Covering Cinema From All Across The African Diaspora

IN THE BEGINNING - Steven Spielberg

Below is Steven Spielberg’s first completed 35mm short film titled, Amblin.

Shot in 1968 with a $15,000 budget, the 26-minute short film resulted in Sid Sheinberg signing Spielberg to a long-term deal at Universal Studios in the television division.

At just 22, Spielberg became the youngest director at the time to ever be signed to such a deal by a big Hollywood studio.

Amblin won several film festival awards, and later became the name for Spielberg’s production company - Amblin Entertainment.

The film tells the story of a young couple who meet while hitchhiking across the desert. The film is mostly silent, accompanied by some sound effects and acoustic guitar.

Frankly, after watching it, I'm not quite sure what Universal saw that encouraged them to sign Spielberg, especially at such a young age. There's nothing here that I found particularly fresh nor riveting. I also can't see (or hear) why it cost $15,000 - not adjusted for inflation, by the way; the same $15,000 1968 film would cost approximately $88,000 today! I could make a feature with that.

Of course, Spielberg did go on to prove that Universal's decision was a smart one.


  1. KO said...

    Happy 35th birthday!!!

    From KO and Family.

  2. The Wendilicious Wonder said...

    It might not seem particularly fresh or riveting today, but I can see why they took him on.

    I doubt very much that there were as many film students, or film festivals, at the time as there are now, but it's fair to say that this is a lot better than many of the short films I've seen (and have often had the misfortune of sitting through).

    Apart from the poor sound and image quality in some places (I'll attribute some of that to the fact that it's a 40 year old film that's, no doubt, deteriorated), it's a well shot and well told story.

    There are some lovely shots in there (I liked the silhouettes of them smoking in the tunnel and when she was combing her hair whilst lit by the light of the fire), some good scene transitions and, as someone who likes her verbiage (um, if you didn't know already) it was a lesson in how to tell a sweet and touching story without resorting to "arty" silences and scenes with little or no action in them.

    And, although I wasn't watching a great deal of TV in 1968, this certainly had to be better than some of the stuff on TV at that time, and without the cheesiness or the dodgy dialogue too.

    As to the cost, well... this was pre digital and video and, seeing as film stock isn't exactly cheap now, I doubt they were giving it away back then. So yes, a feature film could be made for that now (and I know that you'd do a good job with such a seemingly large low budget) but we also know that there are feature films out there now that, on average (taking film length into account), cost about the same as this film did and yet don't look too hot, fresh or riveting.

    Let's face it, dude was no slouch from the beginning and, like you said, he's since proved any of his naysayers (and it doesn't seem there were many, seeing as he won several festival awards and the attention of Sheinberg) wrong.

    So give the guy a break, Tambini... Oh, wait, he got got his well deserved break some 40 years ago!

  3. The Obenson Report said...

    Watched it again, and tried to contextualize it - placing in the time in which it was made, and comparing it to other short films of its time that I've seen - and I still can't see what the appeal was.

    Also, the costs of celluloid productions really hasn't changed that much since those days, believe it or not. 16MM was the digital of that time period - that's partly how several renegade filmmakers of the late 60s/early to mid-70s were able to get their films produced and distributed. Films like "Easy Rider," and many of Cassavetes' films were all shot with 16 mm film, and cost less than $500,000, which is comparable to something like Ballast, or your choice of many indie features today (specifically those that go on to make a bit of a splash).

    Filmmakers in this century are still making short films with $15,000 and a lot more!

    I think it was an ok effort, but if I were an executive, I wouldn't be in any rush to sign him to any long term agreements. I've seen a few other short films from filmmakers of that time period that were superior to "Amblin" - IMHO anyway.

    But, as I said, he's proven his worth. It's just not evident to me in this short.

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