Firelight (1964 film)

Firelight is a 1964 American science fiction adventure film written and directed by Steven Spielberg at the age of 17.[3] Made on a budget of $500, the film was shown at a local cinema and generated a profit of $1. "I counted the receipts that night", Spielberg has recalled, "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."[4][5]

Directed bySteven Spielberg
Written bySteven Spielberg
Produced byArnold Spielberg
Leah Spielberg
StarringClark Lohr
Carolyn Owen
CinematographySteven Spielberg
Edited bySteven Spielberg (uncredited)
Music bySteven Spielberg (composer)
Arcadia High School Band (performer)
Distributed byPhoenix Cinema
Release date
  • March 24, 1964 (1964-03-24)
Running time
135 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$501[2]

Although Firelight is Spielberg's first film made, it is not seen as his directorial debut.[citation needed] The film widely seen as his feature-length directorial debut is Duel (1971), although "L.A. 2017", his long-form episode of The Name of the Game, precedes it.

Only three minutes and forty seconds of footage has been made public, about 3% of the original length. Spielberg returned to its subject matter for his third major film, Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977).


Firelight follows a group of scientists — particularly Tony Karcher and UFO believer Howard Richards — as they investigate a series of colored lights in the sky and the subsequent disappearance of people, animals and objects from the fictional American town of Freeport, Arizona. Among those abducted are a dog, a unit of soldiers and a young girl named Lisa, whose abduction induces a heart attack in her mother. The film has sub-plots involving marital discord between Karcher and his wife Debbie, and the obsessive quest of Richards to convince the CIA that alien life exists. The twist comes as the aliens, represented by three shadows, reveal their purpose: to transport Freeport to their home planet Altaris to create a human zoo.


Many of the cast for Firelight were from the Arcadia High School productions of Guys and Dolls and I Remember Mama. Spielberg's sister had a leading role.

  • Clark Lohr as Howard Richards
  • Carolyn Owen as Lisa's Mother
  • Robert Robyn as Tony Karcher
  • Nancy Spielberg as Lisa
  • Beth Weber as Debbie
  • Margaret Peyou as Helen Richards
  • Warner Marshall as Soldier
  • Dede Pisani as Lover
  • Tina Lanser as Maid
  • Chuck Case as Teenage Boy

Production and musicEdit

Spielberg composed the music for Firelight, his first original score, on his clarinet. Spielberg's mother, a former pianist, transposed the score to piano and then to sheet music. The Arcadia High School band then performed the score for the film.

The film was shot on weekends and evenings. Many scenes were shot at the Spielberg home and near the garage. Outside shots were filmed in scrub land near Spielberg's home and school.

Release and analysisEdit

Firelight premiered on March 24, 1964, at Spielberg's local cinema, the Phoenix Little Theatre, in Phoenix, Arizona. Spielberg managed to sell (through the use of advertising by friends and family) 500 tickets at one dollar each.[6]

Excerpts of Firelight show a distinct Spielberg visual style and his use of tracking shots. Firelight came to form a basis of Spielberg's later hit movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind.


  1. ^ Fox, Jesse David. "Watch a Clip From Spielberg's Early Lost Film Firelight". Vulture. Retrieved 25 April 2021.
  2. ^ "Steven Spielberg's Micro-Budget 1st Feature Film: Firelight". Filmtrepreneur. Retrieved 25 April 2021.
  3. ^ Freer, Ian (2001). The Complete Spielberg. Virgin. pp. 5–8.
  4. ^ Inside the Actor's Studio, with James Lipton interviewing Steven Spielberg.
  5. ^ The profit of $1 would be equivalent to around $8.57 in 2021 when adjusted for inflation
  6. ^ Morrow, Justin. "Check Out 'Firelight', a 17-Year-Old Steven Spielberg's Lost First Feature Film". No Film School. Retrieved 25 April 2021.

External linksEdit