Who REALLY directed "Poltergeist?" (Page 1 of 2)
"The most startling rumor about the film-that it was actually directed by Spielberg-does seem to have basis in fact. All the crewmembers we have spoken to say that Spielberg was very active on the set, to the point where he should at least be considered co-director, though Tobe Hooper will have the sole director's credit."
-From an early 1982 issue of "FANGORIA," before the film's release.
Above, Steven Spielberg gives (direction?) to Craig T. Nelson and James Karen in the film's climax.
"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. I did not want to direct the movie-I had to do 'E.T.' five weeks after principal photography on 'Poltergeist.'"
"My enthusiasm for wanting to make 'Poltergeist' would have been difficult for any director I would have hired. It derived from my imagination and my experiences, and it came out of my typewriter [after re-writing the Grais/Victor draft]. I felt a proprietary interest in this project that was stronger than if I was just an executive producer. I thought I'd be able to turn 'Poltergeist' over to a director and walk away. I was wrong. [On future films] If I write it myself, I'll direct it myself. I won't put someone else through what I put Tobe through, and I'll be more honest in my contributions to a film."
-Steven Spielberg made the above comments to writer Dale Pollock in a May, 1982 interview with the "L.A. Times." He also said that he "designed" the movie through story boards and that he was involved in all the camera setups and the designing of the specific shots. Spielberg went on to say that his intense involvement with the film came from his commitment to MGM to bring the production in within 10% of its approved budget of $9.5 million (it ultimately cost $10.8 million). This newspaper article was published before the film was even released, and it gave voice to the numerous rumors that were already circulating in Hollywood that Spielberg had largely supplanted Tobe Hooper as director during filming. Largely due to this article, the DGA began an investigation into Spielberg's statements. On June 2, 1982, Spielberg would issue an apology of sorts in a letter to Hooper, which was published in "Variety":
"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, just as I know you were happy with the freedom you had to direct Poltergeist so wonderfully.Through the screenplay you accepted a vision of this very intense movie from the start, and as the director, you delivered the goods. You performed responsibly and professionally throughout, and I wish you great success on your next project."
Spielberg attempted further damage control when he wrote a letter of clarification to "Time" magazine for their June 21, 1982 edition (in response to comments he made in an interview with them the prior issue):
TIME has made E.T. and me very happy. However, a comment slipped in that is unfair to Tobe Hooper, the director of Poltergeist. I am quoted as indicating that I took over the project. While I was creatively involved in the entire production, Tobe Hooper alone was the director.
-Notice how he says his comment about "taking over" the film "slipped in" (during the prior interview). He doesn't deny making the comment.
But according to Miss Williams and other industry insiders, the directing job was more of a collaborative effort."Steven (Spielberg) was there every day," said the Texas-born actress. "He had very clear and strong ideas about what he wanted done and how he wanted it done. "Even though Tobe was there and participating," she added, "you felt Steven had the final say on everything." The actress says that in the initial days of shooting there often was confusion with two people giving conflicting directions. "Sometimes Steven would tell us one thing and Tobe another," Miss Williams said. "But they soon realized that was doing us more harm than good, so they stopped. Later on, whatever discussions Tobe and Steven had, they held in private and then came to us with their decisions."
In 2000, Tobe Hooper was asked about the controversy in an interview with the "AV Club" web site.
Full interview here:
O: How did you come to direct Poltergeist?
TH: I'd known Steven Spielberg from the time I came to L.A. He and I were talking, and I said I wanted to do a ghost story. And he said, "Cool." I mean, I don't know if he said "cool," but he said let's do it. I mentioned The Haunting, the Robert Wise film, and that had also been a favorite of Steven's when he was growing up. So it came out of that moment.
O: History has shifted some of the credit toward Spielberg. Can you set the record straight on that?
TH: I've kind of talked that one to death, really. I've been asked that so many times that I feel the record should be straight already. The genesis of it came from an article in The L.A. Times: 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. The L.A. Times arrived on the set and printed something like, "We don't know who's directing the picture." The moment they got there, Steven was shooting the shot of the little race cars, and from there the damn thing blossomed on its own and started becoming its own legend. Really, that is my knowledge of it, because I was making the movie and then I started hearing all this stuff after it was finished. I really can't set the record much straighter than that, because Steven did write the screenplay and there are other credits on there, but it came down to Steven and myself sitting at his house. He wrote the screenplay, and we gathered around a poltergeist textbook for the research, which was actually Robert Wise's research book that he had on The Haunting. When I got my offices at Universal, a couple of books had been left behind. Robert Wise had just moved out. It's an interesting connection, kind of logical, because there had only been a few ghost stories on film that had made it, or that had worked: The Uninvited,The Haunting... You can put Legend Of Hell House in there because it was a kind of successful film. But then Poltergeist. It's curious that this ghost-and-haunting subject had kind of been untapped.
However, the "L.A. Times" article Hooper mentions above actually went into much more detail than he claimed. It's the same article in which Spielberg made the statements that spurred the DGA inquiry. Some additional excerpted quotes from the article follow. You can purchase a copy of the full version ('POLTERGEIST': WHOSE FILM IS IT?) here:
Tobe Hooper (saying he did everything his contract as director required of him)
"I don't understand why any of these questions have to be raised. I always saw this film as a collaborative situation between my producer, my writer, and myself. Two of those people were Steven Spielberg, but I directed the film and I did fully half of the story boards. I'm quite proud of what I did...I can't understand why I'm being slighted. I love the changes that were made from my cut. I worked for a very good producer who is also a great showman. I felt that was a plus, because Steven and I think in terms of the same visual style."
"It was a collaboration with Steven having the final say. Tobe had his own input, but I think we knew that Steven had the final say. Steven is a strong-minded person and knew what he wanted. We were lucky because we got input from two very imaginative people."
Craig T. Nelson
"Tobe gave me a lot of direction. It's not fair to eliminate what Tobe did-he gave me a tremoundous amount of support because he's a warm, sensitive, caring human being. Tobe was simply pushed out of the picture after turning in his cut."
Bill Varney (Sound Mixer), said he had no contact with Tobe:
"He [Tobe] dropped by one or two times, but he had no input whatsoever as far as our (sound) work was concerned. Basically, Tobe didn't particpate at all."
Dennis E. Jones (Production Manager)
"Some directors kick the producer off the set. In this particuluar case, that didn't occur. It was an amicable situation-Tobe seemed to resolve Steven's participation in his mind. But I'm sure inside he was hurting."
Mike Fenton (Casting Director)
"Did he [Tobe] direct the film? Not that I saw."
Jerry Goldsmith (Composer), says he worked exclusively with Spielberg. He said the situation was "unusual, because 99% of the time I work with the director."
Willie Hunt (Production Executive who was working with United Artists but had supervised "Poltergeist" when she was with MGM)
"Both people were on the set all the time, and Tobe was very much involved, as far as I could tell. But Steven was the creative force in my opinion; his stamp is on the film, even though there was a good, solid competent director there."
Frank Marshall (Producer)
"It all depends on your definition of director. The job of the producer is to get the film finished, and that's what we did. The creative force on this movie was Steven. Tobe was the director and was on the set every day. But Steven did the design for every story board and he was on the set every day except for three days when he was in Hawaii with [George] Lucas."
Also according to Marshall, Hooper handed in his cut of the film on October 17, 1981, and was virtually not involved in any post-production work until he screened the movie on April 17, 1982. Spielberg and Marshall denied that Hooper was denied access to or control of the film at any stage.
And finally, from the article, when talking about how Spielberg's contract with Universal forbade him from working on any other picture while directing "E.T.":
"Even had it not, Directors Guild rules prevent anyone assigned to a production prior to a director being fired from replacing the director-including the producer. 'There is a director of 'Poltergeist' and he is listed as Tobe Hooper,' said Michael Franklin, national executive secretary of the Directors Guild. 'If something is going on that dereogates that credit, the guild would be concerned.'"
In addition, here's some info I received from someone who at one time had planned to write a book about the making of "Poltergeist":
I even did interviews with James Karen, Zelda Rubinstein, Jerry Goldsmith, and started an aborted one with Craig T. Nelson. Long story short, but some forces at Amblin threatened (or hinted at) legal action about the book. So my publisher dropped it, and I went on to do [another book].
Anyway, the interviews were interesting -- I still have them on cassette tape. Particularly the whole 'Who really directed 'Poltergeist'' thing. Rubinstein was hilarious -- 'Tobe Hooper couldn't even direct traffic!' -- while James Karen was all pro-Hooper. Goldsmith claims he never even met Hooper, only Spielberg. Nelson was just a jerk, quite frankly.
Here's an excerpt from producer Julia Phillips' book "You'll Never Eat Lunch in this Town Again":
Steven takes a tentative puff on my joint, coughs, and passes it back to me. We haven't spoken in four years, but we have run into each other on the MGM lot, where he is directing "Poltergeist." He is supposed to be producing it, but Tobe Hooper, the director, it is whispered, has lost his cookies and Steven has had to step in. I wonder if Steven has been the first to whisper the Hooper rumors. It would fit his m.o. We are acting as if nothing bad ever happened between us, and Steven has walked back to my set of offices with me, the ex-offices of Louis B. Mayer, which I have defiled with acres of chintz. Steven has asked for the joint, which surprises me, he is such a straightnik. Maybe it is his way of getting along with me on my terms. We hang out for a considerable period, and I am furious the entire time. I don't indicate this externally at all, so I am working on a hell of a stomach ache. Thank God there is no Sara Lee anything around. "Yup, all hell is gonna break loose in this room," Steven says. "We're gonna rotate the whole room day after tomorrow..."
"You should come by and see it..." he says now.
Julia went on to say she'd visit the set, but apparently never did.
Zelda Rubinstein would say this about the issue in a 2007 AICN interview: http://www.aintitcool.com/node/34266
Quint: There’s one thing that I’m really curious about. Being an Austinite I’ve run into Tobe Hooper and I’ve talked to him at length about his work on POLTERGEIST and I brought up the big rumor that Spielberg came in to direct it and kind of took over. Tobe was very adamant that he directed the film.
Zelda Rubinstein: 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. Tobe set up the shots and Steven made the adjustments.
You’re not going to hear that from Tobe Hooper, you’ll hear it from Zelda, because that was my honest to God experience. I’m not a fan of Tobe Hooper.
Quint: You’re not?
Zelda Rubinstein: No, I’m not, because I feel he allowed… I don’t know how to say this… he allowed some unacceptable chemical agents into his work.
I felt that immediately. I felt that when I first interviewed for the job. Steven was there, Tobe was there, two casting people from MGM were there and I felt at that time Tobe was only partially there.
As Zelda implies above, persistent rumors about Tobe's alleged substance abuse at the time (and possible entry into rehab after the film finished shooting) have circulated for years. Author John Baxter, in the unauthorized biography "Steven Spielberg," writes on page 250 about cocaine use in Hollywood: "Rumours also spoke of its wide-spread use on the set of Poltergeist." Who was allegedly engaging in this widespread use was left unsaid.
Baxter also interviewed Jerry Goldsmith, who stated "I worked only with Steven. One day Hooper came into a screening and sat down. Steve just ignored him, and after five minutes he got up and left." [Goldsmith's] estimate of the shooting: "Hooper said 'Action' and that's the last thing he did."
Writer David Giler of "Alien" fame was an extra in the football scene early in the film, along with Spielberg's agent Guy McElwaine. Quoted in Joesph McBride's book "Steven Spielberg-A biography," Giler states "When I came back from the set, I said 'Well, now I know what the executive producer does. I've always wondered. He sets up the camera, tells the actors what to do, stands back, and lets the director say 'Action!'" Another person who visited the set told McBride that it was "uncomfortable," since whenever Hooper would give an instruction to cinematographer Matthew F. Leonetti, Leonetti would look over his shoulder at Spielberg, who would either shake his head or nod.
At a 25th anniversary screening of the film I attended in Santa Monica, I recorded a panel discussion in which the "who really directed it" question was asked:
As you'll see in the clip, Mark Victor and James Karen sort of tap danced around the question and offered "politically correct" statements, but Zelda was more than happy to say that she "had a slightly different view." She explained how during the 6 days she worked on the film, Tobe would line up the shots, but Steven would "make final adjustments." In conclusion, she said "Tobe was the nominal director...but this was a Steven Spielberg film" (to the sounds of applause from the audience).
Finally, I came across some VERY interesting comments on one of the message boards over at the fan site SpielbergFilms.com. The person who made the postings calls himself "BenThere." He worked on the original film and had his own thoughts about the controversy. He did not want to reveal his real name or what he did on the film (I know who he is but will not reveal his identity). Below are his excerpted postings. For the full original discussion, I've also got the link to the message board where his comments first appeared (note: the link below doesn't work because the site was taken down, but luckily I was able to retain Ben's posts):
I find it fascinating that some two and a half decades 'after the fact' no definitive answer has, yet, been given the question of Poltergeist's director. How could so many eye-witness the making of this film and not uniformly recall who, exactly, called "Action!" and "Cut!"... who, exactly, provided the stage direction... who, exactly, answered the questions from all cast and crew?
Take, for example, the claim of actor, William Finley, who, according to E-Buzz, said: "... Finley confirms he was originally cast in the role of Marty, presumably by Tobe Hooper. He (Finley) says: "I can't tell you that whole story because it's still sort of a Hollywoood scandal... One of the people who did direct the movie cast me in it and one of the people who did direct the movie cast me out of it... one of those people won."
A more ambiguous quote seems unlikely - but it holds the best clue in this entire thread. I suggest you'll more properly and much more quickly solve this mystery upon changing focus from who directed Poltergeist to why any doubt should still exist. Discover the "why" and the reason for all ambiguity in this matter will be quite apparent. To point you in the right direction, I'll reference the following comments - and allow this obvious hint... (DGA).
Steven Awalt allowed, that, "The L.A. Times ran a great piece on the situation back in 1982. An article that, I believe, spurred the DGA inquiry and Spielberg's subsequent full page letter to Hooper in the trades."
And furtney replied, "From what I understand, Spielberg was forced by the DGA to place that ad in "Variety" (it was part of the "settlement" he agreed to).
Again: WHY does the question of Poltergeist's director still exist?
EXACTAMUNDO, Jimmy. Spielberg "produced" about 50 films that also credit someone else as their "director." Why, then, do you figure, that, of all those films, Poltergeist is the only one to have resulted in a controversy over who REALLY directed it?
"... Turner Classic Movies (cable channel) runs a short documentary from the 80's about Poltergeist (that) shows Steven Spielberg on set with Tobe Hooper... and without Hooper directing the actors and crew." (tashtego)
I've seen another documentary showing just the opposite. Of course, at a running time of just two seconds it's MUCH shorter.
"Poltergeist is a Toby Hooper film... I don't think Steven Spielberg would sabotage a director from his duties. ... What I liked about Poltergeist was how much Toby Hooper dedicated Spielberg's style with his strength as a storyteller. That's good directing." (SamKarns)
That's pure rubbish.
"Believe me, I know very well Hooper´s style. I´ve seen all his films, even the bad ones, and (Poltergeist) is a Hooper film. (Grady)
BELIEVE ME... you haven't a clue.
"There was contradiction and conflict between Hooper and Spielberg even in pre-production though, with Hooper approving one thing and Spielberg coming in and scraping it, telling the department head to rework things in his vision, etc. These things have even been talked about publicly, most famous by effects artist Craig Reardon, who (in addition to, then, working with Spielberg on Poltergeist) was working with Spielberg concurrently on "E.T." (Steven Awalt)
O.K. kids... focus on the word "concurrently" as used above. Combine that clue with the first one ("DGA") and see what you come up with. Come on now... don't be shy... squeak up! Show me something and I'll provide another clue. Show me nothing... I'll be gone. At that point, you will have refused to open the door when opportunity knocked
Enough to speak expertly, yes.
For many years, now, the question "Who directed Poltergeist?" has been put to a slew of eyewitnesses ranging from producer, Frank Marshall, to leading actors, Jo Beth Williams and Craig T. Nelson, to a number of various crew personnel. Even Tobe Hooper and Steven Spielberg, themselves, have been asked this question. So, how, or why is it, then, they should all answer in a consistent and uniform manner as to never really identify - beyond any and all doubt - who, exactly, directed the film? They'd all have us believe that Poltergeist is one of those very rare instances where, rather innocently, a producer became somewhat "involved" with directorial chores to a degree that some might simply "conclude" it was directed by the producer... hence their collective ambiguity on the matter.
Filmmaking is, by far, the most collaborative "art." The reason so many names are listed in the screen credits is simple: Their individual contributions were absolutely necessary. Was there "collaboration" between Tobe and Steven? Of course there was... how could there not be? Still, just like upwards of 99.9% of all studio made films, Poltergeist had only one, true, "director."
Singularly, that director decided every question and/or suggestion from all principal cast and all key crew personnel. That director, singularly, called
"Action" and "Cut."
Had the various media asked those folks who it was that answered all the questions, and who it was that called "Action and Cut" - instead of asking
"Who directed it?" - there'd be a lot more clarity and a lot less ambiguity on the issue.
If you have any questions about your namesake I'll attempt only straight answers. BTW, E-Buzz followed his trainer's commands unlike any other dog I've ever seen.
The reasons a movie is referred to as "A (producer's name here) Production" and then qualified as "A (director's name here) Film" are right and proper.
A Producer acquires rights to a story; commissions or purchases a screenplay for that story; arranges its financial backing and; hires its Director. After that, the role of a Producer could be likened to that of a CEO. Just how much of a "chief" that Producer wishes to act is completely dependent on the individual Producer. Thus, "A Jerry Bruckheimer Production."
A Director oversees all other aspects of the filmmaking process. In collaboration, firstly, with the Writer, Casting Director, Production Designer, Cinematographer, Costumer Designer and, eventually, with all other "keys" the Director decides all questions that will ultimately and permanently affect the final product. Thus, "A Michael Bay Film."
It's a very rocky road for all concerned when Producer and Director are at odds with each other.
"The riddles/clues dropped have me totally intrigued--concurrent productions, 2nd Unit directors . . ." (TechInept)
If memory serves, it was Tobe who, again, with tongue-in-ambiguous-cheek, said something about how fortunate he was to have worked on Poltergeist with the best 2nd Unit Director in the business. (For all that is known he might even have been referring to himself.)
Some do find me that way, yes. I believe, rather, that I am "direct" and, at times, too brutally honest. Should I offer a truly "cold" comment... I'm sure you'll see the difference.
Round up Tobe's exact quote, put it in proper context, and explain how my comment could possibly be anything less than truthful.
BTW Steven, I'm having a reasonably fun time here... thanks.
2nd BTW: If Tobe's a great director... I'm an astronaut.
Uncomfortable - not really. Difficult - very, but there were many reasons for that experience to have been so. Poltergeists sets were scattered about on 3 different sound stages at MGM. Actually that is not unusual for any feature film, but what was unusual was how often we'd have to move from one stage to another. In addition to frequently moving a large amount of heavy film equipment was the overall pace of production. It was unusually fast, often frantic, and sometimes furious.
Richard Edlund (then with ILM) worked concurrently on many sets. His camera was an especially large monstrosity and accomodating that camera's special needs was never easy. Also, many sets were built in multiples of two or three. The kids bedroom, for instance, existed simultaneously in three forms: firstly, on the flat surface of the stage floor; secondly, 3' over the stage floor and then; thirdly, on a gimbal (a ferris-wheel like device) built over an open pit dug into the stage floor.
All to accommodate the extensive amount of visual and physical special effects that were a necessary part of the film. Had our pace been any slower we could have easily been a month or more over schedule. As it was, I think we finished shooting just a few days over schedule.
"Are there any parts/moments that could be indisputably said to be Hooper's contribution?" (E-Buzz)
Certainly, there were, yes.
"BTW: I was glad to hear that my namesake was so-well trained. Having recently seen Poltergeist in the cinema I was impressed by 'my' performance and obvious screen presence." (E-Buzz)
It wasn't that E was so well-trained as much as it was the unique manner in which E was trained. Every dog handler uses hand and sound signals in combination with speech to cue the animals reaction. These three methods are used, most often, in equal combination.
Dog wrangler, Richard Caulkins, had only two or three trained "movie dogs" to show. None of them passed the audition, but, instead, it was his personal dog (E) who won the job. E, however, was Richard's pet. He had never trained E for film work because he wanted a pet... a companion.
Just before each shot Richard simply articulated his instructions to E (like he was talking to a human being) and then he'd verbally coach E while each scene was being shot. I've seen many a child actor disregard or fail screen direction more often than E did. E-Buzz was a most amazing dog.
Well, E-Buzz, the particular filmmaker you refer here is, obviously, Spielberg. I cannot speak with any inside knowledge on the Raider pace. Just the other day, however, I did mention a thing or two about the Jurassic pace. To wit:
J.P. used life-sized animatronic dinosaurs. In essence, they were "machines" and considering their complicated engineering, construction, de-construction, packing, shipping and eventual reassemblage made them all quite vulnerable to certain malfunction and breakage. Consider, too, they had to repeatedly function in high winds, heavy rains and oppressive humidity. Repairing them was expected to be common, difficult, and slow.
J.P. lost nearly a week of shoot-time after suffering a Category-5 hurricane while filming in Hawaii.
J.P. shot, approximately, one extra day to film some "tests" for Schindler's List.
In light of the above, remember that a good percentage of feature films require more shooting days than are originally scheduled. Only half are likely to finish "on schedule."
So, here's the most incredible thing about Jurassic Park: It was completed some three weeks prior to its scheduled finish date.
Jurassic Park felt as much a track meet as a film shoot!
I do. Given Texas' limited time and budget, I think Tobe did a fine job, but a "great directorial effort" does not a "great director" make. Tobe is not without certain filmmaking skills - I'll give him that much. Still, he's as far from being a great director as this astronaut is from space travel.
"Have you read the "Poltergeist" chapter in the book "Directed by Steven Spielberg"?
No, but I'm certain it does not parallel the Poltergeist chapter in my own memory. Who wrote that fairly tale?
With regard to the relationship of director-to-editor in the filmmaking process: Any yo-yo can read the script and, then, armed with the film product "cut it" somewhat cohesively. The best editors, however, trim the fat faster than a butcher; creatively explore certain "options" that can dramatically affect a film's pace; and even tweak scene placement to better effect than the script.
One such editor was Verna Fields, from whom Steven learned all he needed to know. She opened his eyes to much he'd never even considered.
As I said here in a different thread: Film directors ply their trade with an array of tools. Some directors may use a couple of those tools to even better effect than Steven Spielberg, but there's no question that Steven has MORE tools and a BETTER COMMAND of those tools than any other film director in history. (At least from my point of view.) He doesn't really need great talent to make a great film. His greatest strength, if not his least known, is an unfailing ability to coax extraordinary things from quite ordinary people. That ability is but one of his tools and he wields it in varying manner to achieve his purpose.
As he does with Michael Kahn.
"What was the shot in question?" (kevin)
If my guess is correct, the shot would be in the Freeling living room that featured an inattentive Richard Lawson who is pencil sketching his still doubtful depiction of what a ghost might look like if it were to manifest on the stairway. Self-absorbed and lost in the music on his headphones, he is oblivious that some of the high-tech parapsychological equipment has just whirred into action as mysterious balls of light decend that stairway.
Do I hear any opening bids for that original Lawson pencil sketch?
"I don't know why anyone questions SS's major involvement with the film. It was clearly a joint effort on both Hooper and Spielberg's part. The movie just screams Spielberg, with a nice touch of Hooper might I add." (tashtego)
"Was there 'collaboration' between Tobe and Steven? Of course there was... how could there not be?" (Ben There)
"Are there any parts/moments that could be indisputably said to be Hooper's contribution?" (E-Buzz)
"Certainly, there were, yes." (Ben There)
So, tashtego: Poltergeist SCREAMS SPIELBERG - with just a nice touch of Hooper, eh? I'd say yours is a most omniscient comment for not having witnessed the films making.
If you've read all my posts, tj, you know I've already said so much more than a mouthful. If you have any questions, please, ask away. What I'll not reveal is the name of Poltergeist's director nor my own. Still, those answers should be readily apparent in my past comments. I have, indeed, "Ben There" many, many, times over three and a half decades in "the biz" and I know of which I speak. So, again... just ask away.
Firstly, I've never been aware any such Spielberg "motto" (per se), but it is always good business sense to include a visual nod to any close friend, or to the work of a close friend, as long as that visual nod is a natural fit within the framework of the film.
My short answer to your question is this: Directors and Producers will, invariably, affect certain choices made in the acquisition of any and all properties, but only a Set Decorator and a Property Master can make those acquisitions - by manner of renting, purchasing, manufacturing, or borrowing. So, no, Spielberg didn't pay for those toys and posters (himself) and I cannot recall their ever being furnished by LucasFilm.
In this case, the Set Decorator and Propery Master purchased those toys and posters directly and/or borrowed them through a signed agreement with either, the manufacturers of those items or with a Product Placement company. More to your point, however; yes, there were at least a couple meetings and memos with regard to which particular toys (and posters) should be used as props and set dressing in the kid's bedroom.
"Also, there is an Alien movie poster in Carol Anne's bedroom. Were these placed specifically on the set by Spielberg or was it left up to a designer? I've always just wondered how they were actually picked for the placement among the set." (tj)
"Ben There may have different info when he responds, but I would be shocked if Spielberg didn't have a hand in the "Alien" poster's placement. He's a massive fan of the movie." (Steven Awalt)
Bear in mind, firstly, the importance of certain "legalities" involved whenever a copyrighted prop is to be photographed. The two people charged with affecting permission to photograph such things are, again, the Set Decorator and Property Master. Let there be no mistake: Production Designers, Art Directors, and Set Designers have no such concerns. The specific (original) placement of furnishings within the set is, most often, a matter of choice for the Set Decorator - with the occasional or, even, frequent input of a Production Designer.
As to who, in fact, picked the particular place to affix that "Alien" poster... I've no recollection. Of course, the sets are "dressed" and approved prior to being filmed, but often while, either, rehearsing or blocking, a change in the actual placement of the furniture or furnishings must be made before the scene can be filmed. As to who determined the absolute necessity of that poster, well, of course, that was... the Director.
"Also, the Queste Verde Estates. What was the scenario that led to picking the suburban location in California that would represent the QV Estates on film?" (tj)
I've no knowledge that any "scenario" caused a certain area to be chosen except as Cuesta Verde was described in the script and, thereby, perceived by the Director and/or Producer. Ultimately, however, all possibile choices are strictly within the purview of the Location Manager.
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