Steven Spielberg started making movies as a young child, using Super 8 equipment. He was extremely ambitious from the outset and made his first feature film at the age of seventeen. The film, Firelight, premiered on the 8th March 1964 in Phoenix, Arizona. The film was, of course, low-budget; Spielberg shot it with a good Super 8 camera (which he had won with an earlier short film he made) and with logistical help from his parents.
Spielberg re-made Firelight as Close Encounters of the Third Kind in 1977. The day after the screening of Firelight the Spielbergs moved to Los Angeles, where Steven immediately set about breaking into the Hollywood film industry. He befriended an editor at Universal called Chuck Silvers, to whom he showed the movies he had made. Silvers was favorably impressed but never did anything about it, until one day Spielberg walked in with a print of Amblin’ under his arm.
Shot on 35mm without dialog, Amblin’ is a 26-minute film that Spielberg made in 1968 for the express purpose of breaking into Hollywood. Chuck Silvers was so impressed that he screened it for Syd Sheinberg, head of TV production at Universal Studios.
Sheinberg immediately offered Spielberg to a 7-year contract to direct episodic TV for Universal Studios. He wasn’t even given time to complete his college degree: he signed in December and by January he was directing Joan Crawford in a Night Gallery episode, at the tender age of twenty-two. Syd Sheinberg took the young Spielberg under his wing and did a lot of pushing for him, especially in the early years.
Spielberg immediately impressed everyone at Universal, consistently outclassing directors who were two or three times as old as he was.
His second major break came when he directed Duel. It was supposed to be a TV movie, but it was so good that it was also released theatrically, after additional footage was shot for it. Duel catapulted Spielberg from TV to feature films.
His first feature film was The Sugarland Express (1972), based on a true story and starring Goldie Hawn. It performed poorly at the box office — perhaps because the title was tonally misleading — but it is a truly delightful film, with all of Steven Spielberg’s hallmarks: the best camerawork in the business, terrific human warmth and a near-perfect screenplay.
His next film, Jaws (1975), broke all box office records, started the blockbuster paradigm (along with Star Wars) and made Spielberg a wealthy man. At the age of twenty-eight, Spielberg had become one of the hottest directors in Hollywood, and he only got better from there.