So I’ve decided to add a segment to the blog, one that will hopefully show that every filmmaker, even the great ones, started out somewhere. Indie Intros will look at early short films from famous directors made well before they were ever household names. The goal will be to pick up on early influences, analyze growth or simply sit back and enjoy the early works of filmmaking’s finest. To kick it off, I’ve decided to start with arguably the most famous name in film, Steven Spielberg.
“Amblin'” is one of Spielberg’s very first short films. It was directed in 1968 and shot on good old 35mm. The name “Amblin” would later become synonymous with some of Spielberg’s best work. In 1981 Amblin Entertainment was founded with Spielberg’s partners Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall and would go on to produce some of the most memorable films from directors such as Robert Zemeckis, Clint Eastwood, Richard Donner, Martin Scorsese and The Coen Brothers.
“Amblin'” as a film, probably doesn’t hold up very well by today’s standards. It’s not that it’s bad, it’s just very late 60’s. For instance, the tag line for the film is, “He and she were thumb-trippin’. They had the makin’s… and the tail-end of summer.” I have absolutely no idea what that’s supposed to mean. On top of that, virtually every stereotype we’ve come to know about the hippy generation is in this film. Folk music? Check. Psychedelic double exposures? All day. Drug use? Of course. Free love? Why not? Volkswagen Type 2’s? How else would you get around? There’s even a shot of sunflowers blowing in the wind for good measure. To sum the plot, it’s really just two unnamed kids walking through desert landscapes for 25 minutes on their way to Mordor or someplace.
“Amblin'” has no dialogue to speak of. As a film study, it’s interesting, because what plot points we get must be told through the actions of the characters. We know that the two are hitchhiking, that’s clear by the setting. There’s a sort of hesitance with the boy, as he holds on tight to his guitar case, not letting anyone touch it. What could he be hiding? The girl, on the other hand, is clearly the “free spirit” of the two. She hands the boy his first joint, invites him into her sleeping bag and generally frees his mind. She’s basically the late 60’s version of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl. It’s almost as if Spielberg is channeling the silent film directors of old and giving them a swinging sixties makeover.
What may come surprising to many filmmakers used to digital movie making, is that “Amblin'” cost around $15,000 to make. The type of production value you can get with $15,000 on modern equipment might have you scoffing at “Amblin'”, but instead, take this as a history lesson as to how expensive it used to be to shoot on film.
Ultimately, “Amblin'” would go on to win festival awards at the Atlanta Film Festival and Worldfest Houston. It eventually found it’s way to Universal, where they offered Spielberg a seven-year contract.