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Steven Spielberg and Duel: The Making of a Film CareerSince the early 1970s, Steven Spielberg has directed more than two dozen films, many of which have achieved classic status. In addition to critical and commercial successes that include E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan, and Lincoln, Spielberg’s name has become synonymous with such thrilling adventure films as Jaws, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Jurassic Park, and Minority Report. Before he became a world-renowned filmmaker, however, Spielberg established himself on television, helming episodes of Rod Serling’s Night Gallery; Marcus Welby, M.D.; and Columbo. But it was the small-screen version of a Richard Matheson short story that brought the young director’s work to the attention of critics and viewers alike.

In Steven Spielberg and Duel: The Making of a Film Career, Steven Awalt provides an exhaustive study commemorating the film that decisively launched the career of a major film artist. Through in-depth research and interviews with the film’s creative and technical crew, the author tracks the film from genesis through production to release. Awalt conducted lengthy one-on-one interviews with Spielberg, Matheson, assistant director James Fargo, editor Frank Morriss, composer Billy Goldenberg, former MCA/Universal president Sidney J. Sheinberg, and writer-producer Steven Bochco, among others.

Spielberg provided access to many rare documents from his archives, including multiple drafts of Duel’s teleplay, the shooting schedule, shooting logistics breakdowns, and production correspondence. The first book-length examination of this important production in the director’s early career, Steven Spielberg and Duel also includes the original teleplay by Matheson, four additional scenes created for the international theatrical release of the film, photos, and storyboards of the film’s final sequence. A fascinating look behind the scenes of an acclaimed work, this book will interest not only scholars and film historians but anyone interested in the work of Richard Matheson and Steven Spielberg.


“The destruction of the truck…was just a beginning,’ film historian Awalt writes in his in-depth look at famed director Steven Spielberg’s first major film, 1971’s Duel, a television thriller starring Dennis Weaver and a menacing 18-wheeler based off of a short story by Richard Matheson. Duel is legendary among film buffs and is regarded as both a relic from the 1970s and a cult classic. It was instantly well received and Spielberg, only 25-years-old at the time, was highly praised. Awalt is eager to share every possible piece of information on the film, including a full copy of the movie’s teleplay, storyboards of one sequence, and scene-by-scene analysis. Interviews with Weaver, Matheson, the film’s producers, and Spielberg himself grant unparalleled access to the process of making the film. This book will surely be beloved by film students for that very reason.”

— Publishers Weekly

“Like The Sugarland Express, Steven Spielberg’s first theatrical film, Duel (1971) is a Spielberg movie a lot of people have heard about but never seen. It was a TV movie, with a screenplay by Richard Matheson (who wrote the short story on which the film was based), starring Dennis Weaver as an unassuming traveler harassed by the faceless driver of a big rig. Doesn’t sound like much, but in Spielberg’s hands, as film historian Awalt notes in this very engaging and perceptive ‘making of’ book, the film delivers fear and nail-biting tension. This is really two making-of books in one: the story of the production of Duel, and the story of Spielberg himself, the kid who dreamed of making movies, who was directing episodic television when he was barely old enough to drink and who leveraged a brilliant TV movie into a brilliant film career. This well-presented look at a legendary director’s beginning contains, as an added bonus, the complete Duel screenplay, itself a small masterpiece.”

— Booklist

“To reconstruct the story of “Duel,” Awalt interviewed both Spielberg and the screenwriter Richard Matheson (also the author of the original magazine story), along with others associated with the shoot, and accumulated a large amount of documentary material, including a draft of Matheson’s teleplay. No doubt Spielberg completists and film scholars of the future will find a use for this highly detailed account.”

— The New York Times

“In reflecting on the kingdom he created, Walt Disney once said, ‘It all started with a mouse.’ For filmmaker Steven Spielberg, it all started with a truck. That is the premise that drives Steven Spielberg and Duel: The Making of a Film Career by Steven Awalt. Awalt’s thoroughly researched yet accessible book chronicles Spielberg’s formative years and production of the film, and it contains archival treats such as storyboard drawings and a reproduction of the script.”

— Chicago Tribune

“Using unseen memorabilia from the director’s archive plus a brand-new interview with him, renowned Spielbergologist Steven Awalt tells the tale from its origins as a Playboy short story, to its instant-masterpiece status as a movie of the week, to its canonisation on the big screens of Europe. Like the film itself, it’s an economical, intelligent, unpretentious read, and brings the film alive. … Through evocative writing and reminiscences from all the key players, Awalt does a great job of putting you in the desert on the shoot or on the recording stage laying down Billy Goldenberg’s score. . . [T]he book is at its best in its close textual analysis, be it of Matheson’s short story or Spielberg’s M.O. Elsewhere it bombards the reader with cool trivia , peppers the story with sidebars that enrich the tale, and offers a reprint of Matheson’s taut teleplay. Awalt makes the astute point that Duel is, at once, classic and overlooked. The book’s Peterbilt passion confirms the former and, hopefully, rectifies the latter.”

— Empire Magazine

“The author’s exhaustive research taking in everything from Spielberg’s unplanned cameo, fisticuffs in the dubbing room and the penny-pinching at Universal that led to footage being recycled in an episode of the live-action The Incredible Hulk TV show. Matheson’s complete teleplay script and 25 pages of storyboards round out an indispensable purchase for any self-respecting fan.”

— Total Film

“This book by Steven Awalt is a marvelously detailed and entertaining document of Spielberg’s humble beginnings as a director-for-hire for Universal Television, ultimately culminating in Duel. That film belied its budget-conscious TV origins in every way imaginable, with a truly cinematic look and tone that even impressed the likes of Frederico Fellini. . . .Even today, Duel is widely considered one of the greatest stand-alone made-for-TV films ever made, which broke traditional rules because a young, ambitious director wanted to make it something more than the usual Saturday night schedule filler. With this book, we totally appreciate Steven Spielberg’s genius and understand how he was able to parlay Duel’s success into what’s arguably the greatest directorial career of all time. This book is a must-read for any film fan.”

— Moviepilot

Author Interviews

“Author Offers Peek at Early Spielberg Work” (Chicago Tribune)

“Interview with Author Steven Awalt” (CinemaRetro)

“Author Steven Awalt Discusses Duel, Sugarland Express, and Early Spielberg” (High-Def Digest)

“Steven Awalt Talks About His Book Steven Spielberg and Duel (Media Mikes)

“Steven Awalt: Steven Spielberg and Duel (New Books in Film)