As most of you know, Steven Spielberg has always been an inspiration to me when it comes to storytelling. And I know you might now wonder, but why? You are an old-fashioned author of books? Should you not look up to other old-fashioned authors of books?
I don’t just write books for the sake of my love for writing. I wrote my book because of my love for storytelling in general. I wrote my book because it, at least to me, was an important story to share with the world. And a very relevant one at that. Writing it down was my way of getting the story out there.
Steven Spielberg: A Biography;
“The literature of Irving Thalberg’s generation was books and plays. They read the great words of great minds. And I think in our romance with technology and our excitement at exploring all the possibilities of film and video, we’ve partially lost something that we now have to reclaim. I think it’s time to renew our romance with the word… Only a generation of readers will spawn a generation of writers.”
‘Our romance with the word.’ A fine and unexpected expression by Spielberg, but how dated it seems amongst young creatives today? Personally I think that these were interesting words for Spielberg. Whose technically stunning films and interest in emerging technologies both within and beyond the film-making profession would make you say otherwise.
But let’s have a look at some of the themes discussed in his films. Because I believe his words about the written word were heartfelt and backed up by his movie history. Take a closer look at; Jurassic Park, A.I. Artificial Intelligence, and Minority Report. Why? Because these Spielberg films all focus on the threat posed when we focus on technology at the expense of everything else (a theme he’ll likely reprise in Ready Player One, his latest movie), And this while his other movies Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Saving Private Ryan, and Bridge of Spies all focus on educated heroes and the importance of a deep knowledge of the history of our world.
To provide some more proof, just have a look at his list of movies since 1985. Because it was during the release of The Color Purple that Spielberg got to grips with a complex literary adaptation — and from there he didn’t stop. Fifteen of the twenty films released since that time have been based on books.
It was around the release of The Color Purple that Spielberg issued this rallying cry to Hollywood to highlight the significance of literary artists, as well as visual ones. Spielberg insisted that all movies, no matter how visually impressive, no matter how innovative in their use of imagery, all begin with the same thing: a well-written story.
Steven Spielberg: A Biography;
‘We are first and foremost storytellers, and without, “the photoplay,” everybody is simply improvising.”
I believe that Spielberg’s battle with dyslexia and his success in overcoming it as a director is one of the least-celebrated, but to me definetly most significant, victories of his storytelling career so far. And as he continues to take these book adaptations on, he secures his significance to me, not just as a great cinematic voice, but also a literary one. Something that most everyone seems to forget. Perhaps because some are blinded by his technically stunning films.
On a personal note I don’t think that Spielberg’s movies are fascinating because they are technically appealing. What I appreciate most about his movies is that he has never lost his appreciation for words or for writers in the industry as well as in society in general. Despite the fact that his words about writers came unexpected to me at first, I believe that his appreciation for writers shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. Because for all his struggles with words, Spielberg never found it difficult to understand ‘a good story.’
Steven Spielberg: A Biography;
“My father was a great storyteller, and my grandfather [Fievel, from whom the hero of An American Tail takes his name] was amazing. I remember hearing stories from him when I was four or five and I’d be breathless, sitting on the edge of his knee.”
I can’t help but think that most of my favorite storytellers (literary ones and visual ones) grew up with old-fashioned bedtime stories. It’s safe to say that children back in the day didn’t grew up with their faces in a screen. They actively had to use their imagination on a daily basis. That’s why it’s so concerning to me that we don’t take the time to read our kids bedtime stories anymore. And that we don’t take the time to read books ourselves anymore.
When you watch a movie or play a video game you’re not exactly practicing the arts of picturing something in front of you that isn’t there yet. Because of this I dare to say that watching a movie isn’t very stimulating for your imagination. Because watching a movie is passive behaviour. When you watch a movie, the director has already visualized the world for you. There is not much to be left over for your own imagination or for your own interpretation.
However, there is something about reading fiction that’s very different from watching movies. Reading a good book sparks your imagination like nothing else. Because a writer (a good writer) will give you all the tools to do the imagining yourself. After all, a good fiction book is suposed to read like a movie. But you, the reader, are the director of that movie.
We claim as a society that we have become smarter because of our advanced technology. However most of us have aboslutely nothing to do with the creation of that technology. Why don’t we come to the realization that most of us are just consumers and users of technology, not builders? Toddlers know how to work on an Ipad in 2018. What this shows us is that it’s not difficult to learn how to push a couple of buttons.
Why did I get the feeling once I entered the creative industry that I needed to have access to lots of money to be able to tell a story? Why did I get the feeling that I needed to know how to ‘run the machines’ to tell a story? When I had it in me to tell a story all this time?
I can’t help but wonder how many inspiring stories we might have missed due to beginning storytellers being paralized by everything that is suposedly needed to tell a story nowadays. When you look up what it means to be able to tell a story, you might find that none of the above mentioned is needed to begin telling that story you’ve always wanted to tell.
With this post I don’t want to claim that beautiful imagery and emerging technology are not important in storytelling. They are/can be an important part of the storytelling process. But they should always be there to serve a well-written story. What makes me incredibly sad is that I feel that a significant amount of young creatives today give up on storytelling (world building, character development, dialogue) in order to be able to ‘run the machines.’ Without ever figuring out what it means to tell a story at it’s core.