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Steven Spielberg reveals why he rejected a paycheck for one of his most iconic movies

He donated a part of the profits to the Shoah Foundation, which gathers accounts and records, both in the form of visuals and audio, from individuals who survived the Holocaust.

Steven Spielberg reveals why he rejected a paycheck for one of his most iconic movies
Cover Image Source: Getty Images/Pascal Le Segretain

Steven Spielberg has defined cinema at its finest for decades. His long and successful career began as a B-horror movie director and he is now regarded as one of the most prolific directors in the film industry. From "Jaws" and "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial" to "The BFG," there is not a genre that the filmmaking titan has not mastered.

His movies are a treat for film fans and Spielberg has been paid generously for bringing life onto the big screen. However, there is one movie that the director has refused to be paid for. The film, which received seven Oscar awards, was a masterpiece, widely acclaimed for its acting, atmosphere and Spielberg's direction.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - JANUARY 08: Steven Spielberg attends the National Board Of Review 2023 Awards Gala at Cipriani 42nd Street on January 08, 2023 in New York City. (Photo by Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for National Board of Review)
Steven Spielberg attends the National Board Of Review 2023 Awards Gala on January 08, 2023, in New York City - Getty Images/Jamie McCarthy

The film is "Schindler's List," which brought to screen the story of Oskar Schindler, a German industrialist who saved more than a thousand Jewish refugees from the Holocaust by employing them in his factories during World War II. Directed in 1993, the movie is based on the book "Schindler's Ark."

According to Slash Flim, Spielberg tried to pass it off to other directors, including Roman Polanski and Sydney Pollack and even Martin Scorsese, in exchange for trading "Cape Fear" with him. The deal did not go through and Spielberg ended up directing the film and did a stellar job even when most of his blockbusters were science fiction.

Image Source: Director Steven Spielberg speaks on stage for the 'Schindler's List' DVD release at the Shoah Foundation on March 3, 2004 - Getty Images/Carlo Allegri
Image Source: Director Steven Spielberg speaks on stage for the 'Schindler's List' DVD release at the Shoah Foundation on March 3, 2004 - Getty Images/Carlo Allegri

Spielberg told TODAY, "Let's call it what it is. I didn't take a single dollar from the profits I received from Schindler's List because I did consider it blood money. When I first decided to make 'Schindler's List,' I said, if this movie makes any profit, it can't go to me or my family. It has to go out into the world."

Speilberg used all of the profits from the project toward establishing the Shoah Foundation, which preserves interviews with holocaust survivors and witnesses at the University of South Carolina. The foundation, launched in 1994, has become an archive of audio histories and testimonies from survivors of the Holocaust and other genocides.

LOS ANGELES - MARCH 3: Director Steven Spielberg speaks on stage for the 'Schindler's List' DVD release at the Shoah Foundation on the Universal Studios lot March 3, 2004 in Los Angeles, CA. (Photo by Carlo Allegri/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES - MARCH 3: Director Steven Spielberg speaks on stage for the 'Schindler's List' DVD release at the Shoah Foundation on the Universal Studios lot March 3, 2004, in Los Angeles, CA. (Photo by Carlo Allegri/Getty Images)

The Shoah Foundation, as per its website, states that its mission "is to develop empathy, understanding, and respect through testimony." It has a collection of over 55,000 video testimonies and other artifacts. Spielberg further explained the importance of these archives saying, "I hope they'll be used in schools, libraries and in Holocaust museums, and other museums, repositories all over the world. I hope it'll be used to educate young people as to the ultimate dangers of how far hate can take us. This is a living example and there are still witnesses that are alive that survived it."


The 76-year-old filmmaker considers "Schindler's List" the most personal film he has ever made. As a Jew, he was frightened of undertaking the Holocaust then, but today he is proud of the movie and the response it has received over the years.

The book, "Schindler's Ark," was given to Spielberg, then 20, in 1982 by his early mentor, Sidney J. Sheinberg, president of MCA, according to The New York Times. Sheinberg, who was 60 at the time, had seen Spielberg's first short film, "Amblin," about two hitchhikers and signed the director to a contract. "When I made the first deal with Steven," Mr. Sheinberg said, "it was because of the sensitivity of those characters and the relationships on the screen. People say, 'Gee, isn't he capable of only doing dinosaur sci-fi pictures or adventure yarns?' Well, the answer is no."



 

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