‘The Fablemans’ Producer Says Steven Spielberg Was “More Vulnerable and Raw” Than Ever Before While Making Autobiographical FIlm
Having spent the past quarter century working for Steven Spielberg, Kristie Macosko Krieger has often visited The Milky Way, the Los Angeles restaurant once run by the director’s mother, Leah Adler (who died in 2017), and her second husband, Bernie Adler. Krieger also knew Spielberg’s late father, Arnold, and knew that Bernie and Arnold had once been close friends, but had no idea that a young Steven Spielberg had discovered the blooming relationship between his mother and the family friend when making home movies as part of his obsession with amateur filmmaking. This very personal story would come to light when making the semi-autobiographical The Fabelmanswhich Krieger produced alongside Spielberg and Tony Kushner, who co-wrote the script with the director.
Krieger began her tenure with Spielberg as his assistant before rising through the ranks (associate producer, co-producer) to become his full-fledged, go-to producer when Kathleen Kennedy left for Lucasfilm. The Fabelmans marks her fourth best picture nomination, after Bridge of Spies, The Post and West Side Story.
What’s the toughest thing about Steven Spielberg as a boss?
Well, he demands excellence all the time. And he’s insatiable. Keeping up with Steven, who is 76 years old, is almost impossible for me as a 53-year-old. He’s on it. He reads scripts faster than any human being on the planet. He’s watched everything. He knows everybody in the business, including the up-and-comers.
How did The Fabelmans come about?
I knew that Leah had married Bernie, who was Arnold’s best friend, but I didn’t know the full story of the camping trip and how Steven had discovered [their relationship]; when Steven started talking about it, that was new to me. I think that Steven was always going to make this movie. I just don’t think he even knew when he was going to make it, and I think that his parents wanted him to make it, but at the same time, I think they were probably a little nervous about it. His mom always said, “Steve, when are you going to tell our story?”
Steven and Tony Kushner discussed the idea of making this film for a very long time. What was your role in pushing along the process?
Every so often Tony would say to me, “Steven and I just met, and we talked about his family story again.” I would just encourage the two of them to continue to work through it and write it down. I was more on the supportive side because in my mind, if Steven was never interested in making this movie, I would be fine with him never making it. But it sounded like it was a very important story for him to tell, and they worked on a very long transcript. That was probably in March or April of 2020. I think they were just talking it through. They had also talked about it when we were making West Side Story. Before, they talked about it during Munich and Lincoln. During West Side Story, Steven would regale Tony with stories. I think in that moment, they were like, “OK, let’s actually meet and start writing this down.” Tony would ask Steven questions, Steven would answer. They were just coming up with what the story could be. Then I think they put it aside for a bit. And then in October of 2020, I would say, they started having Zoom meetings three days a week, two hours a day. And in eight weeks, by December, there was an actual script that I held in my hands and read.
How different was it interacting with him on this movie versus others, given that the story is loosely based on his childhood?
He was more vulnerable and raw, and it felt like all his armor was stripped away. It just felt like he was ready to see what the actors would bring to him and what he would bring to the day. And what ended up being the result was really magic with all these actors and Steven together.
And what was the biggest challenge for you in making this film?
Making a film during a pandemic and keeping everybody safe and keeping the movie on schedule. By the beginning of January , we were like, OK, how quickly can we prep this movie and make it amid COVID? We were casting by March and April. And then we shot it in LA because we didn’t want to be traveling during the pandemic. We could have made the movie in New York or New Jersey for the Jersey stuff. We could have gone to Arizona and we could have finished up in Northern California, but we shot the whole thing in Southern California.
Steven hasn’t announced what he’ll do next. Any thoughts?
Well, we have a project called Bullitt with Bradley Cooper [the 1968 original starred Steve McQueen] that Josh Singer is writing right now. That is definitely something we want to make that Steven will direct, but it is a bit of a ways away. I think it will be amazing.
Do you think that could be his next directing project?
It could be, but again, there’s no script. Until we’re walking on the floor, I don’t know what we’re doing. We have other things that we’ve been constantly looking at. As everybody knows, he’s looking for a Western. He recently said on a podcast that he would do a limited series, and that if a Mare of Easttown came to him, he would’ve directed that.
Did you call him and ask him what the hell he was talking about?
I did. “You’re really going to do TV?” I asked. He said, “If it’s as good as Mare of Easttown, I absolutely will.” Now everybody’s been sending us limited series in the past several weeks. We have six to 10. I mean, that’s a lot.
The Fabelmans, like so many other adult dramas in this year’s awards race, struggled badly at the box office. That must have been tough.
Anemic box office numbers are always sad. Nobody wants that. We want the industry to be back, and I want to make movies that people my age want to see. Steven doesn’t really look at box office grosses. He tries to stay away. I can’t imagine that he doesn’t know it, but he and I have never spoken about the numbers.
It’s no secret that Steven is a huge proponent of theatrical. Were you and he OK when The Fabelmans went to premium VOD as it still played in theaters?
Well, I think we wanted more people to be able to see the movie. And there are people who were still not going to the movies because of the pandemic. And so this allowed people to be able to watch it in their home.
How many times did you say no before agreeing to be Steven’s assistant?
I turned down the job three times. When they called, I thought, “There’s no way I’m answering somebody’s phone.” I was 24 or 25 at the time. And the offer kept coming back around. I thought, “You know what, I’ll do the job for two to four years to learn about the industry from beginning to end.” Then I would go back and be better at publicity and marketing, having known how the whole sausage works. I always thought, “If this job gets boring or it’s too much for me, I’m getting out and I’ll leave.” But I never did. It was always different. With Steven, there’s so many things he does and is involved in. It never, ever gets boring. I had Kathy Kennedy and Steven Spielberg as my mentors. I don’t know that they were ever grooming me to be a producer, but I felt like I became more and more integral in the day-to-day. Then, when Kathy left to go run Lucasfilm, there was an opening there. When we made Bridge of Spies, Steven made me a producer on that film. And I have produced everything for Steven since.
Interview edited for length and clarity.
This story first appeared in a Feb. stand-alone issue of The News84Media magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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