A note to aspiring directors: Don't think that just because your first film won Cannes' Palme d'Or, or you made Jennifer Lopez a movie star, or you recently directed Julia Roberts, you're going to get any special treatment. Although Steven Soderbergh's upcoming Universal drama ''Erin Brockovich,'' starring Roberts as an eco-crusader, is already generating 2000 Oscar buzz, the director of ''sex, lies, and videotape'' and ''Out of Sight'' still can't get his next project, ''Traffic,'' okayed. Originally parked at Fox, the drug-war drama was put in turnaround, leaving Soderbergh free to shop it -- unless, Fox stipulated, Harrison Ford agreed to star.
The day Soderbergh was ready to settle elsewhere, Ford became interested, and the film made a U-turn back to Fox. But the studio still hasn't greenlit ''Traffic,'' and Soderbergh, who begins shooting the Rat Pack remake ''Ocean's 11'' this fall, is funding preproduction himself (he has already cast Catherine Zeta-Jones and plans to begin filming April 1). A Fox exec says ''Traffic'''s budget would be less than $30 million, and that Ford (who can fetch up to $20 mil per film) would have to sign a back-end deal; negotiations with the actor are stalled until Fox makes a decision. Says Soderbergh of the frustrating process, ''I'm just trying to look at it as [a study in] social anthropology.''