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.”


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.

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.”

In 1999, Spielberg began thinking of directing a film about his childhood for some time. Titled I’ll Be Home, the project was originally written by his sister Anne Spielberg. He explained, “My big fear is that my mom and dad won’t like it and will think it’s an insult and won’t share my loving yet critical point of view about what it was like to grow up with them.”

In 2002, Spielberg said he was nervous about making I’ll Be Home: “It’s so close to my life and so close to my family – I prefer to make films that are more analogous. But a literal story about my family will take a lot of courage. I still think I make personal movies even if they do look like big commercial popcorn films.”

In 2005, he was working on Munich, a movie about the murder of the Israeli athletes were assassinated, which would be a critical success, earning nominations for Best Picture and other Oscars. While working on this passion project, Spielberg told screenwriter Tony Kushner (acclaimed Pulitzer Prize winning playwright of Angels in America) his life story. Immediately intrigued by the idea, Kushner told him in response: “‘You’re going to have to make a movie about that someday.'”

The film’s plot outline was worked on in 2019 during filming of Spielberg’s 2021 film version of West Side Story, on which Kushner also served as a screenwriter.

As noted, the work on the screenplay for The Fabelmans began in October 2020 during the lockdowns caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Kushner reflected on the experience: “We wrote three days a week, four hours a day, and we finished the script in two months: by leagues the fastest I’ve finished anything. It was a blast. I loved it.”