Working with Steven Spielberg on The Fabelmans

Giles Alderson and Dom Lenoir chatted with The Fabelmans producer Kristie Macosko Krieger on this week’s episode.

She shares stories from behind the scenes, told Giles and Dom about her mentors, and how she initially didn’t want to work in film, choosing to stay in publicity instead.

Working with Steven Spielberg

To begin with, Kristie was working in publicity for Amblin Entertainment. She then moved into supporting Steven’s ‘Shoah Foundation – which takes testimonies of Holocaust survivors. And I had a lot of dealings with him and it made me realise what an amazing human being Steven is. 

I knew he was a great filmmaker, but I wasn’t as interested in that. They approached me and said, would you come work for him? And I said no thank you. I don’t want to do that. I’m a publicist.’ She turned down working in film three times, before realising that it could be worthwhile to learn more about the industry. She never went back to publicity.

Telling the Fabelmans Story

Over the years, Steven has shared stories of his life while on set. Little pieces of the Fabelmans story.

But it was on the set of Munich, between setups and while Steven was chatting with Tony Kushner that Tony suggested making it all into a film. 

‘There is a movie here. So Tony interviewed Steven and dove deep into what became the Fabelmans’ story. They wrote out a giant treatment, but he wasn’t really ready to make it. 

Then, it was the pandemic and Steven’s father passed away. And at that point, Steven thought, we’re in a pandemic and people could all die, what is the last story that I want to tell if I can only tell one more story? It probably should be my family’s story. Now my parents are gone, I am going to try to make sense of what happened in my life.

And so he and Tony wrote it on Zoom in eight weeks. Their first draft was in December of 2020 and we started shooting the movie in July. 

Bringing The Film Together

Once the first draft was ready, Kristie knew that they would film in 2021; so she reached out to the team to ensure that they were all available and ready to go.

‘Most of the collaborators that we worked with on this film were people that knew Steven’s parents. Rick Carter, who’s been with Steven for decades as our production designer.

Michael Kahn, our editor, has worked with Steven for over 40 years. Janusz Kaminski, our DP on everything since Schindler’s List. John Williams: they have a 50-year collaboration. 

So we put together all of the people that had worked with him for so many years. And then we brought on Mark Bridges, who he had not worked with before. He’s an amazing costume designer, and he just folded into our family seamlessly and beautifully.’

Between all of these people, there was a lot of reference material from Steven’s whole life. Including his ‘amazing photographs and ageing artefacts.’

Steven Spielberg’s Many Hats: Producing

‘The interesting thing about Steven is he’s not just a director, he’s a producer too. And he wants to be as fiscally responsible as possible. He was constantly pushing me to bring the budget down because he didn’t want it to be seen as a vanity project that was millions and millions in excess of what it should have been made for.’

Kristie says that Steven regularly challenged her about the budget. ‘He is a great producer and probably in his early years of directing he had some notorious over-budget, over-schedule films, and he has run himself through the paces and decided that he is going to be a filmmaker who brings the movie in on budget and on schedule.’

A Universal Message

Before reading the script, she was nervous that it was just going to be all about ‘Steven Spielberg – a story about his life. And I read the script and I got to the very end and I was like this is a movie about everyone’s family.

My parents got divorced when I was in high school, and I felt that. There’s something for everybody in this film. This movie is universal. Everybody can see a piece of themselves in it. It’s a complicated family drama.’

Learning on Set

‘Sitting on a movie set, every day, for me was incredibly exhilarating. And there are people that can be on movie sets and people that can’t be on movie sets.’

Kristie believes that because she was prepared to work ‘harder than anyone and was happy to do anything’ she was then given more and more responsibility. 

‘I wasn’t looking for credit or to move up. I was just interested in doing a really great job. And I had wonderful mentors in Steven Spielberg and Kathleen Kennedy. They taught me how to produce, how to problem-solve, and how to get through my day in a great way.

That made me feel like I was contributing to the process in a real way. It was a natural progression to move into producing because I was taking on more and more responsibility.’

For more from Kristie Macosko Krieger, listen here. And find out more about The Fabelmans here.

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