Fabelmans, The: Spielberg Says Pandemic Made Him Realize It Was Film He Had to ‘Get Out of Me Now’

Spielberg Says Pandemic Made Him Realize ‘The Fabelmans’ was a Film He Had to “Get Out of Me Now”

The filmmaker discussed his most personal feature to date and how it was “emotionally, a very difficult experience.”


The morning after The Fabelmans had its world premiere in Toronto, two-time Oscar winner director Spielberg and his cast sat down to talk about the movie with festival CEO Cameron Bailey.

The response to the screening immediately catapulted the film into pundits‘ top movie lists going into the Oscar awards season.

Telling the story of Spielberg’s early life in post-WWII Arizona and his earliest flashes of filmmaking insight alongside family trauma, the film is by far the director’s most personal to date.

It stars Gabriel LaBelle as Sammy Fabelman, based on Spielberg, alongside with Paul Dano, Michelle Williams, Seth Rogan and Judd Hirsch.

Paul Dano, Mateo Zoryan Francis-DeFord and Michelle Williams
“I thought it was gonna be a lot easier than it turned out to be because I’ve certainly known the material and all the characters for my entire life,” said Spielberg alongside his co-writer Tony Kushner at Sunday’s press conference.
“And yet I found this to be, for me, a very daunting experience, because I was attempting in a semi-empirical way to recreate huge recollections, not only in my life but in the lives of my three sisters and my mother and father, who are no longer with us. Just the responsibility of that began to build.”

Spielberg added: “As the cast knows, this was emotionally a very difficult experience. Not all of it, but some of it was really, really hard to get through.”

In a similar fashion to Kenneth Branagh and his semi-autobiographical Belfast, Spielberg said he was urged to write The Fabelmans by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I remember, as the death toll mounted, we kept watching the reports of what was happening throughout the country and the world and I kept thinking, ‘What is this going to mean for humanity? How far is this pandemic going to actually take us?’” he said.

“And I kept thinking, ‘Well, if I’m going to tell a story that I’ve always wanted to tell about a coming-of-age in this very unique family with a very unique mother and father, this may be the best time, with all the time I had on my hands, to sit with Tony and decide to write this on Zoom together because I didn’t know where this was going. And I thought, ‘This is something I got to get out of me now.’”

Dano, who plays a fictionalized version of Spielberg’s father in The Fabelmans, said there was special feeling on the set that came from having a master director open himself up in ways not seen before.

In casting LaBelle as his teenage self, Spielberg joked that he was predominantly interested in the aesthetics. “I wanted to get someone that was really good-looking and sexy,” he said. “And from Canada.”

After the screening on Saturday night, the audience inside the Princess of Wales Theatre gave the movie a lengthy standing ovation to the point where TIFF CEO Cameron Bailey had to ask everyone to sit down so they could start the Q&A.