"I have my own studio, so I would have just paid for it," he said. "That's how 'Lincoln' got made."
His ongoing investment in the Shoah Foundation, though, may be the filmmaker's most meaningful.
"I'm very proud of this legacy," he said. "I wouldn't trade this for anything in the world."
Amid his roster of projects, Spielberg stays close to the organization: "I'm basically like a doctor on call. I have everything but a beeper on my belt. When they need me, I'm there."
When he started the foundation in 1994, he just wanted to collect survivor testimonies to help silence the Holocaust deniers who'd popped up during the making of "Schindler's List." He never expected to get nearly 51,413 accounts in 34 languages from 58 countries.
"Movies at least have taught me that I don't have to be realistic about anything," he said.
Says Shoah's executive director, Stephen D. Smith: "Steven Spielberg is the only person I know who had both the integrity and the vision to do it."
As the collection grew, the foundation incorporated education and outreach. The digital archive is vastly searchable, down to the name, date, location and specific keyword. Spielberg also personally visits schools to talk about the survivor testimonies, though he admits the teenage students are initially more interested in discussing "E.T." and Indiana Jones.
"They want to talk about the movies first, and we have a really nice conversation about the movies, and then we go right into this," Spielberg said.
"I think if you put 'E.T.' on a monitor, and they hadn't seen it since they were kids, and on the same monitor you put a testimony from a Hungarian survivor, the young person will watch the testimony and not watch 'E.T.'," he continued. "Because I think the testimony is relevant and analogous today, even in the lives of young people at home or in the school yard. It hits home."