Sunday, March 14, 2010

Meet the Press: Hanks and Spielberg on the making of the new mini-series The Pacific

Journalists from across North America gathered in Pasadena in January to meet with the stars, actors and mega-players behind TV’s best new projects. The most impressive is HBO’s The Pacific, a new 10-part miniseries that completes the Spielberg/Hanks Second World War trilogy, which started with the major feature Saving Private Ryan and continued with Band of Brothers. The Pacific debuts tonight on HBO.

What follows are highlights from a transcript of a media conference helmed by Tom Hanks and Stephen Spielberg to take media questions about the project. Picture this, Hanks, Spielberg and crew assembled in a seriously posh hotel in a ballroom full of journos.

(Remember that scene in Notting Hill where Hugh Grant pretends to be a reporter from Horse and Hound magazine to meet and interview Julia Roberts? It’s kinda like that, only on steroids… or hallucinogens.) The reporters – and yes I was one of them – were frenzied enough to make Hanks comment, “It’s like the White House.” Saner, thoughtful moments also prevailed.

The Pacific is worthy of the attention. So check in for more coverage and episode updates from week to week.

QUESTION: When you do something like this, do you have to sort of shy away from the things that you did in [the past] and the style of it?

STEVEN SPIELBERG: I had a sense in Saving Private Ryan that I was establishing a template based on the experiences communicated to me by the veterans who fought that morning on Dog Green, Omaha Beach, and their experiences and the way ‑‑ and informed by the very few surviving photographs of the great war correspondent, Robert Capa.

And I combined those photographs to try to find a 24‑frame‑per‑second equivalent about how I can show that kind of terror and that kind of chaos without making a movie that looked elegant and beautiful and in full living color, very much like war movies had been made in the past. It wasn't that I was trying to break the mold of the old war movie approach, visually, but I was simply trying to, I guess, validate all of this testimony ‑‑ if you can call it that ‑‑ that had been communicated to us based on the young men that lived and survived that battle. I didn't know it was going to establish a look for war movies. But it was certainly what I thought was right for that particular story.

QUESTION: And given how pervasive, though, that look has become in subsequent movies, when you do a project of this scale, do you try to get away and try to give it a different look?

STEVEN SPIELBERG: Well, we did give The Pacific a different look because there is a very strong de-saturated quality about Band of Brothers. And in The Pacific, because it was blue skies ‑‑ they weren't fighting in overcast weather. Sometimes monsoons would come in and it was terribly rainy and muddy and you couldn't see the hand in front of your face, but it was a blue‑sky war. It was a hot, dry, humid blue‑sky war. So there are more vivid colors, I think, in The Pacific than we ever had in Band of Brothers because that was the way it was, when you read the books and talk to the survivors of those campaigns.

QUESTION: …Are you telling us that there are little men in HBO that can tell Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg what to do?

STEVEN SPIELBERG: I can simply say that Tom Hanks and I are marvelous collaborators. And they were also giving us a lot of money. Not us, but the production.

TOM HANKS: I'm going to assume that all you crack members of the fourth estate can appreciate sarcasm when it comes your away…We had a great relationship. And, yeah, we fought probably over every single one of these moments throughout the course, including the closing titles that describe where everybody went. And, you know, we knew that once the ‑‑ what is it? ‑‑ the HBO programming blip was gone at the beginning of this, it was our story to tell with our own pacing, and we wanted to include everything that would turn it into a perfectly ‑‑ the perfect book with the opening pages that get into the meat of the thing. So I don't have any true complaints. I just have sarcastic ones. So please report my sarcasm in the spirit for which it was presented.

TOM HANKS: It's been like six years in the making.

STEVEN SPIELBERG: But it's also ‑‑ if I can just add, it was inevitable that we would do The Pacific with HBO because there was such an overwhelming response, not only from the general public that got very involved in Band of Brothers, but we got so much positive mail, but at the same time, mail that said, "I was a veteran of the Solomons." "I fought on Tarawa." "I fought" ‑‑ you know, "I was at Midway." I mean, we got so many letters of veterans from the Pacific Theater of Operations asking us if we could acquit their stories the way we acquitted the stories of the European Theater of Operations.

QUESTION: Having watched the first four hours, you're struck by the enormity of the combat scenes and how riveting and visceral they are. Mr. Spielberg, does it get any easier to do them .....

STEVEN SPIELBERG: It doesn't get any easier because these are all new actors to this experience, and these are all new directors to this experience. So you really have to pose that question to them. But I could imagine that this was a very gruelling and difficult and scary experience, being where Tom and I have been twice before.

Some of the actors mentioned include Canadians and we'll tell you about them in the weeks ahead.

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