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."
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.
Two reels of Firelight are now lost. 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 coloured 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 does not exist. 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
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 at 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.
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.