Steven Spielberg: from hiding in the bathroom to stardom

As one of the most influential figures in the film industry today, Steven Spielberg’s name has become synonymous with cinematic excellence. This household name, beloved by millions worldwide, has shaped the world of filmmaking for decades. But who is the man behind blockbuster hits like “Jaws,” “E.T.” “Jurassic Park,” and the critically acclaimed “Schindler’s List”? Spielberg’s rise to fame and success did not happen overnight. It was a journey that began during his childhood and was nurtured by his unique upbringing and relentless passion for storytelling.

Born on December 18, 1946, in Cincinnati, Ohio, Spielberg has been leaving lasting marks on the silver screen for over half a century. He’s not just a filmmaker but an Oscar-winning director, a successful producer, and a co-founder of the legendary DreamWorks Studios. Throughout his career, Spielberg has made a name for himself as a master storyteller and an unrivalled visual stylist, successfully marrying innovative techniques with emotionally resonant narratives. His movies have grossed billions of dollars worldwide, and his influence on the film industry is immeasurable.

In this piece, we will dive deep into Spielberg’s childhood and upbringing, offering a glimpse into the key experiences and influences that shaped him into the iconic filmmaker he is today.


Steven Spielberg’s childhood

Steven Spielberg was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, but moved a lot as a kid. His father, Arnold, was an electrical engineer, and his mother, Leah, was a concert pianist. As we’ll see later, they had a huge influence on his career. From a young age, Steven showed a great interest in making movies. He was only 12 when he used his dad’s 8mm camera to make his first film about a train wreck.

When Steven was a teenager, his family moved to California. It was here that he got his first taste of the professional film industry. He would often visit movie studios in Hollywood, looking to learn from real filmmakers.


Education and schooling

Spielberg didn’t do well in school, but he did shine in one area: film. When he was just 16, he made a war film called “Firelight.” It was 140 minutes long and was shown at a local cinema. This experience encouraged Steven to pursue a career in filmmaking.

After high school, Spielberg wanted to study film at the University of Southern California, but his grades were not good enough to get in. Instead, he went to California State University, Long Beach. However, he would often skip classes to hang out at Universal Studios, the place he really wanted to be.


Film crew and director on set while filming. How Steven Spielberg learned to make films as a child.


His time in college wasn’t wasted, though. While Spielberg was still a student, he made a short film called “Amblin'”. This movie impressed the executives at Universal Studios so much that they offered him a seven-year contract. Spielberg left college to start his professional film career.

In an interview for the DGA, Spielberg explained the mischief he got up to in his high school years, that set him up well for his career.

“I was in high school in Arizona and visiting some cousins and I took a tour one day—you know, they had the old Gray Line Tours—and they gave everybody a bathroom break about midday. So I got off to go to the bathroom and I hid in the stall, and I waited until everybody had left. I came out a half an hour later and I was free.  I was on the Universal Studios lot.

“I met the film librarian, a man named Chuck Silvers, and he thought I had a lot of chutzpa and showed ambition, so he gave me a three-day pass on his own name. So I did that for three days, and then I took a shot that maybe the guard would recognize me without having to show him my papers. And so on the fourth day I walked onto the lot and waved at Scotty, the guard. Scotty waved back and I spent the next two and a half months on the lot five days a week until school began and I had to go back to Phoenix.”

Spielberg had an idea, even then, that he wanted to be involved with movies. He made a plan and it paid off. Sticking to the rules, following the orders… sometimes it leads somewhere. But extraordinary lives are made of more.

The full interview is here.

Steven Spielberg parents and how he was raised

Steven Spielberg’s parents played a significant role in shaping his interest in film and storytelling. His mother, Leah Adler, was a concert pianist and a highly creative individual. His father, Arnold Spielberg, was an electrical engineer and a computer pioneer.

Spielberg often spoke about the influence his parents had on his career. His mother’s creativity and passion for music, as well as her overall love for life, undoubtedly nurtured Spielberg’s artistic side. She was known for her lively spirit and was a strong presence in Spielberg’s life. Leah Adler passed away in 2017 at the age of 97, but her influence on Spielberg’s life and work was profound and lasting.

His father, on the other hand, influenced Spielberg’s understanding of technology. Arnold Spielberg’s work on early computers and his inventive mindset likely played a role in his son’s innovative approach to film and special effects. Arnold lived until the age of 103, passing away in 2020.

As a family, they moved frequently due to Arnold’s job, and this transient lifestyle exposed Spielberg to different environments and people, which broadened his perspectives and experiences – something that would prove beneficial in his career as a filmmaker.

In terms of upbringing, Spielberg’s parents fostered an environment that allowed his imagination to flourish. They encouraged his early interest in film. For instance, when Spielberg made his first home movie at the age of 12, it was his father’s 8mm camera that he used. This support and access to resources undoubtedly played a part in nurturing Spielberg’s passion for filmmaking.

However, Spielberg’s childhood was not without difficulties. His parents divorced when he was a teenager, an event that had a profound impact on him and influenced some of the themes he later explored in his films, such as the concept of broken families.


Spielberg’s rise to success

In summary, Steven Spielberg’s upbringing was a blend of creativity, technological innovation, and emotional complexity, all of which played a part in moulding him into the filmmaker he became. He was fascinated by storytelling and was determined to learn everything he could about filmmaking. This passion, even more than formal education, was what truly drove him to success.
Spielberg’s success is no accident. It was shaped by a combination of innate talent, creative vision, and the foundational experiences of his early life. Through hard work, dedication, and a belief in the power of his dreams, Spielberg transformed himself from a young boy making movies with his father’s 8mm camera to a titan of the film industry. His journey serves as a guiding light for all aspiring filmmakers, showing that with passion and persistence, cinematic dreams can indeed become a reality.
Read about another super successful film director: how Stanley Kubrick was raised.