Steven Spielberg Interview
Steven Spielberg Interview
Steven Spielberg is one of the most famous film directors of the last half a century; renowned for his blockbusting hits such as ET, Jaws, Saving Private Ryan, Schindler’s List, Jurassic Park and the Indiana Jones series. Now he has taken on Michael Morpurgo’s story War Horse, which despite being published in the 1980s has recently received a surge of interest having been turned into a hugely successful stage play.

Here he talks to View’s Matthew Turner about the responsibility of making historical films, the beauty of Devonshire sunsets, why equine intelligence is vastly underrated and on working with composer John Williams for 40 years.
What is so special about the story of War Horse?

Steven Spielberg

Well, the bones of the story is that it’s a love story, and that’s what makes it universal. It was that way in the book and it was certainly that way on the West End, and that’s what we really tried to do in our adaptation. Joey [the horse] basically circumvents the emotional globe of the Great War and gets connected with people. But more importantly Joey has a way of bringing people together, especially people from both sides of that war, and that was very evident in the play.
What do you think it is about film watching in general that will help to educate and help children learn?

Steven Spielberg

Children learn exponentially from media today, and we feel responsible if we make a movie that even touches on historical fact, that there has to be more than a kernel of truth in the history of the First World War. So we did a lot of research, beyond what you may perceive to be the story, and the thing that really struck me was the vast numbers of casualties among the horses. Not just the men who died on the American, British, French and German side but was the fact that this was the death knell of the horse, this was the end of the horse as an instrument of warfare. And it was an era you’d think that kids would be interested in, where the machine, the tank, the aeroplane, chemical warfare - it all kind of converged on the First World War. It was almost an experimental - The War To End All Wars, or at least that’s what they thought.
This was the death knell of the horse, this was the end of the horse as an instrument of warfare...
In your research and the development of the film did you find yourself drawing more from the book or the play?

Steven Spielberg

I took more from Richard Curtis’ script. Richard wrote a brilliant screenplay. There’s two screenwriters credited - Lee Hall did a wonderful first draft, Richard came in and he was my primary writer throughout the entire production of the picture, and I was very drawn to the way Richard saw the story, a little bit more like the book.
How many horses and horse trainers did you use?

Steven Spielberg

Only one horse trainer, Bobby Lovgren, and he had a staff of beautiful horse whisperers that worked with him, from Spain, Australia, the UK, America and Ireland. There were eight horses, but mostly only two horses that we worked with all the time, Abraham and Finder, and they play the main Joeys. Other horses were special horses, horses that knew how to run without a rider, horses who knew how to back out, you know there were certain horses that are trained just to do one performance moment.
A film with horses is very challenging because you never know how the animal is going to react. Can you tell us which shot was the most difficult?

Steven Spielberg

Well the most difficult shots of the entire film is where the British soldier and the German soldier are trying to free Joey, because it is very, very hard to get a horse to be in that position on the ground. You can get a horse to lie down but it’s very difficult to get a horse to kneel down on its forelegs and its back legs, it wants to get right up, so we had very, very little time to get those shots. And to have the actors giving it their best takes while Joey patiently waited the 15-20 seconds it took before Joey wanted to get up. And any time Joey wanted to get up he was allowed to get up, it’s not like he was tied to the ground, so the trainers kept him down it was very, very difficult to get him to stay down! The crew didn’t move!
Scarcely has the British landscape looked so good on film, I was wondering what your first reaction was to both Devon and Castle Combe?

Steven Spielberg

Oh, Castle Combe looks like Hollywood built it! It doesn’t look real, but beautiful; it’s very authentic and very old. The Devon location has some of the most natural wonders in all of England, with the tors that are so beautiful and built in a most unusual way. I’ve only seen something like this one other time and that was in New Zealand, where there are also tors, large areas of high desert.

There’s nothing like the landscapes of Devon, we couldn’t believe it, and you know the original script didn’t have the budget that allowed us to go to Devon and we stretched the budget a bit to afford to go there and it was worth every penny. The question I’m asked quite often is how much people loved the digital skies that we have obviously painted on, all through the movie. And there’s not a single sky that we put in through special effects. The skies that you see in the movie are the skies that we experienced, the sunsets of the movie are the sunsets that we experienced.
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Content updated: 14/10/2019 16:09

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