Spielberg on Munich

Steven felt he was in a creative partnership with Tony Kushner, who really understood the complexity of these issues.
–Producer Kathleen Kennedy

In September 1972, an unprecedented terrorist attack unfolded live before 900 million television viewers across the globe, ushering a new world of unpredictable violence. It occurred during the second week of the Summer Olympics, in Munich, West Germany, where ironically the games had been dubbed “The Olympics of Peace and Joy.” Suddenly, without warning, an extremist Palestinian group known as Black September invaded the Olympic Village, killing two members of the Israeli Olympic team and capturing nine as hostages. The tense stand-off and tragic massacre that ensued played out with unparalleled immediacy on TV before a stunned international populace. It ended 24 hours later, when anchorman Jim McKay said, “They're all gone,” words that are still haunting us today, 33 years later.

While the Munich terror was seen and felt around the world, the intensely secret aftermath of the event has remained largely unknown. “Munich,” the new gripping thriller from three-time Oscar winner Spielberg deals with the highly charged mission of retribution that followed the Munich massacre. Known to Israeli Intelligence as “Operation Wrath of God,” the covert hit squad is one of the boldest and most aggressive assassination plots in modern history. With taut, vivid, and human detail, the film takes the audience into a hidden moment in history that resonates with the same emotions today due to the new political contexts in which we live.

Spielberg has previously explored resonant historicak moments in such epic films as “Empire of the Sun,” “Schindler's List,” and “Saving Private Ryan.” For Spielberg, the story of “Munich” raises imminently vital questions about the world in 2005–and beyond. This is part of the motivation that drew Spielberg to explore the aftermath of the Munich tragedy in a more graphic detail than previously seen.

Spielberg's vision and confidence, born out of a combination of his love for cinema and his experience, allowed him to direct “Munich” with a different approach. While he had a clear vision of the tale, there were no storyboards on this film. Spielberg worked in an acutely spontaneous and organic manner, intuiting the needs of each scene as it unfolded before him.

Spielberg's Memory of 1972

I have my own intense memories of 1972. I remember exactly where I was, the TV set I was watching it on, and how I was watching, like everybody else, “Wide World of Sports,” when this incident took place. It made an indelible impression on me, and I think that impression was redoubled years later, when I saw the documentary, “One Day in September.”

Working with Playwright Tony Kushner

For me, the participation of Tony Kushner was a key. I wasn't really sure I was going to make “Munich” until I began reading Tony's words, and then everything coalesced for me.

Characters and Speaking Parts

There are many more speaking parts in this film than in any film I've ever directed, including “Catch Me If You Can.” Having so many characters in a multi-layered story that spans a couple of years and numerous countries, it was very important to me that even the smallest character be as interesting as the most central character. This story portrays a very painful and tragic part of our collective history, and I wanted to have an amazing ensemble to tell it.

Casting Approach

I felt it was very important not just to find different looks for each of the five men, but also to find five different acting styles, five different accents, five very unique personalities.

Eric Bana as the Leader

When I saw Eric in Ang Lee's “The Hulk,” I saw warmth and strength and even a little trickle of fear behind the eyes, which I think makes him very human. I was very determined that I was going to humanize the character of Avner in this story, so Eric was my first choice from the outset.

Visual Style

I wanted each of the assassinations to be shot in a unique manner, because as the team experiences each one, their views about what they're doing change, the group dynamics shift, they change their feelings about themselves and each other. There is more and more stress, anxiety, and pressure, so each of the missions has its own personal character.

Recreating the Olympic Hostage Situtaion

I felt that the flashback sequences sould keep the emotional motivation behind all the events palpable throughout the film. I felt there needed to be a constant reminder of what this story is hinging on, lest we forget what started this round for blood-for-blood.

Emotional Balance and Catharsis

Shooting the recreations of the Olympics tragedy was very emotional and wrenching. It was very difficult. I hired Arab actors to play the Palestinians and Israelis to play the Israelis, and they took it very much to heart. It was a very emotional catharsis, and I wasn't thinking so much of technique as about just holding this cast and crew together and keeping everybody on an even keel. It was a rugged couple of weeks.