'Poltergeist' is CONFIRMED by its DP to have been directed by Steven Spielberg

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"Poltergeist," still spooky after all these years, its special effects have held up so damn well 30+ years later. 

"Texas Chainsaw Massacre" director Tobe Hooper has always been credited as the director of the movie, but tell me you don't feel a Spielberg-ian vibe when you watch the film, of course you do. There have always been rumors — as well as accounts by cast and crew — that Steven Spielberg did, in fact, direct the movie. 

The rumors began when the  L.A. Times interviewed Spielberg about the film and nabbed this curious quote from him: “Tobe isn’t what you’d call a take-charge sort of guy. He’s just not a strong presence on a movie set. If a question was asked and an answer wasn’t immediately forthcoming, I’d jump up and say what we could do. Tobe would nod agreement, and that became the process of the collaboration.” 

The article sparked an investigation by the Director’s Guild of America into Spielberg’s involvement as a potential director; Nothing came of it. Spielberg then apologized to Hooper in The Hollywood Reporter right: “Regrettably, some of the press have misunderstood the rather unique, creative relationship which you and I shared throughout the making of Poltergeist, I enjoyed your openness in allowing me, as producer and writer, a wide berth for creative involvement.” 

What has Hooper had to say about this over the years? Well, in a 2000 interview with the AV Club he had this to say “When we were shooting the practical location on the house, the first two weeks of filming were exterior, so I had second-unit shots that had to be picked up in the front of the house. I was in the back of the house shooting Robbie [actor Oliver Robins] and the tree, looking down at the burial of the little tweety bird, so Steven was picking those shots up for me.” 

Zelda Rubenstein, who plays the film’s creepy spiritual medium, told AICN, “I can tell you that Steven directed all six days I was there. I only worked six days on the film and Steven was there.” JoBeth Williams also starred in the film and had this to say  “It was a collaboration with Steven having the final say.” 

Will the question of who really directed "Poltergeist" ever be answered? Today it seems to be a little clearer as the brother of the film's Director of Photography Matthew Leonetti has all but confirmed it was Spielberg and who better to know than the DP, right? He has to work with the director on every shot and frame every scene. Here's Leonetti's brother talking to Blumehouse:


“The really cool thing about POLTERGEIST – I’ll never forget the very first time I walked on the shooting set, there were 4 x 8 foam core boards with 8 ½ by 11 storyboards on them, and I’d never seen anything like that before. It was a very intense, very fun, very technical movie to work on. There’s a lot going on. And candidly… Steven Spielberg directed that movie. There’s no question. However, Tobe Hooper – I adore. I love that man so much. But, had I known you were going to ask me that question, I would’ve brought this one picture I have, which is the whole movie in one shot!” 
“It’s the scene where the tree comes in to grabs the boy, and we have two cameras set up. In the foreground on an apple box is (an excited) Tobe, standing right behind him is Spielberg pointing. Next to him was my brother on camera and me.”
 “It was both fun and intense. Spielberg, after work was the nicest guy on the planet. We’d even go to his house in Beverly Hills and watch dailies. On the set, he was very intense.”
“Hooper was so nice and just happy to be there. He creatively had input. Steven developed the movie, and it was his to direct, except there was anticipation of a director’s strike, so he was “the producer” but really he directed it in case there was going to be a strike and Tobe was cool with that. It wasn’t anything against Tobe. Every once in a while, he would actually leave the set and let Tobe do a few things just because. But really, Steven directed it.”

I guess we might have to dust off that DVD copy of the film and rewatch it again. Maybe it needs to be officially included in Spielberg's filmography as well.
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