The Kid Stays in the Picture
By Fran Lostys
He was no scholar, and his classmates teased him. Rather than read, the kid really preferred running around with a 8 mm camera, shooting homemade movies of wrecks of his Lionel train set (which he showed to friends for a small fee).
In his sophomore year of high school, he dropped out. But when his parents persuaded him to return, he was mistakenly placed in a learning-disabled class. He lasted one month. Only when the family moved to another town did he land in a more suitable high school, where he eventually graduated.
After being denied entrance into a traditional filmmaking school, Steven Spielberg enrolled in English at California State College at Long Beach. Then in 1965, he recalls, in one of those serendipitous moments, his life took a complete turn. Visiting Universal Studios, he met Chuck Silvers, an executive in the editorial department. Silvers liked the kid who made 8 mm films and invited him back sometime to visit.
He appeared the next day. Without a job or security clearance, Spielberg (dressed in a dark suit and tie, carrying his father’s briefcase with nothing inside but “a sandwich and candy bars”) strode confidently up to the guard at the gate of Universal and gave him a casual wave. The guard waved back. He was in.
“For the entire summer,” Spielberg remembers, “I dressed in my suit and hung out with the directors and writers [including Silvers, who knew the kid wasn’t a studio employee, but winked at the deception]. I even found an office that wasn’t being used, and became a squatter. I bought some plastic tiles and put my name in the building directory: Steven Spielberg, Room 23C.”
It paid off for everyone. Ten years later, the 28-year-old Spielberg directed Jaws, which took in $470 million, then the highest-grossing movie of all time. Dozens of films and awards have followed because Steven Spielberg knew what his teachers didn’t — talent is in the eyes of the filmmaker.