Steven Spielberg Interview HBO’s THE PACIFIC

     February 4, 2010

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Executive producers Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks are following up their highly successful 2001 mini-series Band of Brothers with the epic 10-part The Pacific, premiering on HBO on March 14th.

The mini-series tracks the intertwined journeys of three U.S. Marines — Robert Leckie (James Badge Dale), Eugene Sledge (Joe Mazzello) and John Basilone (Jon Seda) — of the 1st Marine Division, which is the oldest and largest active duty division of the U.S. Marine Corps.

While Band of Brothers followed the experiences of one company of Amy paratroopers in the European Theater of Operations, The Pacific depicts the war a world away in the Pacific Theater of Operations, which encompassed most of the Pacific Ocean and its islands, including the Philippines, the Netherlands East Indies, New Guinea and the Solomon Islands.  With the support of their fellow Marines and comrades in the Navy, Air Force and Army, the 1st Marine Division was at the forefront of many of the hardest-fought campaigns of the Pacific War.  More after the jump:

Over the span of 10 hours, The Pacific takes an unflinching look at the experiences of these men and their brothers in arms, which is nothing less than what is expected from the man responsible for the personal looks at war that he brought audiences in both Saving Private Ryan and Band of Brothers.

steven_spielberg__4_.jpgWhile talking to press about this historical upcoming mini-series at the Television Critics Association Winter Press Tour, Steven Spielberg expressed his passion and desire for continuing to bring these stories to audiences, as well as how the recent success of Avatar has been inspiring to him as a filmmaker.

Question: When you were making Saving Private Ryan, did you have a sense that you were establishing a visual template for war and war depictions that were going to be carried over for 12 years now?

Spielberg: In Saving Private Ryan, I had a sense 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 very few surviving photographs of the great war correspondent, Robert Capa. I combined those photographs to try to find a 24-frame-per-second equivalent for how I can show that kind of terror and 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 validate all of this testimony 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.

Given how pervasive that look has become in subsequent movies, when you do a project of this scale, do you try to get away from that and give it a different look?

Spielberg: We did give The Pacific with a different look. There was a very strong, desaturated quality to Band of Brothers. In The Pacific, 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 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.

How tough is it to sell a project like this?

Spielberg: Thank goodness for HBO. They gave us this opportunity to put the stories of these very brave men and women on the network. We’re very beholden to HBO for making room on their schedule for something like this.

How much time did you spend working on this?

the_pacific_hbo_logo_01.jpgSpielberg: I would say years. Longer than I actually remember. 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. At the same time, that mail said, “I was a veteran of the Solomons.” “I fought on Tarawa.” “I was at Midway.” 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.

The combat scenes in this have an enormity, in how riveting and visceral they are. Does it get any easier to do them?

Spielberg: It doesn’t get any easier because these are all new actors to this experience, and all new directors to this experience. But, I could imagine that this was a very grueling, difficult and scary experience, being where Tom and I have been twice before, with Band of Brothers and Saving Private Ryan.

Do you see this less as strictly a history of that part of the war and more another story of soldiers’ experiences?

Spielberg: What moved us to tell these stories, based on these survivors and veterans, was to see what happens to the human soul throughout this particular engagement. These islands were stepping stones to the mainland of Japan. We weren’t trained by the drill instructors stateside. We were trained by the enemy, in how to fight the enemy. They trained us how to fight like them.

I don’t want to compare one war to the other, in terms of savagery, but there’s a level when nature and humanity conspire against the individual. To see what happens to those individuals, throughout the entire course of events, leading up to the dropping of the two atomic bombs, is something that was very, very hard for the actors, the writers and all of us to put on the screen, but we felt we had to try.

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Are there more stories to tell?

Spielberg: There are many more stories to tell, and we’re going to tell them.

Are you developing them?

Spielberg: We are developing them.

Having made Schindler’s List, how do you feel that there’s a whole generation that’s only going to know about the Holocaust second-hand, through films and stories?

Spielberg: There’s no other way to learn about it, except through documentaries. I encourage documentarians to continue telling stories about World War II. I think documentaries are the greatest way to educate an entire generation that doesn’t often look back to learn anything about the history that provided a safe haven for so many of us today. Documentaries are the first line of education, and the second line of education is dramatization, such as The Pacific.

pacific hbo action.jpgDo you feel that a soldier’s journey is the ultimate hero’s journey?

Spielberg: For one thing, I don’t think that anybody in any war thinks of themselves as a hero. The minute anybody presumes that they are heroes, they get their boots taken away from them and buried in the sand. That’s not going to happen.

In the re-creation of combat situations, and this is coming from a director who’s never been in one, being mindful of what these veterans have actually gone through, you find that the biggest concern is that you don’t look at war as a geopolitical endeavor. You look at war as something that is putting your best friend in jeopardy.  You are responsible for the person in front of you and the person behind you, and the person to the left of you and the person to the right of you. Those are the small pods that will inadvertently create a hero, but that is someone else’s observation, not the observation of those kids in the foxholes.

From a filmmaker’s point of view, how do you see the current state of the industry?

Spielberg: I’m very unqualified to talk about the state of the industry right now. But, thank goodness for Avatar.

Has the success of Avatar challenged you to try some new forms of filmmaking?

Spielberg: It is such an inspiration for all of us.

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