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Steven Spielberg

October 2006

October 2006

 

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 screen.

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.

 

WS: What 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.

 

WS: Technology 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 screens?

SPIELBERG: I’m 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?

SPIELBERG: My 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.

 

WS: Has television, on the whole, lived up to its potential to entertain and inform?

SPIELBERG: 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 ever before.

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