Was given an inexpensive Kodak movie camera when he was 12, which spurred his imagination; liked to create and film train wrecks on his toy railroad.
Directed a high-school production of Peter Pan. As an adult, he directed the lavish 1991 Peter Pan update, Hook, starring Robin Williams, Dustin Hoffman and Julia Roberts.
Wanted John Wayne to play Gen. Stilwell in 1941 (1979), but the Duke lost interest when he learned the film's story (about the hysteria that followed Pearl Harbor) included two American planes being shot down. (The part eventually went to Robert Stack.)
Created the story for Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) with producer George Lucas and screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan over five days.
His own boyhood fears, including a tree outside his window, formed the basis of Poltergeist (1982), which he wrote and produced.