Steven Spielberg & Pratibha Parmar – June 6th 2011(Photo by Shaheen Haq)
Alice Walker’s story would of course not be complete without exploring a significant chapter in her life, namely The Color Purple Movie by Steven Spielberg.
From what Alice Walker has written in her book The Same River Twice, and what have I read and seen, there is no doubt that all of the people who came together to make the film did so from a place of love for the book and a genuine desire to tell this unique story as best as they could. There is so much that can be said and has been said about The Color Purple. There are books, critical essays and newsprint stories and articles that discuss multiple aspects of issues raised by the book and the film. Some of this will be explored in the film.
Oprah Winfrey has said that ‘god had entered my life’ the day she heard that she had been cast. For Whoopi Goldberg the ‘film represented a big change in her life”. I wanted to know what the film represented for Mr Spielberg? So here is my diary jottings from the day we interviewed Mr Spielberg.
Apologies for not posting earlier but as soon as we returned to London from our month of filming in Mexico and the US, we hit the proverbial ground running. We still haven’t stopped. And I still haven’t quite the hang of regular blogging.
June 6th | 9.00 A.M.
Last day in Los Angeles
We arrive at Universal City and are directed to the Dreamworks offices where guards at the gates are expecting us. “You here for the interview?” We answer in the affirmative, show our ID’s and are waved through.
“The Interview” is with none other than Steven Spielberg who has graciously given us a time slot in his extremely busy schedule. We set up and pre-light in the Dreamworks Gamesroom when the phone rings. Mr Spielberg is on his way down.
Black baseball cap, black leather bomber jacket, and unlaced shoes he is unmistakably Steven Spielberg. His colleague, Marvin who is with him and tells us that Steven only has limited time as he is in post production on 2 feature films including Tin Tin, in pre-production on Lincoln and producing several television series. One of these television series stars Shelley Conn, who played the lead in my feature film, Nina’s Heavenly Delights. More on that later.
I am keen to get going and make the most of my short time with him so the introductions are brief. But a member of my crew engages him in conversation about the time they were on set of The Color Purple movie as part of a documentary crew. What! I don’t believe it. This is eating into MY time so I am forced to raise my voice to get started. This short window when final adjustments are being made is crucial for me as this is when I establish a rapport with my interviewee. I am perturbed and annoyed to have this precious time eaten into. And it does nothing to help me relax. Yes I am nervous because there are lots of questions I want to ask and it’s taken a lot of emails to get here today.
Before we roll, Mr Spielberg asks to check the frame but only after Gale Tattersall, our DP has made some quick adjustments to the lighting. The baseball cap is throwing shadows. Lighting adjusted and approval granted we move on to the first question.
By the 3rd question, Mr Spielberg visibly relaxes. Once we have established an easy flow, an interesting, revealing interview unfolds. Most of it focuses on the making of The Color Purple movie, the 11 Oscar nominations the film received, the fall out and controversy that ensued on its release. Suffice to say, I didn’t get to ask all the questions I had wanted but the questions I did ask were answered with openness, humor and thoughtful, perceptive reflections.
A beautiful phrase that he used to talk about Alice Walker stuck with me- “Alice has an uncensored heart”. The film coalesced two life opportunities for Steven (if I may) – making his first film as an adult and becoming a father during the production. Spookily, it was when they were shooting the scene of Celie (played by Whoopi Goldberg) giving birth that someone ran onto the set and told Steven that his wife Kate Capshaw was giving birth to their first child, Max.
The interview would have gone on longer but Steven was needed upstairs so our time was up. After the interview, we chatted briefly. Steven told me how much he loves India and has been there at least 6 times. The first time he went, was when they did some 2nd Unit shooting in India for Close Encounters of The Third Kind. Subsequently he went back and travelled all over India by train. Ah we have something in common as I did that too as a student.
I gave him a DVD of my feature film Nina’s Heavenly Delights and told him how I had cast Shelley Conn who had never played a lead in a feature before. Now she was one of the leads in his T.V. series Terra Nova. He thanked me! How gracious. It was a pity he was whisked away otherwise I am sure we could have spent longer talking about India and The Color Purple movie. I might have even pitched him my next narrative film and come away with a commission. Maybe!
When Shaheen asked him if she could take a photograph of us, he held up the DVD of Nina’s Heavenly Delights I had given him. I hope he watches it in his downtime if he has any. I am expecting a call Mr Spielberg.
Chatting with Steven Spielberg (Photo by Shaheen Haq)