By Arthur Flynn
One of Steven Spielberg’s most challenging role as producer/ director was the historical drama Schinder’s List.
The film was based on the Booker Prize winning novel Schinder’s Ark by Thomas Keneally, an Australian novelist.
The film centred on the real life story of Oskar Schinder, a German business man who saved the lives of over a thousand mostly Polish-Jewish refugees during the Holocaust by employing them in his factories.
The notion for a film about Schinder’s Jews was proposed as early as 1963. One of the survivors made it his life’s mission to tell the story of Schinder.
When Spielberg received a review of the book he immediately became fascinated by the subject and it awakened feelings of his own Jewish heritage. He convinced Universal Pictures to buy the rights to the novel.
He did not believe that he was mature enough to direct a film about the Holocaust and attempted to pass the project onto several other directors.
Amongst the directors he approached were Roman Polanski, Sydney Pollack, Sidney Lumet, Martin Scorsese and Billy Wilder but they all rejected it.
Finally Spielberg decided to direct the film himself on a budget of $22 million. He forewent a salary for the film believing that it would be ‘blood money’ and a flop.
Several writers contributed to the screenplay including Thomas Keneally, Kurt Luedtke and Steven Zaillian.
The strong production team included cinematographer Janusz Kaminski and Editor Michael Kahn.
When Spielberg approached John Williams to compose the score he felt it would be a challenge. He said to Spielberg, ‘You need a better composer than I am for the film.’ Spielberg responded, ‘I know, but they’re all dead.’
Itzhak Perlman performed the theme on the violin. He considered many leading actors for the leading role of Oskar Schinder including Warren Beatty, Kevin Costner, Harrison Ford, Stellan Skarsgard and Mel Gibson. Finally Spielberg cast relatively unknown Liam Neeson.
The director had been impressed when he saw him perform in Anna Christie on Broadway. The other leading roles were then filled.
Ralph Fiennes was cast as Amon Goeth, the camp commander. Ben Kingsley filled the role of Itzhak Ster, the factory manager. Caroline Goodall was Emilie, Schinder’s wife; Jonathan Sagall was Poldek Pfefferberg, Embeth Davidtz as Helen Hirsch, Mark Ivanir as Marcel Goldberg and Andrzej Seweryn as Julian Scherner.