Post, The: Interview with Director Steven Spielberg

Hopes for the Movie

Steven Spielberg: I certainly hope that our movie makes people aware of the kind of effort that goes into searching for and seeking and printing the truth.  And I think that’s more important than bringing back print, because print is becoming an antiquity as you know and everything today is digital.  But the truth is never going to be an antiquity, that is never going to go out of style.  And I just felt that when I had the opportunity to tell this story and this all happened in February, I mean I am making another movie right now called “Ready Player One.” And then when our 31 year old writer wrote a spec script that was sent to Amy Pascal and then she sent it to me, I kind of couldn’t believe the timing.  And I thought that the issues and the answers in this particular story, needed to be told immediately and not wait until I am available again to make a movie in 2018.

Collaborating with Hanks and Streep

SS: I can’t believe that Tom and Meryl had never made a film together.  I mean this is my fifth film with Tom Hanks and I have enjoyed each one for different reasons.  But I have always wanted to work with Meryl Streep and she was the wrong type for “War Horse,” I couldn’t put her in that movie, and I couldn’t find a role for her in “Lincoln” even though I think when Daniel Day Lewis got the Oscar, he actually said that Meryl was my first choice.  But Meryl I have known for many, many years, cause we were both very close friends with Carrie Fisher.  And so I knew Meryl socially but never professionally.  And we had always fantasized about working together.  But I knew Katherine Graham too.  And when this project came to me, there was nobody on the face of the earth that could play Katherine Graham I felt, better than Meryl Streep.  So finally Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks had a chance to make a film together.  And I am just so pleased that I got to the director of the debut of those two great actors on screen all the time together.


Female Colleagues

SS: I have had a lot of female co-workers as you know. I have had companies run by women, starting with Kathleen Kennedy, that ran Amblin for me for many years and then transitioning with Laurie MacDonald with Walter Parks, who ran Dreamworks for 12 years, and then Stacy Snyder, who ran Dreamworks for the next 7 years.  And I am probably looking for a woman to run this new iteration of Amblin partners right now, because I am not going to be doing this job for the rest of my life.  I had a very strong mom, and my mom was more of a friend to me than a primary caregiver.  And I learned so much from her and I learned so much about managing relationships, especially managing difficult personalities.  And I just find that women are better attuned to creating a kind of ambiance, a family culture.  And that’s the kind of culture I can create the best.  I think I am better working in that kind of culture than I am just working, like on “Saving Private Ryan,” surrounded by guys all day long for three months.

Katherine Graham

Katherine was an amazing person and she was an accidental publisher.  She wouldn’t have become the publisher and she was very proud that her father had given the company to her husband.  Phil was her husband, but she was very proud that Phil got the company and not her. And it wasn’t because she didn’t think she could run it, that wasn’t her job.  She was raising a family at the time, and she just felt that her husband was better suited, because that’s how she felt about herself in those days and that’s how many women felt about themselves, very deferentially, in those days.  Things have changed, but maybe they have changed at the higher echelons today, but they haven’t changed that much as we all know between 1971 and women in the workplace today.

Making Entertaining Movies

film which is just entertainment depends on my imagination to supply it with all of its needs, and a film that is historical fiction or completely true, is a film that requires less imagination and a lot of research and fact checking and confirmation of those facts. And so in a way when I did “Lincoln” and now with “The Post,” I probably, with Josh Singer and Liz Hannah the writers, did more research to confirm that everything that we were putting in the story actually happened.  So my imagination would be a hindrance to something like “The Post.” I mean I still have an imagination with an historical drama based on the pacing and the timing and where the camera goes and how I can more dramatically tell the story.  But the facts are the facts and in a sense, we all had to become journalists and we had to become more like all of you, to be able to tell the story in the right way.

Pentagon Papers and Watergate

SS: I thought my epilogue with Watergate was the right way to end the film.  But at the same time, I felt that the Pentagon Papers created such a stir on college campuses in America and protest marches increased tenfold after The New York Times and then The Washington Post revealed the Pentagon Papers, and then the Supreme Court cleared them to continue publishing, I think it brought the war to a quicker end.  And I also think the most important thing was, was that it gave Katherine Graham, I am saying that Daniel Ellsberg couldn’t really get anybody to publish them, he didn’t give the papers, he had access to the papers for four or five years before he ever gave them to Neil Sheehan of The New York Times.  But the point is about character, Katherine Graham found her voice, she found herself as a leader.  And it was a huge epiphany for her as a human being and as a leader of everyone at The Washington Post.  And if The Washington Post had not published the Pentagon Papers, I seriously do not believe that Katherine Graham would have allowed Ben Bradlee to allow Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward to pursue Nixon right up to the threat of his impeachment and right up to his resignation, because they wouldn’t have had that confidence based on this success, to have gone after Nixon.

Reaction to 1972 Pentagon Papers?


SS: I was making movies in college, 16mm movies, and I was sort of up to my eyeballs trying to stay out of Vietnam and at the same time, trying to make a bunch of amateur films, that I wasn’t really aware of the Pentagon Papers and all of the repercussions, the seismic repercussions of all of that, until much later in my life. I was aware of Watergate more than I was aware of the Pentagon Papers at the time.  That’s just an honest answer.  I wasn’t reading The New York Times and of course we never got the New York Times, going to Long Beach state college.  But I watched the news and the news was completely obsessed, as they should be, about Vietnam.  And I am sure the Pentagon Papers, I am sure I came across them watching the news coverage of it, but I had a greater appreciation when I really began studying the Vietnam War, many years later.

Chinese and Asian Markets

SS: China has very, very hungry people who are looking for entertainment, and there are many people who are hungry for entertainment of all kinds and not just tent pole Marvel type movies, but movies of substance and movies about something real. I just think those markets as you can see statistically, have opened up beyond my imagination 20 years ago. Where China is today and where Asia is today and where Korea is today, is an incredible hunger and thirst for good entertainment. And so the market just gives us more people to show our movies to.

Virtual reality

SS: Virtual Reality is the thing of the future, but I don’t know when it’s really going to take hold and explode, but virtual reality, if you have ever seen virtual reality, the most shocking thing about virtual reality is when you finish the experience and you take off the goggles and you are back where you started and you would rather be in the goggles again.  And that is the most amazing thing about it.  The shock is coming back to real life as opposed to getting lost in the digital world.

Sexual Scandals Mentioned in Awards Shows

SS: I have no idea whether it’s going to be a topic at these events. I know one thing, victims have found their voice this year.  And this is the year of victims finding their voice, the way Katherine Graham found her voice in 1971, just based on other issues, not sexual harassment.  But women have found their voice and I think in a sense the horror show that all of us have been witness to over the last two or three months, is allowing women to overcome the shame and just feeling victimized.  And once they are able to unburden themselves of what happened in the past, whether it was five minutes ago or 40 years ago, all that is important is, now they have a platform to speak and I hope a lot more speak.

Women Publishers and Editors

SS: I think after 1971, more and more women assumed greater positions of responsibility and control in this country. And if you look around now, it’s incredible, not to see just in the entertainment business or the news business, but to see how many woman are basically in command of large operations and all kinds of businesses and it’s sort of remarkable to see what has happened.  And I am not saying, I am not giving Katherine Graham all the credit for that, Katherine Graham was the first woman who was the only female CEO of a Fortune 500 company eventually, but a lot of women like Katherine Graham have found a position to be in where they are responsible and creative and have proven themselves again and again.  So I am not disappointed, because many, many women have been able to advance their lives in their careers in a very positive way.

Significance of Pentagon Papers Today

SS: When we were making the film, we saw the fact that the film was a mirror looking forward.  And when I looked at what was happening today, today is a rearview mirror looking back on the past, Nixon and other Presidents that have not held the truth in the lofty position that it deserves to be held, and so it’s obvious the parallels.  This to me is a patriotic movie and I don’t think it’s a partisan film.  I didn’t make this as a Democrat, I made this as a believer in a free press, in our first amendment rights in the fourth estate.  And as a believer in journalism and also, as a bit of an antidote for this horrible term that makes us wonder what is true and what is false, and that term is “fake news.” The heroes of this film are the journalists and they are truly the heroes.  And Ben Bradlee and Katherine Graham and the entire news staff at The Washington Post, as well as the entire news staff at The New York Times, did an amazing thing, because I believe that suddenly both newspapers, with the release of the Pentagon Papers and then later in reporting Watergate, became a check and balance and almost a fourth branch of Government.  And that is being called into a lot of false question today in my opinion.

Power of Movies

SS: We all know how powerful movies can be, because movies can distill something and make it understandable. And movies can make something that is very kind of complicated politically or complicated in terms of history and fact check and all that, and movies can give you an impression, a strong impression of the facts of what occurred.  And I think in that sense, I think “The Post” is not a cloudy film and it’s not hard to understand what happened.  And because of that, I think it’s a good thing for people to have a new appreciation with all of the attacks on the fourth estate, on the Press today, people have a new impression, a good impression, of how hard everybody works to find the truth and then to have the courage to publish it.

Being Journalist?

SS: I could have been a good journalist if I weren’t a filmmaker.  I would have liked to have been a journalist as well.

Attending Long Beach

SS: I never thought about that. No, I never once thought, what if they had said yes and I had gone to USC?  Oh my goodness.  Had I gone to USC, I might have been holding lights for George Lucas instead of directing.  So maybe it was good that I went someplace without any competition.

Cinematographer Janusz Kaminski

I think Janusz is a great collaborator and I have been blessed with some amazing collaborations throughout my career and I stick with the same people my whole life.  Michael Kahn has cut every single movie I have directed since “Close Encounters.” And John Williams has composed just about every score, including “The Post.” And I just find that Janusz Kaminski, we have now worked together since 1993, so “Schindler’s List” was the first thing and I found Janusz Kaminski because I was watching television and remember how I said I like to watch TV?  It’s good, you can profit from watching TV if you are in my business, because I was watching TV one night and there was a TV movie on that Diane Keaton had directed called “Wildflower” that Janusz Kaminski photographed.  And that was the beginning of our relationship, I hired him to do “Schindler’s List” based on this television movie he shot with Diane Keaton.  And he is just a great painter, he paints with light and I have always said that, he just is an extraordinary painter.

I worked with some great cinematographers from my past, Vilmos Zsigmond and Allen Daviau and Mikael Salomon, but I have never, ever had the experience of working with someone who has also become one of my best friends.  And he just finds a different way of telling a story with light.  And I leave that to him.  He decides the color temperature the film should be, and I remember when we made “Lincoln,” he found this amazing color temperature, so even though it was in color, it looked like it was in black and white, because there are no light bulbs in 1865, and so the film was relatively dark.  That was a real risk that Janusz and I took, but that was Janusz’s idea.  And I think he and Emmanuel Lubezki are two of the best cinematographers alive today.

Advice to Younger Self

SS: I would probably have said to my younger self, you are going to really succeed, so why don’t you friggin’ relax?  And stop biting your fingernails, because it’s going to happen eventually.  Don’t worry so much about it.

Ellsberg as Precursor to Snowden

SS: But Daniel Ellsberg took the Pentagon Papers took the papers from a secure file in which he was legally allowed to have the combination, he worked at the Rand Corporation.  But then he arguably, illegally released I believe 7,000 pages of the Vietnam, Robert McNamara study, to The New York Times.  But he did it in the interest of ending the war.  And so he had a primary goal, which was to bring the war to a close, by using the truth as a weapon against 30 years of dissembling about why we were in Vietnam.  So I think in that sense, he had a specific goal to stop this war.  Not to stop Americans from either being spied on or eavesdropped on, but that was way before Snowden and way before technology allowed Snowden to reveal what he revealed.  But this was simply, like a war protestor, he was in a position, because he was an observer of Vietnam and he knew the war was a lie, and we were losing thousands and thousands of young men every three or four months.

Exciting News

SS: The most exciting thing that I ever saw in a newspaper was the detailed account and we all watched it on television, of Neil Armstrong’s moon landing.  That’s the thing that always sticks with me.  And the second most profound thing that I read in a newspaper was the assassination of John F. Kennedy.  I have a lot of news sources, but I still read newspapers.  I read The New York Times, I read The Los Angeles Times and I read The Wall Street Journal, to be able to get some balance.  And I used to read The Boston Globe and I still do sometimes.  I watch CNN and MSNBC and sometimes Fox News because once again, I like to see what the other side is up to.  But I don’t go on the internet a lot to read the news and I like getting my news from either print or anchors on television.

newspapers are struggling financially and so many of them are struggling financially.  I think Jeff Bezos taking over The Washington Post infused them with many, many more years of active life.

National Public Radio

Well those things are very important as well.  We all listen to NPR and I listen to PBS and for years I have been a subscriber to PBS.  Publicly funded and not just news outlets, but television stations are very, very important, because they serve the interest and they serve sort of the common interest of things that we want to know about and also, their specialty, their podcasts that NPR does and other outlets do are amazing.  The podcasts coming out today and a lot of this is publicly funded, the podcasts are bringing radio back.  The great thing about podcasts and it’s like when I was a kid listening to the radio, is that you can walk all around and you don’t have to watch anything, you don’t have to stare at a screen.  You can be active and you can listen.  And I think listening is something that this world needs to do a lot more of.  We just don’t listen enough.  That’s why there is so much talking in one direction. And the two way street is sort of becoming a dead end.  And so podcasts are for me a really new way of absorbing what people are feeling and really absorbing the issues out there in the world today.

Biting Nails

I started biting my nails again about three weeks ago when I finished “The Post.”

Young Aspiring Filmmakers

George Lucas and Francis Coppola and Scorsese and Brian De Palma and the whole group of us, we were a lot more than that, we just wanted to make movies and tell stories.  We didn’t think anybody would let us do it.  Francis was the first success, he broke through with “You’re A Big Boy Now” and then “The Godfather.” And then he became our Godfather, giving us the encouragement to keep making those 16mm films and to not let, when people tell you no, then just find another door that will be unlocked to you. I mean, Francis was a real mentor for all of us. But we never expected to make it the way that we succeeded.  If we could have simply continued to tell stories on film, we would have been satisfied for the rest of our lives.  We weren’t expecting any of this and I wasn’t expecting to be coming here to talk to you every couple of years.  This is the last thing that we ever thought would have happened to us.  But we have stayed friends, that is the most amazing thing, that we have stayed collaborators and mentors for each other, ever since Marty and I met in 1967 and George and I met in 1968 and Brian and I met in 1968 and it all happened a long time ago.  But we stayed together.

Success in Hollywood

SS: To succeed in Hollywood is all about talent.  I mean are you talking about filmmakers or grips or technicians?  If you are really talented, the hard work is something that goes without saying and I think it’s just something that is accepted.  As a matter of fact, if you are not working hard enough, you realize that you are not working at all.  I mean every single movie is, it’s physical labor.  Movies aren’t really for all of us, it’s physical labor and it’s not just standing around all day and moving around and when I say physical labor, it’s about creating something and like building a house.  But because it’s like assembling so many pieces, and every piece of a movie requires the collaboration of 100 people for each piece. And it’s extraordinary to sit back and every once in a while I do this and watch everyone build the set and light the set and the actors working on their dialogue off on a corner and nobody is drinking coffee and kibitzing, it’s the most collaborative business in the world filmmaking and television making.  Any kind of, even putting a play up somewhere on Broadway, it really is the most exciting hard work that I could ever imagine doing, although I haven’t done Broadway yet.



SS: I think that everybody wants the truth. But also, there are people that only want to hear what they are ready to hear.  And if they are ready to hear something that isn’t the truth, they will stick to that.  And that will be something they believe in and they will start believing in the falsehood, and that will become their kind of anthem.  And there are other people that will not take one story for an answer, but want to look all around, because with all the fake news accusations and all of the misinformation and disinformation purposely out in the world today, people who really want the truth have to go look for it, cause it’s not going to be handed to them in a way that it used to be handed to me, when my mom and dad told me what was true and I believed them.  And when years ago and I was a kid, what newspapers said to me, I believed it.  But because the internet, because of social media, there is so much noise out there, and there’s so much conflict and contradiction, if you really want the truth, you have to work hard to find it.  And that is the big difference between me growing up and the way that my kids are growing up today.

Katherine Graham

I was doing Press in D.C. for “Saving Private Ryan” in 1998, my partner David Geffen said, you have to meet my good friend Kay Graham, and he brought me, it wasn’t even scheduled, he brought me to The Washington Post and he brought me up to her office, and he left me with her for an hour and a half.  And it was great, because I got to spend time with her and she had lunch brought up to the office, and we just talked for an hour and a half.  But like any good publisher or any good journalist, she asked me ten questions for every one question I tried to get to ask her.  So there was no parity in the meeting and I just think it turned out that we liked each other. And the other story that I have to tell you is that Sally Quinn and Ben Bradlee were my neighbors for 15 years.  Ben and Sally lived directly across the street from me in Long Island, where I spent all my summers and still do.  And I knew Ben and Sally very, very well and Ben told me great stories about The Washington Post.  So when Tom was playing Ben and Tom was very close to Ben as well, because Nora Ephron lived, it was my house, Nora Ephron’s house and Ben and Sally’s house.  And we had these great social soirees on Sunday and Tom would come out with Rita, and it was just an amazing time.  This was long past Watergate and this is when Ben was retired and emeritus and doing a lot of interviews and writing his book.  But being familiar with Ben and not being that familiar with Katherine having only met her once, but having listened to her autobiography and having read her autobiography, I don’t think anybody had to tell Meryl anything.  I think she had done something with this movie if I may be so bold to say, because you are the judges, not me right now, but I really feel that for the high bar that all of us expect from Meryl Streep, she has exceeded her high bar with her performance as Katherine Graham in this film.  And I am very proud that I got to be the director of it.