Scorsese: And even off the floor while you're directing sometime you can still be writing the script while you're shooting. Again, I want to ask you about the visuals. Steven is a picture maker and people wonder what a picture maker is. I once asked you about a shot in Empire of the Sun, and I'm going to ask you to tell the story. I think that kind of defines it. There's this extraordinary shot of the sun in the morning. A great big sun coming up and the last three kamikaze pilots are doing ritual sake and they are silhouetted against the sun.
Spielberg: Sometimes it pays to get to the set before your crew, which I try to do on almost every picture. I like to get there first. I walk around, and figure out what I'm going to do that day. I got to the set while it was still dark and then I saw, as it got lighter, where the sun was going to rise. It was going to rise on the very flat area, and I suddenly had this idea. Luckily, thank God, the camera truck had arrived and there was one assistant and he was taking boxes out of the truck. I had the driver and the assistant take an 800mm lens out and stick it up on an Arri, and we ran with five sandbags. I ran into the makeup hut and grabbed these four Japanese who spoke no English. I gave them swords and put hats over their heads, and dragged them out to the field, and basically said, "Do what we did yesterday. Do. Rehearse." I took a sake cup: "And do this [Spielberg mimicked the sake ritual] and bow." I ran back to the camera, which was about an eighth of a mile away. It was awful — this was before we had little motorcycles and golf carts — you just had to run. They were having trouble getting the magazine loaded because the guy who took the camera off the truck was not a loader, so we were both together loading the camera. I had never loaded an Arri before and you have to load it properly. By this time, the sun is five feet off the ground, and we're not going to make it in time. Finally, we closed the gate. I do an eye focus, turn on the camera, and scream as loud as I can, "DO IT LIKE YESTERDAY." It was like kismet, like magic, just where the sun needed to be. We filled the entire frame with the 800mm long lens. We were able to get that moment.
Also from the same interview:
Spielberg: Well, when I was about 15 years old, I was living in Phoenix, Arizona. My second cousin had a friend who had a friend who was the creator of Hogan's Heroes. [Through this connection, Spielberg visited the man at his office.] This guy said, "Well, do you want to be a picture maker?" and I said, "Yes," and he said, "I'm in television. You want to talk to the guy next door. That's the guy you should talk to. It's John Ford." I said, "You have John Ford next door?" He said, "Yeah, his secretary's really nice." So I went next door, and the secretary said, "Well, Mr. Ford's at lunch, but he'll be back any minute now, so why don't you have a seat and wait." So we waited and we talked, and I told her about my little 8mm movies I was making back in Phoenix, Arizona, and all of a sudden the door opens and a man in a complete safari outfit, with a patch over his eye, with a cigar between his fingers comes walking into the room. She says, "Mr. Ford will see you for a couple of minutes." So I walk into the room and he is sitting there with his big cowboy boots on his desk. It reminded me of the scene in It's a Wonderful Life when Jimmy Stewart sits across from Mr. Potter. Mr. Potter purposely has the chair across from him so Jimmy Stewart looked like one of the Little Rascals once he sat in the seat, and shrank down. I did the same thing. Ford said to me, "So you want to be a picture maker?" And I said, "Yes." "What have you done so far?" I said I was 15 years old, and I said, "I've made some films in 8mm and I go to school in Phoenix, Arizona." "Well, what do you know about picture making?" "What do you know about pictures?" "What do you know about art?" "You've got to know about art." I guess I was quiet. "Well, get up and look around the room. What do you see on the walls there?" I said, "Art." "Go to the first painting." And, by the way, these were all Western paintings, probably Russells, Remingtons, but I didn't know those names then.
Director John Ford (center) with actors Jimmy Stewart and John Wayne on the set of "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance" - click image for larger view and details.
He said, "Tell me what you see?" I said, "Well, there's a cowboy sitting on a horse—" He said, "No, no, no, no, where is the horizon?" I said, "Well, the horizon is just a couple of inches above the bottom of the picture." He said, "OK. Go to the next painting, what do you see in that painting?" I said, "There's a lot of Indians on horseback—" "No, no, where's the horizon?" "Well, the horizon's at the very top of the painting?" "Go to the next painting. What do you see there?" I said, "There's no horizon at all." He said, "No, no, what objects are in the painting?" I said, "There's an Indian and a cowboy." And then, still sitting in his chair, he turns around, he said, "Look, kid, when the day comes in your life when you can tell that a shot is great when the horizon is at the very bottom of the frame with all that sky, or the horizon is at the very top of the frame with all that ground, and when you can recognize the fact when the horizon goes directly in the center of the frame, it's a lousy painting, when you recognize that, you might have a future in the picture business."