‘AFI’s Master Class — The Art of Collaboration,’ with Steven Spielberg, John Williams

11/11/2011 12:26 PM

03/07/2012 10:57 AM

Almost four decades ago, a young filmmaker named Steven Spielberg asked established composer John Williams to write music for his film.

As of next year, they will have worked “exclusively together” for 40 years.

“One of the greatest honors that I have ever received in my life,” Spielberg says in a new program looking back at their partnership, “was the first time that John said yes to the movie that I wanted to score which was the (1974) “Sugarland Express.”

The American Film Institute and Turner Classic Movies’ “AFI’s Master Class — The Art of Collaboration,” starring Spielberg and Williams, will debut Tuesday on TCM.

In a cozy setting at the AFI Conservatory and with an audience of aspiring AFI Fellows filmmakers, Spielberg and Williams discuss their collaborations. After so many years, they still greatly admire each other, professionally and personally.

“He’s never once said to me, ‘I don’t like that,’ or ‘this won’t work,’” Williams says of his music for Spielberg, “He’s enjoyed everything, even the mistakes.”

Along with the discussion, clips are shown from their favorite movies, leading to a discussion of the power of the appropriate music for creating unforgettable scenes.

Williams’ choices tie with his memories of the music, not film. He remembers clearly the music in a scene in 1954’s “On the Waterfront,” scored by Leonard Bernstein (better known from “West Side Story”) but not the specific scene.

One of his favorites is from “E.T.: the Extra-Terrestrial,” when Elliot (Henry Thomas) soars through the night air elevated by E.T., which Williams always loved for its “sense of innocence and sense of gravity.”

Spielberg cites the love scene in Hitchcock’s “Vertigo,” where he felt the music made the scene, and Alex North’s score for the 1960 sand-and-sandal film “Spartacus.”

Both love “Amadeus” — which was, of course, scored by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

Williams says his Spielberg favorite is “Schindler’s List.” He was so overcome after viewing the film that he took a small walk, came back to the meeting with Spielberg, and said, “Steven, you really need a better composer than I am for this film.” Spielberg’s reply: “I know. But they’re all dead.”

Along with the discussion of collaboration and trust, a major element in making any movie, they give insights in the business of film creation.

“The master class that we both attend is the script which becomes the movie. And it is the movie that we both are devoted to serving,” says Spielberg of his working style. In a question-and-answer session with the Fellows, Spielberg advises, “Just remember to learn your craft. Even before you start to think of yourself as an artist, learn your craft.”

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