West Side Story has been brought to the silver screen once more, this time by director Steven Spielberg who masterfully brings the Shakespeare inspired story to life. Spielberg’s passion clearly comes through on screen, not only through the performances he brings out of the cast, but also with the thought and care that goes into every shot.
The Illuminerdi was able to attend the West Side Story Virtual Press Conference where director Steven Spielberg talked about how he’s wanted to make West Side Story for years and recalled how he listened to the vinyl album as a kid. During the press conference, Spielberg admitted to being so moved during early rehearsals that he actually sang and danced with the cast.
“Oh, you know something, I did jump out of my chair, and I did sing and dance with the cast, singing off key, and dancing like I had three left feet during rehearsal. We did four and a half months of intensive rehearsals, both in the city at Lincoln Center, and in Brooklyn in a place called Dumbo there. And that’s when I was really able to and Rita was there, too.
And Rita was dancing with the cast. We were so influenced, or compelled to get up on our feet because it was such a life in the air of song and dance and this genius choreographer, Justin Peck getting a muscular kind of dance style with all the male and female dancers. But when I made the movie, no.”
Rita added, “He was the director.”
Steven continued, “I was a director, and I didn’t even tap my foot. I was just too focused on the monitor, on what we were getting, what images we were-we were capturing. But this was the most delightful family affair I’ve had since E.T.
E.T., I felt like I was a dad to all those kids. And certainly, I was never a dad in my real life, but E.T. made me wanna be a dad, so my first child was born three years after I directed E.T. And this was the next time I had that kind of a feeling that I was part of a very diverse family. And I was not in the center of the family, I was simply a part of the family.”
The fact that Spielberg was so moved during rehearsals that he literally jumped out of his chair to join the cast proves just how invested he has been in West Side Story. His praise for Justin Peck is well deserved given the true artistry that is brought to the choreography in the film. The fact that Spielberg compared the experience of making West Side Story to his classic E.T. proves just how momentous this was for him as a filmmaker.
But Spielberg was not only moved to join the cast as they performed during rehearsals, his talent and passion as a director shone through before the filming process had begun. During the press conference, West Side Story writer Tony Kushner recalls another interesting behind the scenes story that demonstrates Spielberg’s passion for this film.
WEST SIDE STORY WRITER REVEALS FAVORITE BEHIND THE SCENES MEMORY WITH STEVEN SPIELBERG
“One of my favorite moments in the whole process of making it, didn’t involve Steven dancing. But really early on, we were in some rehearsal room somewhere, and Justin had just begun to choreograph, was it the dance at the gym, or it was some little part of “America”, just experimentally to see what it like. And Steven and I were supposed to just sit and watch. And Steven got so excited that he took out his iPhone, and sat in an office chair with wheels on it.
And one of Justin’s assistants Craig, I believe pushed Steven around ’cause he just couldn’t stand sitting there, he had to get into the middle, which is what was so exciting about this in the first place, is that he’s such a great director. And the idea of a great director working with a great choreographer and dances and he couldn’t stay, so he got on this office chair and Craig pushed him in and around the dances, and he was trying different angles. And it was all experimental, but it was the moment that I felt, “Oh, this is really gonna work.”
Spielberg essentially created an improvised dolly during rehearsals and this seems like it may have been a key part of the director figuring out how he wanted to shoot some of these bombastic dances. West Side Story has always been a classic, but Spielberg has managed to bring a whole new life to the story. His passion and talent are clear throughout and the team he formed to bring this film to life managed to do so in a truly spectacular manner. The work that was put in by the writer, the choreographer, the cast, crew, and Spielberg himself are sure to add to the already impressive legacy of West Side Story.
Are you excited to see West Side Story? Leave your thoughts in the comments below or on our social media and check back with The Illuminerdi for more West Side Story.