Filthy Lucre

Michael Cieply 10.28 piece about War Horse director Steven Spielberg, called “What Makes Spielberg Jump?”, will appear in Sunday’s print edition. The invisible subtitle is “Spielberg really wouldn’t mind winning an Oscar for War Horse (Best Picture or Best Director or both), and this is the opening salvo in an attempt to make that happen.”

Here’s the portion that got my attention: “For those who wonder what drives him, money is no object: The Los Angeles Business Journal recently listed Spielberg as this city’s eighth richest person, with a net worth estimated at $3.2 billion.”

Meaning that his liquid worth is…what? With those kind of holdings Spielberg could easily self-finance a $100 million movie and pay for the worldwide marketing without breaking a sweat…no?

“He’s often choosing [which films to do] for emotional reasons,” Spielberg’s longtime producing partner Kathy Kennedy tells Cieply. “I do think that plays a role in what he chooses to do.” As opposed to making a film because he needs the scratch?

Spielberg has always been a bottom-line commercial guy, and like most shrewd players he’s never sunk a nickel of his own money into a film he’s produced or directed. (Or at least not to my knowledge.) But he could play it like Francis Coppola if he wanted to. If he wanted to self-finance he has the absolute freedom to do any film he wants, any way he wants, starring anyone, and costing whatever. Any emotional subject that appeals to him, Spielberg can make a flick about it and get it released. No strings, no impediments.

So why is he directing Robopocalypse after Lincoln?

27 thoughts on “Filthy Lucre

  1. Because Robopocalypse fits with his other recent sci-fis where our over reliance on technology is becoming a bad thing. Also he wants to have fun. That article wasn’t good though. No new insight, no interview or quotes, just supposition.

    Coppola once said: “Steven Spielberg is unique. I feel the same movies he loves to make, are the same kind of movies big mass audiences love. He’s very fortunate because he can do the things he naturally likes best, and he’s been very successful.

  2. “The invisible subtitle is ‘Spielberg really wouldn’t mind winning an Oscar for War Horse (Best Picture or Best Director or both), and this is the opening salvo in an attempt to make that happen.’”

    Yes, that young upstart really needs to make a name for himself in the industry.

    The Coppola quote Rashad cites is absolutely right. The films Spielberg has made for the last thirty-some years are the kinds of movies he grew up obsessing on as a child, tried to recreate as a teenager, studied in college. So he doesn’t feel the need to make some weird, low-budget headscratcher of a “passion project” — these movies obviously mean something to him. That they don’t to you, Wells, shouldn’t be reason to slam him.

    He’s been shaped by the studio system since the first movie he saw. Dissing him for not going “independent” and self-financing all his movies is pretty disingenuous, even for you.

  3. War Horse is Spielberg’s Anthony Minghella movie. This is his standard procedure – make a popcorn flick then a dramatic movie. I’m a huge Spielberg fan but I never for one second believed he made Crystal Skull “For the fans.” He wanted to spend a summer having a good time with his best friends. And the 6 million dollar directing fee I’m sure didn’t hurt. And I think he and Harrison were just sick of having people ask him “When’s Indiana Jones 4 coming out?” every single goddamn day for 18 years. They just said “Fuck it – let’s mash one up somehow and release it.” I notice there aren’t that many questions regarding another one these days.

  4. “Spielberg has always been a bottom-line commercial guy”

    The guy who loaned money to Kurosawa for his last movies, paid for the Godfather restoration, only interested in “filthy lucre?”

    THAT SPIELBERG’S NO MOVIE CATHOLIC, HE’S A MOVIE JEW!!

  5. Interesting article and feels like a misstep (if he really does want the Oscar for War Horse) with the insinuation that he has a bunch of Oscars and wants more. I never for a second buy that he is truly passionate about either of these films.

    Also “He is not doing it for the money, he is worth 3.2 billion” is an idiotic statement to make. If I were Spielberg I would never want money to come up in an early Oscar piece because it reminds everyone of all the dreck he’s made as a producer to make those billions.

    I haven’t heard this in an Oscar Poker podcast yet but how much does Lincoln hurt War Horse’s chances? Are Academy members going to be looking a year ahead and say we’ve given this guy 3 Oscars and next year during an election he is releasing a movie about Lincoln starring arguably the world’s most talented actor. Best case scenario War Horse feels like Avatar in a way where it “may” be wildly successful financially but its box office and awards will be enough credit without giving an Oscar to a 3-time winner a year before Lincoln.

    I sort of like the parallels between Spielberg this year and in ’97. Schmaltzy Oscar bait: Amistad=War Horse. Shameless Mainstream moneygrab: JP2=Tintin. Looming War Giant with beloved Actor as a lead: Saving Private Ryan=Lincoln.

  6. How can you call Tintin a shameless moneygrab? It’s been something he’s been wanting to do since the ’80s. Just watch/read the interviews he gives with Jackson. The technology and the movie had him excited.

  7. “Spielberg has always been a bottom-line commercial guy, and like most shrewd players he’s never sunk a nickel of his own money into a film he’s produced or directed.”

    Doesn’t dumping in a bunch of cash to co-found Dreamworks count?

  8. No, Ponderer, it obviously doesn’t count, because Jeff is trying to twist every fact he can into a damnation of Spielberg. Spielberg has billions, therefore he should *want* to spend $100 million of his own money on a movie nobody (including him) wants to see. Otherwise he isn’t a real director.

  9. It was a total throwaway in the comments section of Poland’s blog last week, and for all I know it was bullshit, but some dude with a generic name claimed he had just that morning seen a screening of TINTIN and that it was so good it would be the first movie to crack the billion dollar mark. Are they really screening TINTIN? Is it really that good? Do these two movies really come out the same week?

    When’s the last time that happened? Renny Harlin’s Ford Fairlane and Die Hard 2 coming out seven days apart in 1990?

  10. Only 3.2 billion? That’s actually kinda small, when you look at all his work over the years. Must be very charitable. Oh, and I don’t care about War Horse, but the “lead actor” is cute.

  11. also part of his ‘war horse’ oscar ‘campaign’ is an upcoming 1 hour tcm special, ‘afi’s master class: the art of collaboration’…just spielberg and john williams sitting in front of a very small audience discussing films they’ve worked on together and dissecting a few iconic scenes from other director/composers… it airs 11/15 and is pretty entertaining/interesting…..

  12. I like Spielberg as much as the next guy, but the only thing weirder than Jeff’s ongoing baiting about him… is the fact that there are HORDES of HE regulars– generally the most cynical batch of naysayers this side of Finke’s blog– who step up to the plate, thread in and thread out, to complain about JW on this and to CHAMPION Spielberg… I mean he’s great, but is ever really the “cool” director to launch this IMPASSIONED defense over, as if he needs the backup? It plays like a bunch of Yankees fans trying to convince us all that the Yankees are a winning team. Like, no shit, no go root for the Pirates or somebody who needs it.

  13. LexG,

    That may have been my comment you read on David Poland’s site. As Eloi Wrath pointed out, Tintin was released this week around Europe. When I saw the trailer for War Horse, I send very loudly that it would be Spielberg’s first billion dollar movie (the inflation adjustment bureau know what I mean). While I still believe that the Horse can win that much, having seen Tintin, I think Spielberg could be looking at the biggest year of his life. Back to back.

    Tintin is great fun.

  14. Tintin opened here in Sweden yesterday, Friday 28 October. Great reviews. Got an entire “Tintin Week” in the largest circulation paper, Aftonbladet. Going to do monster business in Europe and elsewhere, and word of mouth will carry over to the US, even if Tintin was never big there before.

    And Andy Serkis has gotten “Ape”-like praise for his Captain Haddock.

    Tintin will make a billion even without the US, and Spielbeg knows that.

  15. “But he could play it like Francis Coppola if he wanted to. ”

    Yeah … I can’t wait to see Steven Spielberg’s ‘Twixt.’ I’m sure Spielberg is dying to set the world on fire like Coppola is these days.

    RE LexG: I think the HE comment section is contrarian by nature, and The Internet seems to have collectively decided that it hates Steven Spielberg a few years ago so by defending Spielberg …

  16. Based on the trailers alone, I think Tintin and War Horse are going to be HUGE hits, and I think War Horse will end up as the odds on favorite for the Oscar BP…most of the films that will be in the BP race haven’t even been released yet, bad news for the Moneyball / The Help crowd…

  17. As for sinking his own money into films, he did pay for the giant sheet of glass that breaks under the sonic waves of the mothership’s music at the end of Close Encounters.

    But I’ll never forgive him for turning Orson Welles down flat in 1984 when he was looking for $5m to make a movie, and then making him pick up the lunch check.

  18. “I mean he’s great, but is ever really the “cool” director to launch this IMPASSIONED defense over, as if he needs the backup? It plays like a bunch of Yankees fans trying to convince us all that the Yankees are a winning team. Like, no shit, no go root for the Pirates or somebody who needs it.”

    This is one of the most dead-on sports analogies I’ve ever seen on this site. Bravo. But yeah, like RJ says — you normally won’t hear too much out of people on the ‘Net unless they fervently disagree with you.

    @Mr. F — My memory is probably failing me at the moment, but didn’t Spielberg go to some really chintzy California community college? Did he even eventually graduate legitimately, or did he end up getting one of those honorary Bachelor’s?

    Not that it matters in the slightest at this juncture (obviously), but I never really got the feeling that “studying film” was a formative experience that factored into the career choice for him AT ALL, let alone to the extent that it was for a lot of those USC/UCLA/NYU movie brats (i.e., the Lucas/Coppola/Scorsese fraternities) from his generation.

  19. He left school, and didn’t graduate until 2002.

    I think the defending Spielberg, comes from this recent trend on the internet of people acting trying to tear down his masterful skill and work.

  20. “So he doesn’t feel the need to make some weird, low-budget headscratcher of a “passion project” ”

    Except for low budget, that pretty much sums up the bleak, melancholy, deeply sad A.I.

  21. Yeah, because Coppola’s self-financed films have been so wonderful. Please. The blind Spielberg bashing is starting to get embarrassing. It’s like fans who hated Michael Jordan in the 90s trying to convince everyone else that he wasn’t really that good.

    Please, by all means, list your director darlings both present and past. Guaranteed 99% of them have/or desperately want to swim in the big budget, studio, mass market pools. Who wouldn’t?

  22. I’m not a huge Spielberg fan in general, but TinTin is absolutely terrific!

    True to the comics, it’s really the kind of film (aside from the cutting edge technology) they don’t make anymore. The fun adventure spirit, the pulpy kind of feel to it and the breathless set pieces, plus incredible mo-cap and voice work from pretty much everybody, make it one of the more purely entertaining films I’ve seen for a long time.

    It’ll be a huge hit, and deservedly so.

  23. The last time a summer blockbuster was as much fun as TinTin was maybe the first hour or so of War of the Worlds. The brilliant one-take chase scene alone is worth a ticket, and a hallucination-filled flashback is as inventive a use of the modern film medium as any in recent years. Might go back and see it a second time today.

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