Inspirational Stories VIII : Steven Spielberg, Directing His Story

By Ellesse

I’ve always loved Steven Spielberg‘s movies. Jaws, Jurassic Park, etc. You name it, most of them I would have watched it. I’m pretty fascinated at the way he created the scenes in his movies and have always wondered what he went through to set himself apart from other directors in his league.

I finally got the answer after reading this story.

It’s his ability to think out of the box and at times, flout the rules.

Who Says You Can’t Get in?

Steven Spielberg strode up to the security at the gate of Universal and gave the guard a casual wave. He was wearing a dark suit and carrying a briefcase. The guard waved back. He was in.

Did it matter? Steven Spielberg’s after all a world famous director and it’s nothing surprising that he’ll be allowed to go into the set. Technically speaking, you’re right. There’s nothing wrong.

Except that on that day, he was not expected to be on the set and his briefcase contained nothing but a sandwich and some chocolate bars. On that day, Steven Spielberg was a seventeen year old unknown on an internship at Universal’s purchasing unit.

It was through an associate of his father’s friend, Chuck Silvers that Steven got the job. At that time, Steven was already an accomplished junior film director. Silvers, an executive in the editorial department indicated that although there was an vacancy for a clerical position of some sort, he was unable to get Steven security clearance to the lot. Nonetheless, Steven still gladly took it up by turning up everyday in his suit, his father’s briefcase and sneaked in. He did that for the entire summer.

In Love With The Camera

Steven’s fascination with film making begin when he was eight years old. His father had just got a Brownie 8mm movie camera as a birthday present and henceforth, Steven was always found using it to capture family holidays. Occasionally, he would even give instructions to his characters (i.e. parents) to restage the scenes to increase the films’ artistic quality. He would also try to shoot different genre of movies such as an action flick of his train set wrecks and story telling movies involving his fellow Scouts mates.

As he got more involved into his film making hobby, his talent flourished and all the kids in the neighbourhood wanted a part in his movies. They would dress up as army officers in their father’s old uniforms and be filmed in approved settings of cockpits of vintage fighter planes at the airport. That was one of his preliminary movies about the World War II.

He’s Got the Stuff

His passion and talent garnered attention from the adults too, when he was featured in the local media for winning a state contest through his amateur production, Escape to Nowhere.

Firelight, another movie of his which used stage of the art music and sounds effects was very much publicized in the local news. A premiere was even arranged for it in a cinema in town! Although he was only seventeen when he completed Firelight, his skills and knowledge were in nowhere inferior to some of the most established directors much older than him.

His achievements came at a time when he was personally tormented. He was not focused in school, preferring to spend his efforts on his movies rather than his studies. Partly because of his religious background, unique talent and interest in film making, he was often ostracized in school. The disruptions caused by his moving house 3 times in a row and his parent’s subsequent divorce when he was still in high school didn’t help at all.

To help him escape from his physical reality, he relied on the illusion of the world created in his movies. Although he aspired to be a renowned director in science fiction, his poor academic results got in the way. He was rejected by the University of Southern California and the University of California at Los Angeles, 2 renowned schools in film making despite armed with 10 years of film making experience and rave testimonials.

Commencing on His Own Education

Undaunted, he enrolled for a degree in television and radio at the California State College at Long Beach. However, the program offered could not match his knowledge. He knew more about cameras than what the college could teach. He knew more about production than what he could learn there. Although he tried to transfer to another better film school, he was once again rejected because of his less than ideal academic qualifications.

Disheartened with the realities of a college education, Steven decided to learn using his own method. He began revisiting Universal Studios and sneaked into every department to learn as much as he could about filming, editing, sound mixing. He made self introductions over lunch to actors, directors and producers and loitered around the movie sets. Although he was often thrown out, he would usually creep back in again. That happened at least once a day.

When he tried to persuade the Universal executives to watch one of his 8mm productions and was told that only 16mm would be considered, he took up a part time job and earned enough money to buy film and pay for the camera rental to shoot a new production over 1 weekend. He was later told to return only after he had shot a 35mm production by his mentor Chuck Silvers. He repeated the same routine and reemerged with a short story about 2 drifters’ existential crisis called Amblin’.

Amblin’ was so well received that it was reviewed by Universal’s top management and eventually landed Steven a 7 year contract. Although he started off directing TV dramas and low budget movies in the earlier part of his directing career with Universal, he was eventually given the break to produce Jaws. The rest was history.

Jaws garnered outstanding box office records and earned Steven Spielberg the rights to produce subsequent record breakers such as E.T. Jurassic Park and Schindler’s list. Ironically, due to his remarkable achievements, he was subsequently conferred an honorary doctorate and a seat on the board of trustees of University of Southern California, a school where he was once rejected.

What Did I Learn From This Story?

That the true essence of education is not just in qualifying into one of the top elite schools but how you can translate that into value and contribution to the society.

(1) Intrinsic Value of Education

Reading Steven Spielberg’s unfortunate experience with his college education reminded me of my own irony. I knew of many acquaintances who had to take up night classes to study accountancy because most of them could not qualify for the same program in my University. They’re genuinely interested in making that as their career. As for me, even though I was granted admission, I didn’t make it my livelihood. I switched to becoming a financial systems implementation consultant and then subsequently to writing full time for Goal Setting College.

A lot of people tend to look at the absolute value of education. You don’t have good grades so you can’t get into the more popular courses. You’re trained to be an accountant so you must specialize in that field. Some people even thought that the moment they leave school, they’re not getting educated anymore.

Little did they know education is never meant to be confined to the strict walls of a structured regime. Nor, is it meant to be a means to the end. It’s an ever evolving process, meandering together with the various points of our lives to make us learn more about new domains of knowledge, ourselves, people around us and our surroundings.

My education as an accountant exposed me to the wonders of financial systems that made use of the fundamentals of the accounting principles. As a result, I made a career switch. The intricacies of the technology in financial systems increased my awareness about Internet technologies, yet at the same time allowed me to know my business associate who introduced me to Robert Kiyosaki’s Rich Dad Poor Dad. It was that little same book which sparked off my own pursuit of personal development.

That was all part of my education. It was truly priceless. It was priceless not because it helped me get better compensation in my job or allowed me to start my own business. It was priceless because I was able to translate that knowledge into contribution whether as a trainer for my users previously or a writer for my readers now.

That, to me is the true value of education.

(2) Showing Up

I remembered first reading about showing up in one of Steve Pavlina’s articles. Steven Spielberg’s inspirational story was another true depiction of it. When he was asked if he wanted the internship job at Universal, he said yes and showed up. When he was told by Universal executives that they would only consider 16mm, he did 1 production over the weekend and showed up. Though he was asked to return with a 36mm, he did as he promised and showed up again.

Living up to one’s promises is not just an act of trustworthiness or accountability. It can mean a difference between success or failure. For example, how many readers would stay subscribed to a blog or website that don’t “show up” with quality articles consistently? Some of them can be magnanimous but the majority would not bat an eyelid to clicking on the unsubscribe button.

Showing up is a fundamental prerequisite to achieving anything in life. You may not be exceptionally outstanding when you did turn up. But as long as you emerge with sincerity and a strong desire to improve, you can still stand steadfast to the test of time.

Now, when was the last time you showed up like Steven Spielberg?


2 Responses to “Inspirational Stories VIII : Steven Spielberg, Directing His Story”

  1. ashley brook smith at 3:49 pm

    I go to the gym late in the morning, but if I keep going eventually I will get there at an exact time. That’s all I can do anymore is just keep showing up. Thanks for your story, it will be one that helps save my life. It’s funny, I told a lady that yesterday I forgot my brush but today I brought my blow dryer.

  2. Ellesse at 2:48 am

    @Ashley Every little effort will eventually add up. And I’m really humbled to know that this story helped you! Please continue to strive your best in your goal and I’m sure you’ll definitely be able to achieve what you set out to do!


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