Firelight (1964 film)

Firelight is a 1964 science fiction adventure film written and directed by Steven Spielberg at the age of 17. Made on a budget of $500, the film was, in a manner of speaking, Spielberg's first commercial success, as it 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."[1][2]

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

Although Firelight is Spielberg's first film made, it is not seen as his directorial debut. 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.

Most of Firelight is now lost. Only three minutes and forty seconds of footage survives, 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 and 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.

Later, when hunting for film work in Los Angeles, Spielberg gave two reels of Firelight to a producer as a showcase of his ability. However a week later the production company went bust and the producer vanished with his clips. The surviving clips however 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. ^ Inside the Actor's Studio, with James Lipton interviewing Steven Spielberg.
  2. ^ The profit of $1 would be equivalent to around $8.35 in 2020 when adjusted for inflation


  • Freer, Ian (2001). The Complete Spielberg. Virgin. pp. 5–8.

External linksEdit