Lesson #3: Find Inspiration Around You

Despite his ability to create fantasy worlds and invent creatures the likes of which the world has never seen before, the secret inspiration behind Spielberg’s films is actually his everyday life. From his own childhood experiences to his current fatherhood role, Spielberg takes ordinary events and turns them into extraordinary tales. This is one of the key reasons why Spielberg’s films have been such a success. However out-of-this-world the stories he tells may be, there is always a unique simplicity in their messages.

Spielberg claims that his first inspiration to use his imagination and begin producing movies came from his family. “My mom and dad gave me free reign at expressing myself, up to and including torturing all of my sisters,” he said. “They were my first audience.” Spielberg would spend countless hours concocting scary stories to frighten his sisters with, and if he succeeded in terrifying them, he considered his story a hit. “It was like, wow, great affirmation, you know, that I had told a story that had somehow succeeded.”

In addition to providing encouragement, Spielberg’s family inspired many of the ideas for his movies. At the young age of 14, Spielberg had little life experience from which to draw inspiration for his films. In one instance, he turned to his father, who had been a radio operator on a b-25 bomber during World War II in order to create the plot for his battle films Escape to Nowhere and Battle Squad.

Spielberg’s father and the relationship he had with him would be a common theme throughout Spielberg’s film career. Arnold was an emotionally remote man who was not extremely close to his children. As a child, Spielberg was forced to shove towels under his door into order to keep out the noise of his parents arguing. They were later divorced and Spielberg found himself estranged from his father for over 15 years. This tumultuous relationship between father and son is reflected in many of Spielberg’s movies, such as between Sean Connery and Harrison Ford in his Indiana Jones series.

Loneliness is also a common thread throughout such Spielberg movies as E.T. and A.I. “I always felt alone for some reason,” said Spielberg. “My mom had her agenda, my dad his, my sisters theirs. E.T., which certainly defines loneliness from my own perspective, is a lot about how I felt about my mom and dad when they finally got a divorce.” Instead of succumbing to the pain he felt and resigning himself to a life of isolation, Spielberg decided to use these events and insecurities to get ideas for his films.

Much of the work Spielberg now focuses his time and energy on today is inspired by his children. When asked why he continues to make cartoons and animated films, he replied, “Because my kids think I’m cool when I do it…Maybe when Destry – she’s only 18-months-old – gets past the cartoon stage, I’ll stop.” He still uses his family as an audience, bringing home episode pilots, movies and even video games to try out on them. The first interactive product that Spielberg’s DreamWorks company produced was Someone’s in the Kitchen, a video game inspired by Spielberg’s own daily morning routine of cooking pancakes and waffles for his family.

His movies are fantastical but the ideas behind them are simple, and it is this key quality to them that has made them break the box office almost every time.

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