“He in no way tried to steer this film; he did not see it until it was finished,” Susan Lacy told TV critics of her Steven Spielberg docu for HBO, when asked what the director told her he did and did not want to see in the 2 1/2-hour project.
“We did not talk about what I was going to do and wasn’t going to do,” she bristled at Wednesday afternoon’s TCA Q&A on Spielberg, which debuts October 7.
Lacy conducted nearly 30 hours of interviews with Spielberg for the doc.
“I’m a very in-depth interviewer,” she boasted. “We were still deeply in childhood after two hours. He is very shy about interviews; he does very few. [It’s] quite an extraordinary experience to hear him really open up.”
For the doc, Lacy also interviewed J.J. Abrams, Christian Bale, Drew Barrymore, Cate Blanchett, Francis Ford Coppola, Daniel Craig, Daniel Day-Lewis, Brian de Palma, Laura Dern, Leonardo DiCaprio, Richard Dreyfuss, Ralph Fiennes, Harrison Ford, David Geffen, Tom Hanks, Dustin Hoffman, Holly Hunter, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Ben Kingsley, Kathleen Kennedy, George Lucas, Liam Neeson, Martin Scorsese, Oprah Winfrey and Robert Zemeckis.
“Every actor I interview – and I interviewed everybody – they were most impressed with how much he understands the process of filmmaking and how he sees ahead when he’s shooting,” she said. “Very few filmmakers have that skill. I did so much research.”
Lacy did not, however, interview Spielberg’s wife Kate Capshaw or any of their children for the bio. “She did not want to do an interview for the film; they are very private in terms of their family life,” Lacy explained. “I made the decision not to interview the children,” though she did interview Spielberg’s sister and parents because “they were there at the birth of him becoming a filmmaker.”
Spielberg does not delve into his personal life much, she said, though he does discuss the impact his parents’ divorce had on him and how it informed E.T., for instance.
Lacy also did not dwell on how long it took the the Motion Picture Academy to recognize Spielberg with a Best Picture Oscar. She said she felt the statement about his winning it for the first time with Schindler’s List, after having made six of the top-grossing movies of all time, made the point.
She also did not delve into Spielberg’s involvement with DreamWorks or his work in TV, focusing purely on his directing of movies.
“He is a populist and an artist,” she described. “He’s an incredibly personal filmmaker.”
Lacy added: “For the most commercial filmmaker in history, I do not think box office has ever been what has driven him. What’s driven him is what interests him and what he thinks is important to say.”
The decision to make a 3 1/2-hour black-and-white movie about the Holocaust, she said as a for instance, “did not come out of focus groups. It could have been a huge flop.”
Spielberg explores the directors’ thoughts on Jaws, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Color Purple, Schindler’s List, Jurassic Park and Saving Private Ryan. One TV critic at the session noted that the doc does not discuss at any length those of his movies that were not as successful.
“If it isn’t in the film doesn’t mean we did not talk about it,” she countered. “It means I had a 2 1/2 hours.”
Lacy previously helmed PBS’ American Masters for three decades; TV critics wondered what it was like for her to work with HBO’s documentary chief Sheila Nevins. Lacy called it “nothing but pleasure for me.”
“We kiss every morning and hug every night,” joked Nevins.