In a flash, she produces a cup of tea.
At this second meeting, Spielberg is wearing a big, floppy sweater and jeans, and appears more relaxed, though he is still bouncy. His office, done in an earth-tone kind of way, is filled with photographs and awards. A director's chair in the far corner of the office says "Nudge." The most sophisticated piece of machinery appears to be a telephone.
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.
It is from this second-floor aerie that the Amblin empire is run. When Spielberg formed it in 1984, to give him and his producers, Kennedy and her husband, Frank Marshall, an umbrella under which to operate, Universal paid for the building. Even now, Universal continues to pay much of the company's overhead.
Asked what Universal expects from him, Spielberg laughs. "Everything! They expect to get everything first, but, of course, they don't." His box-office track record buys him complete independence; he is exclusive to no one. Most of the films he directs are distributed by Universal or by Warner Bros., but it's his choice, always. If Spielberg thinks one studio can better distribute a certain kind of movie than another, he'll go there. "I have no obligation to Universal, really," he says, "unless you want to look at this wonderful building and apply the word \o7 guilt\f7 ."
Nor does Spielberg answer to anyone concerning the content of his films. What he makes, he gets to show; it's his toy. "But that doesn't mean I work in a vacuum," he insists. "I have a group of longtime friends, mainly directors, whom I consult with all the time. And I consulted with Kathy Kennedy on everything. But basically, I respond to my expectations as a filmmaker. I'm very reactive on the set about performances and how the scenes are feeling, and I'm constantly putting the film through my own set of tests and contemplations and revisions. I've always been my own worst judge and critic."
On at least two occasions, Spielberg walked out of his own sneak previews. One was "Hook," the Peter Pan epilogue he made for Columbia. "I was upset by my sense that the film was not working on that audience in Texas," he says. "I gave it 40 minutes, then I got up and I went out to the car and I fell asleep in the back seat of the limousine." To his surprise, the audience apparently gave it a 96% approval rating. Although the movie grossed more than $91 million domestically, it left many critics wishing they could have slept through the movie, too.
The other screening Spielberg fled was "Raiders of the Lost Ark." "I find sneak previews terrifying," he says. "I stand in the back, I pace. Or sometimes I sit and become a member of the audience and I just love them loving what they're watching. Other times, I sit there with flop sweat pouring out of my ears."
A rough compilation of the domestic grosses earned by Spielberg's movies--those he directed--is a staggering $2.5 billion. But he's been far more prolific as a producer of other people's movies. "Poltergeist," "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" and the "Gremlin" and "Goonie" films, to name a few, have hauled in an additional $650 million. At the moment, Amblin is producing four more features. Like a Spielberg-created monster, the thing just keeps growing.
There is, for instance, the merchandising money. Long before most directors grasped the concept, Spielberg was off and running. He tried and failed to persuade the producer of "Jaws" to license the infamous shark. But he succeeded brilliantly at hawking "Indiana Jones" fedoras and "E.T." dolls, and now, of course, dinosaurs. One entertainment analyst estimated that retail sales for "E.T." items have surpassed $1 billion.
Not all of his brainstorms have succeeded, however. After producing "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" for Disney, Spielberg decided he wanted to \o7 become\f7 Disney. Three years ago, he persuaded Universal to build him an animation factory in London. Spielberg, or his people, recruited 350 of Europe's best illustrators and set up Amblimation. But the first, "Fievel Goes West," a sequel to "An American Tail," was a financial flop. A new feature, "We're Back! A Dinosaur's Story," recently hit the theaters to fairly good reviews; another is in the works.
So far, his efforts to produce a TV series have had iffy results. He executive produces two successful syndicated cartoon series, but the fantasy anthology "Amazing Stories," which ran for two seasons, did not garner high ratings. And Spielberg's latest, the pricey "seaQuest DSV," has gotten shaky reviews and has questionable prospects for a second season.
Still, around town, Spielberg is known as a crafty businessman and a tough negotiator. According to Forbes magazine, he has amassed $72 million. But Hollywood insiders scoff at that figure. "It's much more than that, believe me," attests one prominent agent. "No one crafts better deals for himself than Spielberg, often at the expense of the talent he hires."