The movie Steven Spielberg compares to a “Pepsi commercial”
(Credits: Far Out / YouTube Still)
Despite being the single most commercially successful director in the history of cinema, Steven Spielberg didn’t exactly take a conventional route to the top of the industry.
While still at university, he took a bus tour of Universal Studios and happened upon a wandering executive. Engaging him in conversation, the budding filmmaker secured a three-day pass free of charge but continued returning after that, essentially spending two months as an unpaid and unapproved apprentice.
From there, he was handed the opportunity to write and direct a short film before abandoning his studies the following year after signing a seven-year directorial contract with Universal. That led him onto the made-for-TV movie Duel, which segued into his theatrically released debut, The Sugarland Express. All of this was before he changed the face of the industry forever in 1975 when Jaws shattered box office records.
It was quite the ascent, all things considered, but that short film secured a legacy of its own after being repurposed as the name of his production company. The 26-minute Amblin’ told the straightforward story of a young man hitchhiking across California who ends up meeting a fellow free spirit along the way.
As Spielberg told Entertainment Weekly, “It was going to be a tone poem about a boy and a girl who meet in the desert, hitchhiking their way to the Pacific Ocean”. Calling it a “very simple story,” he can’t have been too thrilled with the execution. The director describes it as “my sort-of attempt at a Pepsi commercial.”
Towards the end, it transpires that the protagonist isn’t even a hippie at all, which turns out to be autobiographical. “He was me, basically. He was dressed as a hippie, but he was a secret square,” Spielberg said. “It was no secret that I was a square. And I think, to my children today, it’s still no secret.”
His features have always favoured hefty helpings of sentimentality that border on the saccharine. It makes it a touch ironic that the first one of his projects to be screened in cinemas was a love story with a rug-pulling ending, one where the two star-crossed central figures don’t end up with their happily ever after.
Despite its modest nature, Amblin’ did lead to some legal issues long after the fact. Producer Denis C. Hoffman provided some of the funding and, in return, had an agreement with Spielberg that he’d receive no compensation for his directorial efforts and a ten-year deal that he’d direct any script that was brought to him directly by Hoffman. When that didn’t happen, he ultimately ended up suing the would-be producer, claiming “financial harassment” after allegedly being hounded for years.
The filmmaker offered that Hoffman was seeking up to $33million, and it was eventually settled out of court to add another unlikely chapter onto the enduring legacy of Amblin’.