If you’ve never heard of the movie Firelight before, you’re not alone. Released in 1964, this low-budget science fiction movie was released in a single cinema, made a $1 profit, and has been kept under lock and key ever since.
So, you may be surprised to learn then that Firelight was the first movie made by legendary Hollywood director Steven Spielberg. Before he turned his hand to making some of the best movies of all time, while aged just 17, Spielberg used $500 to make his first full movie.
Spielberg shot the independent picture during his weekends and in the evenings, using nearby locations to shoot and turning local people into his first cast and giving a leading role to his sister Nancy. As well as directing and writing the movie, Spielberg composed the score, handled the editing, and worked as the cinematographer.
Once completed, Spielberg got the local cinema to host a single screening of Firelight, and in order to cover his costs, he sold 500 tickets to 500 people at the cost of $1 dollar each.
So, how did Firelight end up making a $1 profit on his movie? Speaking with James Lipton on Inside the Actor’s Studio back in 1999, Spielberg explained, “I counted the receipts that night. And we charged a dollar a ticket. Five hundred people came to the movie, and I think somebody probably paid two dollars because we made one dollar profit that night, and that was it.”
Given that so many Hollywood productions fail to turn a profit, even making a single dollar with your first production is no mean feat. And, accounting for inflation, that $500 dollars that Spielberg managed to recoup would be worth over $4000 today, so it’s really a decent return.
Since its single screening, Firelight has been tucked away by Spielberg, and while you can find a tiny collection of clips online, the movie is not available to watch in its entirety anywhere. However, with Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Spielberg used the story he wrote for Firelight as inspiration and treated Close Encounters as something akin to a remake of the movie.
So, if you want to watch Spielberg’s first movie, watching Close Encounters of the Third Kind is about as close as you can get for now. If you’d like to find out more about Steven Spielberg’s new movie, though, we have a guide on how to watch The Fabelmans, as well as a The Fabelmans review.