2016
Oscar-Winning cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond dies.

He created a groundbreaking imagery on the Steven Spielberg-directed films The Sugarland Express (1974) and Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977). The video clip demonstrates his progressive camera style that is influenced by documentaries.

According to a Variety obituary, he escaped from his native Hungary after the 1956 Russian invasion and slowly worked his way up, starting with low-budget exploitation
films. He got his break with Robert Altman’s stylistically daring Western McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971), in
which Zsigmond applied a limited palate of desaturated colors.

He later worked for directors such as Michael Cimino, Martin Scorsese, Woody Allen, George Miller and Brian De Palma. 

He received an Academy Award for his achievements on Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) and was a three-times nominee for The Deer Hunter (1978), The River (1984), and The Black Dahlia (2006).

Within just over a week, the film community loses another of its greatest cinematographers: Zsigmond follows two-times Academy Awards winner Haskell Wexler, who worked on some of the landmark Hollywood films of the 1960s and ’70s but never collaborated with Steven Spielberg.

2011
Greg Mottola
’s Paul, a hilarious sci-fi comedy road movie, is written by and starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. It follows two British science fiction fans who meet an extraterrestrial being (voiced by Seth Rogen) and help the alien to escape the Secret Service agents pursuing him, so that he can return to his home planet. The film contains numerous references to other (science fiction) films, especially those of Steven Spielberg.

In an interview, Pegg and Frost say they made the film to demonstrate their love for Steven Spielberg’s films Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) and E.T. the Extra Terrestrial (1982), as well as their favorite science fiction films. After they mention the project to Spielberg, he suggests he might make a cameo appearance, and a scene is added to include him as a voice on a speakerphone in 1980 discussing ideas with Paul for his soon to become box office hit E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.

2001
Shrek
 is a hilarious computer-animated film about a green ogre named “Shrek“ (derived from the Yiddish/German word "Schreck“, meaning "fright“). Loosely based on William Steig’s 1990 fairy tale picture book Shrek!, the film is directed by Andrew Adamson and Vicky Jenson and establishes DreamWorks Animation as a prime competitor to Pixar. 

Characters of the witty fairy tale are voiced by actors such as Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz, and John Lithgow. When Mike Myers is brought in to work for the lead character, he decides to record his voice in a Scottish accent. 

The rights to the books are originally bought by executive producer Steven Spielberg in 1991. At the time, he plans to make a traditionally animated film. When Spielberg brings the film to the newly founded DreamWorks SKG in 1994, Jeffrey Katzenberg quickly puts Shrek into development. The film adaptation leans heavily on pop culture references and parody, often targeting animated Disney films (Katzenberg’s previous employer).

Shrek’s references to other films include The Wizard of Oz (1939), Dumbo (1941), Cinderella (1950), Peter Pan (1953), Vertigo (1958), West Side Story (1961), Star Trek (1966), The Godfather (1972), Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975), Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), The Blues Brothers (1980), Poltergeist (1982), Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi (1983), Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984), Beetlejuice (1988), Pulp Fiction (1994), Mulan (1998), and Gladiator (2000).

Originally, Shrek is conceived to be motion-captured, but after poor results, the studio decides to assign Pacific Data Images (PDI), a company sold to DreamWorks in 2000, with the task of providing Shrek’s computer-animated look.

Grossing $484.4 million worldwide, the film is a critical and commercial success. Shrek wins the first ever Academy Award for Best Animated Feature (beating Pixar’s Monsters, Inc) and is nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay.

Due to the film’s huge success DreamWorks creates three sequels, Shrek 2 (2004), Shrek the Third (2007), and Shrek Forever After (2010), as well as other merchandise, such as video games, a stage musical and a comic book.

1979
In Moonraker (directed by Lewis Gilbert) James Bond enters earth orbit aboard a Space Shuttle. The henchmen’s name is “Jaws”. Spielberg will cast the villain’s actor, Michael Lonsdale, for his film Munich (2005).

Producer Albert R. Broccoli asks Spielberg for permission to use the musical cue from Close Encounters for a scene.

Spielberg approves and hopes (in vain) that in return he might be assigned to direct a Bond movie. According to Roger Moore’s biography, Spielberg tried to get a profit share which Broccoli reclined.

1977
In late May, George Lucas is on vacation in Hawaii, trying to escape the Star Wars premiere, which he feels at the time is going to be a disappointment at the box office. Steven Spielberg is also on Hawaii, after having completing Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977).

While the two directors build a sand castle at the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, Spielberg expresses his interest in directing a James Bond film. Lucas tells him about his concept for an adventure film, with a character named ‘Indiana Smith’ who is “better than James Bond”.

Spielberg loves Lucas’ concept, calling it “a James Bond film without the hardware,” although he tells Lucas that the surname ‘Smith’ does not sound right. Lucas replies, “OK. What about ‘Jones’?”

Initially, Spielberg hesitates to accept Lucas’ offer to direct Raiders of the Lost Ark (1982) as Lucas needs Spielberg to commit for the entire trilogy. When Spielberg explains he does not want to be involved in the creation of two more scripts. Lucas replies that he already has the next two movies written, so Spielberg agrees (later, Lucas has to confess that he has not written anything for the sequels).

Lucas and Spielberg remain close friends ever since.

Spielberg will shoot Jurassic Park (1993) on Hawaii.

1977
George Lucas’ Star Wars
steals the show from Close Encounters: Lucas creates a modern times mythology and a loyal fan base spanning the generations.

In advance of the premiere, Lucas believes to have created a box office disappointment. So he proposes Spielberg a deal: In exchange for 2.5% of the revenues from Close Encounters Lucas will give him the same points from Star Wars. Spielberg’s film is beaten by Star Wars at the box office, but Spielberg earns more than $ 40 million in subsequent years.

23-year-old James Cameron quits his job as a truck driver and decides to enter the film business after watching Star Wars. 10-year-old Wes Anderson (vainly) tries to stage a theatrical adaptation of Star Wars at his school.

1977
Spielberg’s first science fiction box office hit
: Close Encounters of the Third Kind starring Richard Dreyfuss is a genre milestone and draws a worldwide crowd. The film celebrates coexistence and childlike curiosity with captivating, innovative imagery. Spielberg uses some motifs from his 8mm amateur film Firelight (1964).

According to Spielberg, the scene “Barry opens the door” (videoclip) is his master image that puts his entire filmmaking in a nutshell:

“That beautiful but awful light, just like fire coming through the doorway.
And he’s very small, and it’s a very large door, and there’s a lot of
promise or danger outside that door.
”

He adds:

“I really believe that Close Encounters was probably the closest I’ve ever come to achieving a dream on film.”

Spielberg casts one of his directorial idols, François Truffaut, for the part of a language expert. Truffaut observes and admires Spielberg’s work on the set and urges him to do a film with children. Spielberg follows his advice and directs E.T. –
The Extra Terrestrial
(1982).

First collaboration with editor Michael Kahn continuing to this day.

Spielberg selects Vilmos Zsigmond (The Sugarland Express, 1974) as his cinematographer and assigns some of his colleagues for additional shots: John A. Alonzo, William A. Fraker, LĂĄszlĂł
KovĂĄcs, Douglas Slocombe and Allen Daviau.

Based on his famous 5-tone motif, John Williams composes a multifaceted score which culminates in a complex
synthesizer-supported concert. Until today, Close Encounters remains one of his favorite scores that he created for a Spielberg film. “It was more than just Cellophane going through a projecting machine, it had a kind of life.”

Douglas
Trumbull
– known for his work for Kubrick’s 2001 – A Space Odyssey (1968) – is responsible for the impressive special effects. Dennis Muren films the mothership sequence.

For the fist time, Spielberg is nominated for Best Director. Close Encounters receives two Academy Awards (Best Cinematography and Best Sound-Effects) out of six nominations.

Roger
Ebert
, Chicago Tribune film critic, writes a report on the shooting of Close Encounters and conducts an interview with Spielberg on the top-secret set. Ebert will evolve into one of film criticism’s most loyal Spielberg admirers.

US President Jimmy Carter declares himself a UFO fan and watches Close Encounters twice.