From “Schindler’s List: An Oral History of a Masterpiece,” an oral history THR history piece by Scott Feinberg. Posted on 2.21.24. Feinberg spent about a month interviewing everyone (Steven Spielberg, Liam Neeson, Martin Scorsese, Mike Ovitz, et. al.) and throwing it all together.

Spielberg: “I had known Billy Wilder because when I was making E.T. and Poltergeist at MGM, Billy was a consultant there. He was given scripts to read, especially comedies, and would make notes on the scripts and give them back to the studio people, [and this process was killing him].

“Billy felt he was wasting his life. We would have lunch often in the commissary, and Billy would say, ‘I just cannot get a film off the ground anymore. Whatever worked for me for 30 years is not working any more. The humor is different. I read these scripts, make some notes, give ideas, and my ideas are ideas that would’ve been brilliant in the 1940s and ’50s, but nobody’s accepting them today.’

“Years later he called me at the office and said, ‘I need to see you, it’s very important.’ I said, ‘Okay, I’ll come over to your house.’ He said, ‘No, I need to come to you, because I’m going to ask you for something.’ So he came over to Amblin and up to my office, and he said, ‘I just read a book and found out you own it, Schindler’s List. This is my experience before I came to America. I lost everyone over there. I need to tell this story, and I hear you own the rights. Will you let me direct this and you can produce it with me?’

“And I didn’t know what to say except to tell him the truth. I said, ‘Billy, I’m leaving for Krakow in three weeks. The whole film’s been cast. All the crew’s been hired. I start shooting at the end of February.’ Billy couldn’t speak and then I couldn’t speak, and I just reached my hand out and Billy took my hand.”

This story originally appeared in a Premiere magazine story, “Un pour tous” by Léonard Haddad, published in December 2015-January 2016 issue. It was concurrently posted by “Chippily“.