Steven Spielberg revealed Sunday that his latest film, “The Fabelmans,” was prompted by the mounting death toll and the uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I remember, as the death toll mounted, we kept watching the reports of what was happening throughout the country and the world and I kept thinking, ‘What is this going to mean for humanity? How far is this pandemic going to actually take us?’” he said at a press conference at the Toronto International Film Festival. “And I thought, ‘This is something I’ve got to get out of me now.’”
“The Fabelmans,” which premiered at TIFF Saturday, hinges on coming-of-age in a “very unique family,” a story that Spielberg “always wanted to tell,” but the pandemic offered a prime opportunity to finally pursue the project. “This may be the best time, with all the time I had on my hands, to sit with [co-writer] Tony [Kushner] and decide to write this on Zoom together because I didn’t know where this was going,” he said.
Spielberg noted that “as things got worse and worse,” he wanted to resolve his relationship with his parents.
At the Fabelman premiere, Steven Spielberg talks about how the pandemic led him to think about what he would “leave behind,” and resolving his relationship with his parents was the thing for him. #tiff pic.twitter.com/T8kSez9n9G
— Sharon Waxman (@sharonwaxman) September 11, 2022
Calling the film a “semi-autobiographical way to recreate huge recollections” of both his life and the experiences of his family who has passed away, the filmmaker noted that starting “The Fabelmans” was a “daunting experience” as the responsibility of this storytelling began to build.
Due to how closely his personal experience was tied up in the film, Spielberg explained that there was “no aesthetic distance between [him] and this experience,” creating a distinct emotional process than other films.
“And I’ve always been able to put a camera between myself and reality to protect myself and I couldn’t do it telling this story,” he said. “As the cast knows, it was emotionally a very difficult experience. Not all of it. But some of it was very, very hard to get through.”
Spielberg also acknowledged the support of Kushner, who was also in attendance at the press conference, calling him a “therapeutic counselor in getting this out of [Spielberg].”
Kushner said that it didn’t feel like therapy and pushed back on Spielberg’s earlier comment, saying, “I don’t think he does keep the camera between himself and real life in any of his movies.”
“What makes him as great as he is, and his movies as great as they are, is that there is an emotional depth and power in everything he does,” he said. “They’re not giant, soulless entertainment contraptions. Even the most wildly popular of his movies have wild moments of pathos and depth and complexity.”
Variety was first to report the news.