How a TV movie made Steven Spielberg and George Lucas friends

The iconic filmmakers both attended a screening of the film DUEL at director Francis Ford Coppola's house. The rest is history.

A young George Lucas and Steven Spielberg play pool in the 1970s. (Courtesy HBO's SPIELBERG)

At the time, Steven Spielberg was just another young filmmaker with promise. As of 1971, he'd been working on smaller projects for some time — TV shows, mostly — and had connected with a group of likeminded filmmakers in Los Angeles.


That group, sometimes called "The Movie Brats," included director Francis Ford Coppola (arguably the only successful member of the group, though he was yet to direct THE GODFATHER), as well as Brian De Palma, Martin Scorsese and of course young George Lucas.


Lucas had graduated from the University of Southern California, and his short film THX 1138 caught the eye of Coppola, who had just started a production company called American Zoetrope to focus on "art" films. Lucas was invited to join them, and to make a feature film version of THX 1138, which received mixed reviews.


So at the time Lucas and Spielberg first met, they were far from the legendary filmmakers they would eventually become.


Spielberg's latest project was a television movie titled DUEL, about a driver being chased down by a big-rig truck on remote Southern California highways. The shoot lasted just 13 days, but Spielberg was able to show a distinctive camera technique that intrigued his new friends.


Coppola offered to screen the film at his house. George Lucas only planned to stay for a few minutes to get an idea of what the film was about, but found himself too drawn in to leave.


It was this moment that Lucas first realized Spielberg's tremendous vision and ability to execute difficult cinematography, as heard in BLOCKBUSTER Episode I: The World Builders (free).


It was just the start of a friendship that would become supportive, competitive and one of the great artist relationships of all time. Spielberg would also soon introduce Lucas to his collaborator John Williams.


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