Eye on the Oscars: The Director - Steven Spielberg

Although audiences will likely identify most with the humans performing in Steven Spielberg’s “War Horse,” the director says the actors who surprised him most were the equines.

The film is based on a play of the same name (based in turn on Michael Morpurgo’s novel) that employed elaborate puppet horses to represent the relationship between a young man and Joey, the horse his father sells into military service to aid the struggling family. In bringing the sweeping World War I epic to screen, Spielberg used live stallions for dramatic battle scenes as well as emotional moments.

He credits the film’s horse master, Bobby Lovgren, for making the horses comfortable with being on set and working with the actors.

“The horses need to trust the people they’re around,” Spielberg says. “They can’t just show up for work in the morning, hit their mark and emote their feelings. They have to actually understand who they’re in scenes with.”

Though Spielberg is known for running an organized, efficient shoot, the director says he was gratified by the “happy accidents” that happened while shooting “War Horse” — “I mean those wonderfully unpredictable moments where Joey responded beyond anything we had ever planned for,” he says. “Every day was filled with surprises and little moments of wonder for all of us. By the end of this experience, everybody had a new respect for the intelligence and the sensitivity of horses.”

Although Joey’s journey from plowing fields to battling the enemy seems to mirror young Elliott’s arc in “E.T.,” Spielberg doesn’t see the similarities as parallels. They’re simply common touchstones that attract him to stories.

“So many of my characters in so many of my films are thrown into situations that they’re unprepared for and have to rise above their own self doubts,” he says. “That’s just a recurring theme in many of my pictures.”

EYE ON THE OSCARS: THE DIRECTOR
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