We all know that creating stories can be a slog. Whether you're trying to write a feature or trying to write a pilot, or directing both, we all come across peaks and valleys in our careers. One person whose words I keep going back to is Steven Spielberg.
If you read No Film School a lot or know me outside of the digital world, you'll know I am a massive Spielberg fan.
Sure, he made the movies of my childhood and helped define feelings like hope, love, and excitement for me as my brain developed over the years, but it's not just about all that.
Spielberg's movies, even some of the lesser ones, always take big swings. It's not that he thinks he'll never fail, it's that he's not afraid to fall.
I talked a lot about this in my post on happiness, but working in Hollywood is so hard. You fail all the time.
So after every failure, I come back to this list. It helps me center myself. And it's oddly comforting to know that Spielberg himself has dealt with a lot of the feelings I've had about the industry.
Let's dive into these Steven Spielberg quotes and analyze each of them to see what you can glean from his wise words.
1. “Whether in success or in failure, I’m proud of every single movie I’ve directed. ” – Steven Spielberg
In Hollywood, you're only as good as your last project. If you last project sucked, you're in trouble. One thing that admires me about Spielberg is that he's always pushing forward. 1941 didn't work? Fine. Be proud that you worked with John Belushi and move on. There are lessons in success and failure. He always listens to them and keeps creating no matter what.
2. “Even though I get older, what I do never gets old, and that’s what I think keeps me hungry.” – Steven Spielberg
One thing we're constantly dealing with in this town is the ability to become bitter when things don't go our way. You have to try to make ten things to get one thing going. I try to center myself and realize why I love what I do and why I stick with it. It's cool to know Spielberg does the same.
3. “I’ve always been very hopeful which I guess isn’t strange coming from me. I don’t want to call myself an optimist. I want to say that I’ve always been full of hope. I’ve never lost that. I have a lot of hope for this country and for the entire world.” – Steven Spielberg
While it's apparent that Hollywood feeds off the hopes and dreams of people, this ties back into the second quote. You can't get bitter about stuff here. So you have to move forward, optimistically. I like to say I am "cautiously optimistic" about all my current projects. That means I don't have my head in the sand, but I am not aimlessly looking toward the sky dreaming too.
4. “I don’t dream at night, I dream at day, I dream all day; I’m dreaming for a living.” – Steven Spielberg
Never forget how lucky we are to live in a time and place where we can write and direct our own material. Sure, most of the people who read this site have day jobs, but dreaming is free. And there have never been more opportunities to make your own work without spending tons of money. If your goal is to make Hollywood for full-time job, then keep dreaming. In a good way.
And of course, with this quote, Spielberg is referencing one of the great quotes of all time, by T.E. Lawrence (yes, THAT Lawrence of Lawrence of Arabia).
"All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds, wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act on their dreams with open eyes, to make them possible."
Spielberg is a big fan of director David Lean, and of that movie.
5. “You have many years ahead of you to create the dreams that we can’t even imagine dreaming. You have done more for the collective unconscious of this planet than you will ever know.”” – Steven Spielberg
As a storyteller, I aspire to touch people with my words. but I know the only way that happens is if I finish my projects. When I'm down, I try to keep pushing forward. I know that when I write about something I'm going through, it might be relatable to other people as well. We can make cinema empathetic and caring if we just listen to the stories people want to tell us.
6. “My imagination won’t turn off. I wake up so excited I can’t eat breakfast. I’ve never run out of energy.” – Steven Spielberg
I usually need a coffee to make this quote count for me. It's important to budget your time, get enough sleep, and to attack the day with fervor. I don't know if I have limitless energy, but I have the will to persevere. Or, at least, I try to have that will.
7. “When I grow up, I still want to be a director.” – Steven Spielberg
This echoes my desire to always be learning. Well, always be closing too. But definitely learning. You are never an expert in this industry.You can be good, but you have to be open to seeing how other people do it, and accepting lessons at every turn of the road.
8. “I always like to think of the audience when I am directing. Because I am the audience.” – Steven Spielberg
Who are you making your project for? If you're not sure, you better look inward. We don't make things just for us, we make them for the masses. Think about the mood and emotions you want people to feel, and write and direct toward those inclinations. You have the power to make people feel. Wield it wisely.
9. “I like the smell of film. I just like knowing there’s film going through the camera.” – Steven Spielberg
Hey, we all can't afford film. So I try not to think about this quote literally. I more see it as steeping yourself in film in general. Watching old movies, repeated views of TV shows you love, reading books about the masters. Let the industry and the artform wash over you.
10. “I think one of the worst things that happened to me was, you know, my voluntary fallout with my father. And then the greatest thing that happened to me was when I saw the light, and realized I needed to love him in a way that he could love me back.” – Steven Spielberg
We are all writing and directing from a place of trauma. Maybe it's not as visceral as what Spielberg talks about here, but if your work isn't coming from a real place inside yourself, it will ring false to people. Maybe it's about the joy of new love or the pain of a heartbreak, but you have to be willing to confront what you have inside and put it on the screen.
11. “You know, I don’t really do that much looking inside me when I’m working on a project. Whatever I am becomes what that film is. But I change; you change.” – Steven Spielberg
We are a compilation of our experiences, not one experience. When I look back on older projects, I can see who I was at 18, 25, 29...but now, in my 30s, I have different opinions on life. That doesn't invalidate who I was or who I was feeling, but it does mean that I'm writing with more maturation now. It's still important to stay in touch with those mindsets so I can keep the characters and their ages feeling real.
12. “Sometimes a dream almost whispers… it never shouts. Very hard to hear. So you have to, every day of your lives, be ready to hear what whispers in your ear. ”– Steven Spielberg
I like to think about the line from Up, "Adventure is out there!" You have to be open to your next story idea. Your world contains lots of opportunities to mine new loglines and ideas. Don't brush off things. Write them down. Chase everything, even the stuff that scares you.
13. “I’m not really interested in making money. That’s always come as the result of success, but it’s not been my goal, and I’ve had a tough time proving that to people.” – Steven Spielberg
If you're getting into filmmaking for the money, you should quit now. Sure, when it comes, it's great. But it's not coming as much as you want, and even when it's here you lose lots of it to agents, taxes, and the cost of living in Los Angeles. You have to do this because you love it. It's too stressful and stupid to do it for any other reason.
14. “All through my career I’ve done what I can to discover new talent and give them a start.” – Steven Spielberg
So, you're probably not reading this and in a place to give anyone a boost up. But you might be someday. I know who I owe my humble beginnings to, who trusts me in Hollywood, and I know that if I ever make it to the big time, it's important to give that back. You can't do this just for people like you, but be open to helping diverse and different voices who can only help you understand more of your own existence.
15. “Only a generation of readers will span a generation of writers.” – Steven Spielberg
It is imperative that you read books, short stories, comics, news articles, and screenplays. Storytelling is a gift you may have, but it needs to be refined if you want it to become your career.
So read more!
16. “Every time I go to a movie, it’s magic, no matter what the movie’s about.” – Steven Spielberg
One thing I tried to do over the last three years is to see more movies. No just movies I love, but movies outside my comfort zone. Artsy movies. Foreign movies. Movies without explosions. Movies with tasteful nudity. There's a communal feeling when you step into a theater. You can't replace that with anything.
17. “All good ideas start out as bad ideas, that’s why it takes so long.” – Steven Spielberg
Man, this one hurts. But it's real. Writing and ideation is blue collar work. You have to dig the hole and chip away at the rock before it can become the foundation for something beautiful. Ideally, you're working on serval holes at once. Or use the metaphor of keeping balls in the air. Juggling is hard too. Just write. And rewrite.
18. “The thing that I’m just scared to death of is that someday I’m going to wake up and bore somebody with a film.” – Steven Spielberg
The only rule is "Don't be boring." You are trying to work in ENTERTAINMENT. Keep people's attention by creating a compelling narrative that hooks our emotions. You can fix plot holes, smooth twists, and turns, clear the road of bumps, but it always has to wind you in ways that feel coherent and exciting.
19. “People have forgotten how to tell a story. Stories don’t have a middle or an end any more. They usually have a beginning that never stops beginning.” – Steven Spielberg
This one could seem like it rings false, given our focus on three-act structure here. I like to think of a script as a series of revelations. Characters learn and begin again and learn some more. So sure, there are acts and beats that matter, but if you put yourself in the characters' shoes, you can see how their world starts over again and again.
20. “All of us every single year, we’re a different person. I don’t think we’re the same person all our lives.” – Steven Spielberg
This is a lot like some of his previous quotes. Consider it the sequel! I try to leave myself open to telling different versions of the same stories. But also analyzing that as I grow older different things become important to me. That's why I take a few weeks a year and just read some of my old work. Sometimes there are set pieces to recycle, dialogue to reimagine, and ways to regurgitate old ideas with a modern spin. Grow with your work. And don't forget where you came from!
Summing Up Steven Spielberg's Quotes
I hope these Steven Spielberg quotes inspire you as much as they inspire me.
Filmmaking is hard, but you're not alone. Even the most talented filmmaker in the world (don't @ me) struggles.
What are your favorites Spielberg quotes?
Let us know in the comments!
And get back to dreaming!