Another form of inspiration came inadvertently from Billy Wilder when he made it known that he, too, wanted to direct "Schindler's." Spielberg, who considers Wilder one of the great geniuses of all time, briefly considered producing the movie and letting Wilder, who had fled Germany in the 1930s, direct it. "He made me look very deeply inside myself when he was so passionate to do this," Spielberg says. "In a way, he tested my resolve."
Still, the film was not getting made. Keneally tried to write a screenplay (unsuccessful in Spielberg's view), and another writer took four years but produced only one act. Time passed. Kathleen Kennedy, who came to work for Spielberg at about the time he first read "Schindler's List" and left a year ago to start a production company with her husband, recalls: "Whenever we would finish a movie, we would start talking about 'Schindler's' again. But there was always a problem with the screenplay or a question of who to cast. The thing is, when Steven wants to make a movie, he makes it. The screenplay gets fixed, the actors found. At the heart of it, he was suffering anxieties as to whether he was intellectually and emotionally mature enough for it. To deal with the complexities of the movie, he felt he had to be a complete adult."
FOR THE RECORD
Los Angeles Times Sunday January 23, 1994 Home Edition Los Angeles Times Magazine Page 2 Times Magazine Desk 1 inches; 19 words Type of Material: Correction
In "Steven Spielberg, Seriously" (by Diane K. Shah, Dec. 19) the name of Universal Studios film librarian Chuck Silvers was misspelled.
Finally, two years ago, Steven Zaillian, who wrote "Awakenings," finished his version of the screenplay, and Spielberg felt he was ready. And he understood he could not--this time--make a sentimental movie. "I know I'm sentimental," he says. "I just really like people a lot. I'm always siding with the positive in human nature, so that tends to drive most of my movies into a category which some people can rightly claim is sweet and soft. To keep that from happening in 'Schindler,' I held most of the performances back."
Spielberg had seen a documentary about Oskar Schindler and he was struck by similarities between the German and Spielberg's close friend Steve Ross, the ebullient, larger-than-life chairman of Warner Communications who died of cancer last December. "I'd been talking to Steve for 10 years about this character Oskar Schindler, and I would always joke, 'If you were an actor I'd put you in the part,' " Spielberg recalls. "After I cast Liam Neeson, I asked Steve if I could show Liam some home movies I'd shot of him. I wanted Liam to see that he didn't have to push the charm or himself as an actor. The deeds were a strong enough statement unto themselves."
Besides Neeson, the film features only two key roles. One is that of Itzhak Stern, played by Ben Kingsley, the accountant Schindler hires for his factory, and who, through his clever machinations, shifts Schindler's focus from the bottom line to the perilous plight of his workers. The other role is that of Amon Goeth, the brutal commandant of the neighboring Plaszow concentration camp, played by the young British actor Ralph Fiennes.
When Spielberg read Zaillian's script, he felt they needed to flesh out the characters of some of the Jewish laborers, as had been done in the book. "But Steve said, 'That's not the way I see it. I see this as an overview, not as an internal view,' " Spielberg notes. "And I realized I didn't want this to be a movie about those five Jews whose story we were telling. I didn't want people to come away saying, 'Oh, yeah, the Holocaust. That thing that happened to those five people.' "
To shoot the film, he hired a young Polish-born cinematographer, Janusz Kaminski, who had worked with him on a pilot for a TV series a year or two earlier. "I had heard pretty scary things about Steven Spielberg," Kaminski says. "I heard he was very demanding, impatient, and that he had very specific ideas about lighting," something often left to the cinematographer.
But the collaboration worked and Spielberg, who usually does issue the orders, found himself seeking Kaminski's advice. "We didn't want the film to look like a documentary," Kaminski says, "but a film true to the years 1939 through 1945. Sometimes the photography Steven was familiar with and suggested would have been too glamorous. We didn't want it to look beautiful, just real."
Editor Michael Kahn would get the same message. "Steven would tell me, 'Let's not create performances, let the scene play through. We're not going to cheat the audience by manipulation,' " Kahn reports. "He also cautioned me, 'Don't use any Hollywood shots, stay with the real, stay with the hand-held.' "
Meanwhile, Spielberg was having a film experience like none other. "Naturally, there's a camera involved in every shot," he says. "But I don't have any recollections of a camera on the set. It's the darndest thing. It's never happened to me before."
Which is interesting, because when Kaminski sat down to watch the finished picture, he says, "After 10 minutes, I forgot I shot it."