Last night, legendary filmmaker Steven Spielberg was on hand at the Tribeca Film Festival, as they celebrated the 25th anniversary of “Schindler’s List.” The historical epic was screened in front of an audience at Tribeca, and marked the first time Spielberg had seen the film with an audience since its premiere over two decades prior. In fact, Spielberg told the crowd (via USA Today) that he last saw the film 5 years ago, preparing the restoration for its Blu-ray release, but had the film on mute.
This is just one of many examples of just how profound and traumatic the production of this film was for Spielberg, and the rest of his cast and crew. Over the course of the discussion, Spielberg shared stories of how he dealt with the trauma during filming, and how the authenticity of the production led his cast to the verge of breakdowns.
One of the biggest supporters of Spielberg, during the filming of “Schindler’s List,” was none other than comedian Robin Williams. Spielberg describes how Williams gave his support throughout the production.
“Robin knew what I was going through, and once a week, Robin would call me on schedule and he would do 15 minutes of stand-up on the phone, and I would laugh hysterically, because I had to release so much,” Spielberg said. “But the way Robin is on the telephone, he’d always hang up on the loudest, best laugh you’d give him. He’d never say goodbye, just hang up on the biggest laugh.”
Unfortunately, not everyone on set had a world-class comedian to lift their spirits. The director also mentioned how filming one scene traumatized some actors to the point where they had to take an extended break from filming. After filming the scene where a group of Jewish women is mistakenly delivered to Auschwitz, Spielberg said, “two young actors, both Israeli, couldn’t shoot the next three days. They had breakdowns after that. There was trauma everywhere. You can’t fake that.”
And even with Robin Williams phone support, the filmmaker experienced the “most traumatic day” of his entire career when he filmed the scene where people are forced to strip for health examinations at the Kraków death camp.
One of the most memorable scenes from the entire film is the ending, which featured real-life survivors of the story visiting Schindler’s grave. However, that ending was never part of the script and was a late addition by Spielberg.
“I’m so known for films that are nothing like this, I didn’t know that if people and the way they perceive me was enough to be able to present this movie as truth, which it was,” Spielberg said. “I got really worried and it came to me, ‘What if we can get as many of the Holocaust Schindler survivors and get them to put stones on Schindler’s grave?’ That was an idea that was never in the script — that was a desperate attempt from me to find validation from the survivors’ community to certify that what we had done was credible.”
Overall, however, the film is one of Spielberg’s best, and one that he’ll obviously never forget. In fact, the director said, “I certainly know that I have never felt since Schindler’s List the kind of pride and satisfaction, and sense of real, meaningful accomplishment — I haven’t felt that on any film post-‘Schindler’s List.’”