By Anna Carugati
Steven Spielberg is arguably Hollywood’s best-known director and
producer and certainly its most commercially successful filmmaker. Who hasn’t
been touched or thrilled by any one of his movies? The list is endless: Jaws, Close
Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, Raiders of
the Lost Ark, Jurassic Park, The Color Purple, Schindler’s
List, Saving Private Ryan, Minority
Report, War of the Worlds, Munich and on and on.
In 1994, Spielberg teamed with David Geffen and Jeffrey Katzenberg to
launch DreamWorks SKG, which went on to release the Academy Award-winning
movies American Beauty and Gladiator, among others.
Later, the company’s animation division, home to acclaimed hits such as the Shrek franchise, was
spun-off as its own publicly traded venture. Earlier this year, the partners
sold off DreamWorks SKG (encompassing the live-action business) to Paramount
Pictures for $1.6 billion.
What may be less known is that early in his career, Spielberg worked on
a number of television series, such as Rod Serling’s Night Gallery, Marcus
Welby, M.D., and Columbo. He was also involved in
animation, producing Who Framed Roger Rabbit for the big
screen and Tiny Toon Adventures, Animaniacs, Pinky and
the Brain and Freakazoid!, among others, for the small
His most ambitious TV project so far has been Band of Brothers, a ten-part
mini-series on World War II that aired on HBO, for which he served as executive
producer along with the actor Tom Hanks. Spielberg and Hanks are now working on
another World War II mini-series for HBO about the conflict in the Pacific
theater. His recent mini-series Into the West delivered record
ratings for the cable network TNT, as did Taken for SCI FI
Channel. Ever prolific, Spielberg has more feature-film and TV projects in the
works, including the mini-series Nine Lives for SCI FI, and On
the Lot, a reality series for FOX aimed at discovering the next
big film director, produced in partnership with Mark Burnett.
Spielberg will be honored by the International Academy of Television
Arts & Sciences with the International Emmy Founders Award, presented at
the academy’s Gala in November.
creative challenges does television offer, and how are they different from
those that film provides?
SPIELBERG: Making a film forces upon you a set of disciplines
different from those in the medium of television. Television can offer
filmmakers and writers a much broader reach into the depths of a story because
there is more time to tell it. In a film we have to condense, abridge, and
focus more surgically because a captured audience in a multiplex has only so
much time and patience. Television audiences will hang in for entire seasons in
order to savor the details of a character arc and multiple plots. Also there is
more scope available at the movies...the bigger screen size is a definite
advantage, as are the sound systems and other enhancing technologies like IMAX
and 3-D. As home-entertainment systems expand in scope and clarity, these two
great mediums are more competitive than ever. But for me, the single greatest
tonic in going out to the movies is the social experience that can never be
equaled or duplicated in the home.
continues to provide new platforms and devices for consumers to enjoy movies,
TV programs, news and music. As a director and producer, how do you feel about
people watching films and other content on computer screens or even small iPod
most perplexed by this desire to watch TV and movies on smaller screens like
iPods, phones and laptops. If this really catches on and the industry decides
to write directly for the mini-multiplex, directors will subliminally begin to
abandon wide shots for extreme close-ups and everything will start looking
claustrophobic. This nice habit of appointment television and looking forward
to a Friday-night movie could be replaced by entertainment on the run and then
the movie and TV industry would completely merge with
America’s growing penchant for drive-throughs instead of sit-down experiences.
WS: Why was Band
of Brothers such an important
project for you? What was your experience with HBO? Did you have the creative
freedom you wanted to make the mini-series the way you envisioned it?
SPIELBERG: When Tom [Hanks] and I made Band of Brothers, we knew that at the time, only HBO’s format could
do justice to this sweeping and personal story of the men who sacrificed so
much to save the world. Chris Albrecht [the chairman and CEO of HBO] and Jeff
Bewkes [Time Warner’s president and COO] gave us the keys to their city and
with absolutely no interference we were able to acquit these stories, make the
veterans proud, and put a big smile on Stephen Ambrose’s face. [Ambrose is the
author of the best-selling book on which the mini-series was based.]
WS: You did Taken for SCI FI, and Into the West for TNT. You have worked with basic cable channels
and HBO—would you work with the broadcast networks, or would they impose
too many restrictions on your work?
basic-cable-channel experiences have been great so far, but it would be good to
make a mini-series with one of the major networks, if for no other reason than,
in success, the sheer volume of traffic. There is nothing like a mini-series
without commercial interruption and I’ve been twice blessed that two of my
films have been shown uninterrupted on network television: Schindler’s List thanks to the courage of Bob Wright [the chairman
and CEO of NBC Universal] and Saving Private Ryan due to the courage of Bob Iger [the president and
CEO of The Walt Disney Company].
WS: What have
you wanted to offer young viewers with your animation series?
SPIELBERG: Like the majority of children today, I was raised
on cartoons. Chuck Jones, Tex Avery, Friz Freleng and Max Fleischer were like
my TV dads and they weren’t afraid to introduce the kids of my generation to a
slightly more irreverent way of looking at the world. My generation, the Baby
Boomers, haven’t done so bad…so I thought why not try it again with Animaniacs,
Tiny Toon Adventures and Freakazoid! as a kind of social alternative to Teletubbies and Barney? And when I can get around to it, I’m excited about going back to
making animated television through our new association with Nickelodeon.
television, on the whole, lived up to its potential to entertain and inform?
Television is entertaining us and informing us in ways that were unimaginable a
decade ago. It goes without saying that the news has given us bigger windows on
the world, but TV is pushing the envelope like never before with series like Lost and 24 and The Sopranos, that
involve us up to our eyeballs and make us angry when our hour is up. When I was
a kid I thought I would never laugh as loud as I did when I watched with my
family Sid Caesar’s Your Show of Shows, and later on, Ernie Kovacs and I Love Lucy. But I have to admit, I’m laughing a little louder
when I watch Curb Your Enthusiasm
and My Name Is Earl and The
Office. TV is truly better than