Apple Watch Interrupts Steven Spielberg’s 50th Anniversary Tribute to “The Sugarland Express

An unexpected interruption from his Apple Watch added humor to Steven Spielberg’s celebration of his debut film at the Tribeca Festival

During Steven Spielberg’s talk at the Tribeca Festival on Saturday, where he celebrated the 50th anniversary of his first feature film, “The Sugarland Express,” the legendary director experienced an amusing interruption. Spielberg’s Apple Watch unexpectedly alerted him with a message saying, “It looks like you’ve taken a hard fall.” Spielberg humorously responded, “I’m not going to press the SOS ,” before discarding the watch, which he later retrieved when it started signaling distress.

Before the Q&A session, a recorded message from Goldie Hawn, star of “The Sugarland Express,” was played, where she expressed gratitude to Spielberg and reflected on the film’s impact on their careers. Released in 1974, a year before the blockbuster “Jaws,” “The Sugarland Express” received positive reviews but was pulled from theaters after two weeks due to poor box office performance. “You’re the first audience to ever see ‘Sugarland Express’ in 50 years,” Spielberg told the packed BMCC audience in Lower West Side Manhattan.

In conversation with Variety Executive Editor Brent Lang, Spielberg revealed his inspiration for the film came from an article titled “Modern Day Bonnie and Clyde” in a local Los Angeles newspaper. The story of a Texas couple, Bobby and Ila Fae Dent, who led a police chase to retrieve their baby from child welfare, captivated Spielberg. He sent the article to his friends Hal Barwood and Matthew Robbins, proposing they collaborate on the script.

However, Universal Studios insisted on a major star to greenlight the film. Spielberg credited Goldie Hawn for the film’s production, praising her suitability for the role of Lou Jean Poplin. Spielberg also wanted authenticity in the film, instructing casting director Shari Rhodes to find real people for some roles. This led to the inclusion of Buster Daniels, a non-actor found in a bar, who played a key role in the film.

Spielberg reflected on how the film’s iconic police chase scene reminded him of the O.J. Simpson Bronco chase, jokingly lamenting, “They’re stealing my thunder!”

“The Sugarland Express” marked the beginning of Spielberg’s long collaboration with composer John Williams. Spielberg, a longtime fan of Williams’ work, insisted on hiring him for the film. Their partnership has since spanned 51 years, including classics like “Jaws,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” and “Jurassic Park.”

Working with producers Richard Zanuck and David Brown on “The Sugarland Express” also led to Spielberg directing “Jaws.” Spielberg recounted how he discovered the “Jaws” manuscript in Zanuck and Brown’s office and eagerly pursued the project, which solidified his status as a top director.

By the following year, “Jaws” had made Spielberg a household name, setting the stage for his legendary career involving dinosaurs, extraterrestrials, and beyond.

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