Steven Spielberg: “Schindler’s List”

In 1993, one of Steven Spielberg’s masterpieces, Schindler’s List, came to theaters, a drama set in the Second World War and focused on the historical figure of Oskar Schindler, a German businessman remembered for having saved the lives of many people during the Nazi holocaust. Incredibly, Steven Spielberg was not the first choice to direct the film.

Being an executive producer and busy in the middle of filming “Jurassic Park”, he proposed the direction to several filmmakers and friends: He was rejected by Martin Scorsese (who was interested, but in the end he felt that it was an issue that should be dealt with by a Jewish director ), also Sidney Lumet who rejected it because he felt it was a subject he had already covered with ‘The Lender’ (1964).

He also offered it to Roman Polanski who rejected it for being too personal, since he had lived in a Krakow ghetto until he was eight years old, and his mother later died in the Auschwitz concentration camp. He eventually offered it to veteran and near-retiree Billy Wilder, but it was Wilder himself who eventually convinced Spielberg to direct the project.

Spielberg divided his time between this film and post-production on his 1993 dinosaur movie, describing the additional workload as “a bipolar experience.” While shooting in Poland he was in constant contact with the special effects company Industrial Light & Magic (owned by George Lucas).

For this purpose, he rented two satellite channels through a Polish television network (for 1.5 million dollars a week), keeping them open at all times. I downloaded every day, the images through one and the sound through the other.

He then spent evenings and weekends working on them with video editing teams. Harrison Ford was the first choice for the role of Oskar Schindler, but ultimately declined, as he felt that some people would not be able to look beyond his Indiana Jones character, and believed that the film would lose truth. Ultimately, Spielberg settled on Liam Neeson after seeing him perform on Broadway in the play ‘Anna Christie’.

Spielberg cast Ralph Fiennes in the role of Nazi commander Amon Göth after seeing his memorable performance in the television version of ‘Lawrence of Arabia: A Dangerous Man’ (1992). Fiennes put on thirty pounds for the role by drinking Guinness beer. During filming, Sir Ben Kingsley (Itzhak Stern) kept a photo of Anne Frank, the young woman who died in a concentration camp and whose personal diary was published after the Holocaust, in his coat pocket. Some years later, Kingsley played Otto Frank, Anne’s father, in ‘The Anne Frank Story’ (2001).

The scenes of a girl in the red coat come from a story that Audrey Hepburn told Spielberg while he was filming his last film Always (Forever, 1989). Hepburn told him of an incident during World War II in which she saw a girl in the same outfit while other people were being loaded onto trains. That moment was forever etched in Spielberg’s memory.

In this sense, and due to the amount of violence and horror represented, the director made Oliwia Dabrowska, the girl in the aforementioned coat, and her parents promise him that they would not see the film until he was eighteen. However, Oliwia broke her promise and saw her when she was 11 years old, leaving her completely terrified.

During production, the mood was so gloomy and depressing that Steven Spielberg asked his friend Robin Williams if he could record some jokes for his crew. Some of Williams’ skits, while being thrown over the loudspeaker for the cast and crew, ended up being part of the dialogue material for his character from the animated Genie in Aladdin (1992).

Spielberg himself watched episodes of Seinfeld (1989) every night after work to perk up and unwind. Spielberg took the risk of filming in black and white, and ended up achieving box office and critical success alike, taking home 7 Oscars, including Best Director and Best Picture.

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