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Spielberg’s Lincoln, a Different Kind of War Movie

The early talk after a test screening in New York that Lincoln would not be full of sweeping battle scenes depicting the Civil War worried some. They did the math in their head: Spielberg + Lincoln + Civil War = War Horse about slavery. BUT that isn’t the war depicted in Lincoln. The war is a battle between two competing ideas for the past, present and future of America. Though he freed the slaves during the Civil War, Lincoln had not yet officially banned slavery from the US. The 13th amendment would do that. Spielberg talks to TIME about the evolution of his Lincoln:

Spielberg spoke about the type of movie he wanted to make, how he purposefully remained in the claustrophobic world of Washington D.C. as Lincoln worked to abolish slavery. “There couldn’t be a cutaway to a battle or a cutaway to snow melting as the next year of Civil War starts,” he said. “That would have been a different kind of movie—a movie movie. I had to stay inside Lincoln’s process.”

But what didn’t make it into the film? Not much, according to Spielberg. “I’m not going to name names of movies I made, but I made a long film and people seemed to like it. In 1993,” he joked of the Oscar-winning Schindler’s List. “We looked at an hour and 43 minutes of outtakes for that film… There were too many things I was so sad I took out. But there were only 25 minutes of outtakes for Lincoln. That’s a tribute to Tony’s screenplay.”

That’s not to say that Kushner didn’t have his own challenges while writing. When TIME Managing Editor Rick Stengel, who led the panel, asked, “How do you write the dialogue for the man who wrote the Second Inaugural,” his response was quick: “It was terrifying.” (The multiple drafts of Kushner’s script included the addition of the word “disenthrall” at Day-Lewis’s request. The actor had come across the word in Lincoln’s writing and liked it. Though a long speech originally slated for Tommy Lee Jones’ Thaddeus Stevens on what a dreadful piece of writing the 10th amendment was didn’t make the cut. “Steven said to save it for an op-ed piece,” Kushner said, drawing laughs.)