Mikael Salomon as his director of photography after watching some of his footage from James Cameron’s The Abyss (1989).

Always is considered only a modest financial success, though it grosses about $74 million worldwide.

Steven Spielberg directs his first 8mm feature film
: At Camelback Mountain in Scottsdale, he creates his most ambitious film so far.

Escape to Nowhere (40 Min.) tells of a group of US soldiers who are encircled by German troops in North Africa. For the finale, Spielberg uses six cameras simultaneously (he has borrowed them from friends).

Spielberg’s first film award: He wins first prize at the 1962-63 Canyon Films Junior Film Festival. Spielberg gets a 16mm Kodak film camera and a collection of “How to shoot a movie” books which he donates to the school library because he doesn’t need it.

On Arnold Spielberg’s advice, the camera is sold, as the cost of 16mm film are too high. From the proceeds,
Spielberg buys himself a Bolex H8 Deluxe, a state-of-the-art 8mm
camera of that time. In addition, his father buys a Bolex projector and a
Bolex Sonerizer. For the first time, Spielberg can record sound on the