Alan Alda and Steven Spielberg have a lot in common. For one thing, they’ve both been involved in work about war that portrays it both critically and humanely. Spielberg has films like “Saving Private Ryan,” while Alda has 11 seasons of “M*A*S*H,” which he not only starred on but also sometimes directed, including its finale — still the most watched episode in television history. Alda has a small role in Spielberg’s new “Bridge of Spies,” following an American lawyer (Tom Hanks) trying to negotiate a trade for spies on both sides of the divide. But that’s fine by him. He just wanted to watch a fellow director do his magic.
Given your interests, it seems like you and Spielberg would travel in the same circles. Had you know him long?
I bumped into him a couple times socially, but we didn’t know each other really. One of the reasons I wanted to do this was I wanted to watch him work. It was really lovely to see. He’s so in command of his own work and the whole process of movie-making. You really get a view of the best kind of moviemaking at work. There’s no indecision, but there is experimentation. I’ve worked with people who could only do things one way. If the set burned down they were lost. With him it’s just an opportunity to make the most of what he has. He started shooting movies in his backyard when he was 10. So did I. But he made “E.T.” before I did.
Can you talk about the films you made when you were a kid? You did go on to direct a number of things.
We lived in the country, north of the San Fernando Valley. I had a Bell and Howell 16mm camera that you wound up. I wanted to make a Western. It was so much fun for me to do different shots I could put together into a film. My father was in movies, so I watched movies being made. I remember watching them, trying to figure out how they got the effects they got. At an early age I was interested in cutting and lighting and creating a mood out of nothing. One of my favorite shots was in a b-movie that Dan Duryea made. I used to know the title. I don’t anymore. It was in an airplane and there was rain on the window. I knew watching it that it was shot in a studio. But there was something about it that looked like they were really in the air. That intrigued me — the way to make an illusion and get the audience into the story without going to the expense of being in a real plane. I was interested in how to create that illusion.