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Status of filmmaking upsets Spielberg

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On the outside, Steven Spielberg may appear to be a rational, happy guy, but he's extremely angry about the state of modern-day filmmaking.

Among the current crop of filmmakers who are drawing Spielberg's wrath are director Michael Bay and producer Jerry Bruckheimer, who teamed for the movies "The Rock" and "Armageddon."Though he didn't refer to either man by name, Spielberg was definitely referring to them when he said that some filmmakers aren't giving Americans enough credit for their intelligence.

"When you're recruiting directors based on their rock video or television commercial work, you're doing a real disservice," he said. "That's not to say all of them are awful, but some have learned bad habits from working on commercials - that they have to have a conclusion, a climax, every 30 seconds.

"You have to believe that audiences will sit still for a longer period of time than that," he continued. "Americans aren't as stupid as these people think."

Still, despite scoring major box-office hits with "E.T. - The Extra-Terrestrial," "Jurassic Park" and the three Indiana Jones films, as well as critical plaudits for "Schindler's List," Spielberg isn't completely confident that he's got his finger on the movie-going pulse.

In fact, he almost sounded a bit nervous as he fielded questions about the graphic nature of "Saving Private Ryan." The R-rated World War II drama is possibly the most realistic war film ever made, at least in terms of violent content, and almost received an NC-17 rating from the Motion Picture Association of America.

"I definitely took some risks in making the film. This is not a kinder, gentler movie, and that's because of the subject matter," he said. "To be honest, I grappled over the question of how much violence is too much. But this is a story I didn't want to soft-sell. It's too important for that."

That may sound like hyperbole coming from a young filmmaker, but it's obvious that the 50-year-old director believes that statement. After all, he's not above criticizing even his own work these days.

For instance, Spielberg now admits to being embarrassed by "1941," the 1979 comedy about Japanese aircraft attacking Los Angeles around the same time as the Pearl Harbor attack, which bombed at the box office.

"It was an interesting idea . . . at least I thought it was," he said. "Looking back on it I'm wondering if maybe I didn't have the filmmaking skills to make it work."

Similarly disappointing, at least artistically, was "The Lost World: Jurassic Park," which was pitched to him as a story idea by novelist Michael Crichton.

"The ideas Michael had were interesting," Spielberg said. "But what wound up on-screen was not what we had discussed."

As a consequence of his "Lost World" experiences, Spielberg turned down offers to direct another "Jurassic Park" sequel - though he will be serving as executive producer on the project.

"People want to believe that my making `The Lost World' was an economic decision, but it was an artistic decision, for better or worse," he said. "But them making another one is definitely a business decision. I'll still be there to give them advice if they need it, though."

In addition to his filmmaking efforts - he has begun pre-production on an adaptation of Arthur Golden's bestselling novel "Memoirs of a Geisha" - Spielberg is keeping busy these days with his duties at Dreamworks SKG, the television and film production company he founded with Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen.

At Dreamworks, he has helped recruit a corps of young directors to work on film for the studio, including Gore Verbinski ("Mouse Hunt") and Mimi Leder ("Deep Impact," "The Peacemaker").

And though he has stated his distaste for the work of some who have previous small-screen credits, that's where he "discovered" Leder (through her work on the series "ER").

"I think television is an ideal medium for some directors to develop. They have to work on time, get things done on schedule, sometimes with very limited budgets," Spielberg said. "For people like Mimi, it works wonders. She's going to have a great career. The best thing I could do is pass the torch on to her."