Helmer reveals potential future projects at lunch gala

NEW YORK — A miniseries about AIDS in Africa, a movie franchise built around the Gallic comic character Tintin and a still-gestating saga about the War in the Pacific are all on Steven Spielberg’s to do list.

Suggesting that he thrived on multitasking, the director told a lunch crowd of 400 international TV execs that he had always “compartmentalized,” and thus was able to juggle a number of different projects in different media.

In particular, he told the assembled, the miniseries form is his preferred smallscreen vehicle.

“It’s a great reason to play in television. It’s the most fun. I can pay attention to detail and have a great canvas at the same time,” Spielberg said. He also said it was rewarding to be able to build characters, as he did in “Band of Brothers,” over a two or three-hour arc rather than in the eight or 10 minutes allowed in filmmaking.

The International Academy will honor the film and TV director-producer with its Founders Award for his achievements and innovations in TV programming in his near 40-year career.

The director and cofounder of DreamWorks received a standing ovation from the assembled luncheon-goers before being interviewed for an hour by former NBC news anchor Garrick Utley.

Spielberg will receive the trophy during the 34th annual I-Academy gala and global programming competition tonight at the Hilton hotel in New York City.

While he didn’t provide much detail about any single project in the wide-ranging interview, Spielberg did suggest that the 10- or 11-hour mini “War in the Pacific” would be what “Band of Brothers” was to “Saving Private Ryan.” He also said the title would likely change for the international market.

As for Tintin, Spielberg recalled that he had first acquired the rights to that character back in 1983 and later re-established the option to do something with the French comic character.

He mentioned the miniseries about AIDS in response to a question from an African attendee who wanted to know if the director had any plans to focus his attention on that continent. Spielberg said he thought it was “important” to do something about the scourge that is AIDS. But he also said that he never specifically tailored his storytelling for the international market but rather represented his own culture and belief systems as best he could.

More immediately, Spielberg said he is well along with reality producer Mark Burnett on a “Boot Camp”-like show called “On the Lot,” which would hopefully upturn new film directing talent. The series will air on Fox, he said, in the same primetime slot as “American Idol,” beginning the week after that show ends next spring.

A relaxed, occasionally self-deprecating Spielberg responded to a number of questions about the new media. He suggested that the movie and TV business was not likely to dry up anytime soon, but that online, mostly ad-supported visual communities on the Web, were also likely here to stay.

“We’re all social organisms, and given the choice I think most people would opt for a night out, popcorn, dinner and all rather than just watching a widescreen at home. I don’t think motion pictures will fade away,” he said.

He has a good sense of what the younger generation is flocking to or talking about by relating to his own seven children, who range in age from nine to 30. Spielberg himself turns 60 in a few weeks. His favorite show of the season: “Heroes,” which he watches with the kids.

In other remarks, Spielberg put the accent on the positives of his own TV experience, without ignoring the fact that webheads today, as they did 35 years ago, often tend to pull the plug too quickly.

  • Early on in 1969 doing an episode for Rod Serling’s “Night Gallery,” he learned the discipline of production.

“I was told to be on budget and be on time — and I failed on both counts,” he quipped. Spielberg described that first experience as “traumatizing,” but did eventually manage, he said, to become “Johnnie on the spot.”

  • Suggesting that the tastes of the younger generation are much more “eclectic” today and hence more difficult to predict, one thing he suggested is clear: The public itself is demanding to be recognized as stars along with the established Hollywood icons — and they’re becoming good patrons of their own art via the YouTubes and Myspaces of this world.

While he seemed to suggest this was a positive development, he put the accent on shaped content rather than raw reality as a more compelling medium. “Survivor,” he argued, is entertaining and involving because of the folks who shape and edit the raw story material, not because of the raw material itself.

Spielberg is expected to make further remarks about the global TV business and his experience with the small screen tonight. His award will be presented to him by CBS news anchor Katie Couric.

A record 1,200 global TV execs are expected to attend the gala tonight.

The I-Academy is the largest organization of TV execs from around the world, with 400 members repping 70 countries.

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