DreamWorks and HBOtake the high road with `Band of Brothers’

Jan 7, 2002  •  Post A Comment

At a time when studios are worried-costs are up, profits are down-and reality television is garnering headlines and critical recognition, DreamWorks SKG, is something of a light in the darkness.
This summer, the studio founded by Steven Spielberg, David Geffen and Jeffrey Katzenberg enjoyed a theater megahit in the animated “Shrek.” And this fall, in partnership with HBO, it introduced “Band of Brothers,” a 10-hour epic about a crack U.S. paratrooper unit that helped turn the tide at the Battle of Normandy, held Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge and stormed Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest base in Berchtesgaden. The miniseries was voted best of the genre in this installment of the Electronic Media Critics Poll.
With a budget of $120 million, the show is reportedly the most expensive television production ever made. It had eight directors, seven writers, a principal cast of more than 40, some 500 speaking parts and more than 10,000 extras. Based on the best seller by Stephen Ambrose, it took nine months to shoot, in part because executive producers Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks had lofty goals.
The relationship between DreamWorks and HBO began with Tom Hanks, who was particularly interested in Mr. Ambrose’s novel and saw it as a possibility for an HBO miniseries. When DreamWorks broached the idea, “It was a project that sounded so good, we couldn’t say no,” recalls Anne Thomopoulos, senior VP of original programming for HBO.
For HBO, undertaking the project was a huge commitment. “We had never done anything this big before. From the very beginning, we worked with producers; we were involved in the casting and choosing the directors, right through marketing and publicity,” Ms. Thomopoulos said.
From her point of view, what really made the show work was a commitment on the part of both DreamWorks and HBO to telling the story without adornment. “We all had the same philosophy-we wanted to tell the truth-not to sugarcoat or dramatize things, but to tell the story of this band of men.”
Ms. Thomopoulos said the cast, producers and directors developed close relationships with the real-life counterparts of the actors, who accompanied the cast and production company to Normandy for four days. Since then, one of them has died, a passing that particularly saddened Ms. Thomopoulos.
“We felt very privileged to get to know these gentlemen. The events that they lived through are lessons for all of us. It’s a gift to meet people who have been in those circumstances, done the right thing and come out the other side,” Ms. Thomopoulos said.
The first episode of the series aired two days before the events of Sept. 11. After that, Ms. Thomopoulos believes, people watched the shows from a different vantage point. “What the miniseries showed and what we take from it is magnified after the events of 9/11.”