Steven Spielberg’s Directorial Debut Was a Sci-Fi Film With a $500 Budget

It seems insane to think about a director like Steven Spielberg having a lost film, but that appears to be the case.

The director has been making movies his entire life, and that included childhood. One film, a called Firelight, was a two-hour space epic called Firelight. 

Made in the 1960s, Spielberg raised $500 and still made a profit at the box office. The rest, as we all know, is history. 

Steven Spielberg’s early influence

Steven Spielberg
Steven Spielberg | Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images

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In a 2011 interview with The New York Times, Spielberg spoke about the movie bug that bit him as a kid. Back then, there was no pressure to live up to a name that is now synonymous with direction. Instead, it was a young kid who had ideas, a camera, and a head full of ideas.

The result was some of the earliest visual storytelling that the world-renowned director produced., He harkened back to those early days behind the camera as the dawn of his career.

“I get that same queasy, nervous, thrilling feeling every time I go to work,” Spielberg told the publication. “That’s never worn off since I was 12 years old with my dad’s 8-millimeter movie camera. The thrill hasn’t changed at all. As I’ve gotten older, it’s actually increased because now I appreciate the collaboration. When I was a kid, there was no collaboration. It’s you with a camera bossing your friends around.”

From Amblin, a short movie Spielberg made that spawned the name of his production company, to those lost with time, Spielberg was a passionate filmmaker before anyone knew who he was.

As a result, these early films that he made at home have become legendary in filmmaking circles. One of these films, a lost science fiction film that Spielberg made for $500, helps reveal the man who now makes movies for hundreds of millions. 

Spielberg’s trip into the ‘Firelight’

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According to No Film School, Spielberg was 17 years old when he got a Super 8 camera from his dad and started making feature-length movies. His first, a 135-minute sci-fi epic called Firelight, was an early look at the director’s creative visions in the future.

He didn’t have actors, a studio, or a budget, but he still made a movie he was proud of. 

To fund the movie, Spielberg begged his friends and family to help support it. While footage from the film remains available, According to Spielberg’s interview with the late James Lipton, the film was his first profitable endeavor despite just a single screening. 

“We charged a dollar a ticket,” he explained. “Five hundred people came to the movie, and I think somebody probably paid two dollars because we made one dollar profit that night, and that was it.”

It was his first bonafide hit. 

Keeping the ‘Firelight’ ablaze

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The one-dollar profit was all Spielberg needed to find his calling. Before long, he went to film school, met a group of other famous up-and-comers, and is now one of the most successful directors in Hollywood.

Despite this, he tries not to let the fame and fortune lose what he once had. In his seventies, Spielberg still makes it a point to capture childhood joy and naivety as often as he can. 

As Forward notes, many of Firelight’s ideas were fleshed out and turned into more heavily acclaimed projects like Close Encounters of the Third Kind and ET. However, while Spielberg may now be an elder statesman in the movie world, that childlike touch is still a staple of his movies. 

Firelight might be behind him, but its legacy lives on with each ensuing project, and that’s the power of Spielberg’s camera. 

It’s part of what makes him an endearing presence fifty years later.