Spielberg encounters close choices to direct

Pix piling up for helmer

“Harry Potter,” “A.I.” or “Minority Report”?

It’s the end of the year and although Steven Spielberg is already safely ensconced in the Hamptons for the holidays, he’s inching ever closer to a decision about what to direct next.

This appears to be the longest gap in the prolific helmer’s 30-year career since he co-directed “Night Games” for U TV in 1969. The holdup is interesting for several reasons:

Since Spielberg is the only A-list director who also controls a movie studio, he could have the pick of the litter. Instead, his hesitation to commit has direct consequences.

For one thing, it piles up other top DreamWorks projects like “Memoirs of a Geisha” and biopic “Lindbergh” on the development runway.

For someone who could have home-grown a movie, Spielberg is instead flirting with projects that originated elsewhere.

Case in point: Over at Warner Bros., which gave Spielberg an exclusive peek at the 138-page first draft of the “Harry Potter” script adaptation more than two weeks ago, it’s getting to be crunch time if the studio doesn’t want to lose the helmer to the Tom Cruise project “Minority Report,” which Spielberg’s CAA reps are said to be pushing.

Kubrick treatment

Spielberg is also still mulling whether to pursue pet project “A.I.,” which he is writing himself. “A.I.” stands for Artificial Intelligence and was born as a treatment by the late Stanley Kubrick; for years it looked like Kubrick’s next project at WB before “Eyes Wide Shut.”

Spielberg will likely return in early January for a sit-down with “Potter” screenwriter Steve Kloves, WB prexy/chief operating officer Alan Horn and production prexy Lorenzo di Bonaventura to lay out his vision for the movie.

Spielberg, who earlier had been said to favor a computer-animated version of the “Potter” pic, might choose to stay on as producer even if he declines to helm, thereby opening up the field to an audition process for a group of directors that has stayed almost the same since early autumn, when the project began heating up.

Among those champing at the bit are Robert Zemeckis, Jonathan Demme, Brad Silberling, Rob Reiner, Mike Newell and Tim Robbins; the latter was not on the list earlier.

Even if Spielberg stays on to produce with one of these directors, Warners would still likely have to split upwards of 40% of the gross with him — making it an expensive proposition no matter what is decided. It is, however, a price the studio might be willing to pay, since it is traditionally weak in developing hit pics for young adults.