As a whole generation of mainstream American filmmakers battles to see who can pay most hyperbolic tribute to Steven Spielberg, a new frontier has emerged. Rather than simply praise the celebrated director’s work, filmmakers are now praising his perspective on their work. In a recent New York Times article, several directors—including J.J. Abrams (Star Trek), David Koepp (Premium Rush), and Matt Reeves (Cloverfield)—have detailed some of Spielberg’s uncredited contributions to their films. “The times when I have seen him the most happy are when he has been in the process of making stuff up,” said Koepp, explaining that Spielberg takes particular delight in offering ideas when he isn’t burdened by an entire production. “There is so much that can slow you down when you are making a movie.”
There has been no shortage of recognition in Steven Spielberg’s career, which makes public praise for his private suggestions seem somewhat excessive. Seemingly sensitive to this, Spielberg chose not to comment for the article, explaining through his spokesman that he “considers his conversations with other filmmakers to be private.” While this praise isn’t necessarily unwarranted, the constant focus on Spielberg skews his sense of importance relative to his peers. For casual viewers, hype and commercial success have caused Spielberg to tower over other filmmakers, though that doesn’t necessarily reflect his place in the industry. He may be one of the great living filmmakers, but he’s not an unrivalled giant.
That said, at least one of the suggestions listed in the article (one for a film Spielberg actually produced) does merit special recognition. According to Gremlins screenwriter Chris Columbus, all the mogwais turned into evil gremlins in his original script, but Spielberg suggested keeping one of them honest and good. Rather than simply protect the film’s precarious feel good element, this suggestion created a counterpoint that gives the gremlins’ destruction more impact. For protecting Gizmo’s good name alone, Spielberg’s legacy should be secure for many years to come.