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Director Steven Soderbergh has his own approach
Unlike a lot of other hot shot young directors, Steven Soderbergh never went to film school. He never had time, he was too busy on the job - he was hauling cables with film crews at 14. That was only two years after he'd seen Jaws, a movie that changed his life.
"It so completely terrified me that I began to wonder whose job was this to make this thing that was keeping me up nights. And I bought the Jaws Log, which is a book that Carl Gottlieb wrote about the making of the movie. And that was my first sort of sense of how these things took place," he says, seated in a beige and cream overstuffed chair in a hotel room here.
"But it wasn't till a year later that I actually got my hands on some equipment and thought this would be a really fun job to have. That's when it started," he says.
"I didn't know what was going to happen or when, but there was no question I was going to make a living in this business doing something. I love all the stuff you do on a film set. I love all the jobs. I think they're all interesting. If it turned out that… I was going to do something else in the film business - I would've done that. I wanted to make movies."
Soderbergh was 25 when his Sex, Lies and Videotape exposed the inner angst of the self-deceiving yuppies to great acclaim. He went on to master a variety of films, including Out of Sight, The Limey, this year's smash, Erin Brockovich and his new thriller, Traffic, which is about drug trafficking's effects on a diverse group of people.
The Georgia-born Soderbergh began by working on commercials and short films in Baton Rouge, La., where he grew up, the son of a teacher who also loved movies.
Filmmaking, for him, satisfies a blast furnace of interests. "It involves all the things I like," he says, leaning forward, his elbow on the arm of the chair.
"I like actors, I like writing, like photography. It seems to combine a lot of things I was interested in. I could draw well and was interested in visual stuff. I also liked to write and (do) photography," he says, sipping Evian for a slightly upset stomach.
Peering through black, horn-rimmed glasses and dressed in black Levi's, and a black, long-sleeved T-shirt, Soderbergh looks like an owlish scholar.
When envisioning a movie, he doesn't create storyboards - consecutive drawings depicting how each scene will look. "I try to SEE the frames in my mind," he says.
"I try to imagine the feeling of what we're trying to put across. I say (to the crew), 'It should look like this, it should feel like this’. I try to give them as many references as possible. But I haven't been a big storyboard person," he explains.
"With Sex, Lies and Videotape, I got to try a lot of different things, which was really good for me. I made a series of films that were very different that taught me a lot about my craft. But Sex, Lies was the first thing I'd done."
Shrugging, he says, "John Ford got to make 20 movies before he started making movies we remember now. These days you're supposed to spring full-blown out of nowhere, and that's really not fair. So I spent a good amount of time learning what I wanted to do and trying to figure out what I was good at and what I wasn't good at."
He figures he's best at getting the job done.
"If I have a strength, I think it's sort of a relentless pragmatism. The whole thing is just finding a way to do things. It's a fancy way of saying: 'Don't sweat the small stuff'. I try and take the long view about everything and pick my battles and invest energy where I think strategically it's needed and don't invest too much energy in things that, at the end of the day, are not seismic. I think that is a type of skill that I developed over the years."
In spite of his enviable filmmaking record, the pivotal moments in his life have all been personal - "getting married, getting divorced and my dad dying. Those are seismic things. Everything up to that point was sort of manageable," he says, "but those are things that sort of shake you."
Traumas of that kind can alter your work, too, he thinks.
"It doesn't change you immediately but shows up in ways you can't predict. Sometimes you don't even know until later," he says.
At 37, Soderbergh - the father of a 10-year-old daughter - maintains a low profile, avoiding the Hollywood razzle-dazzle when he can.
"If you decide not to get involved in the social aspects of the film business you have so much time on your hands that literally whenever I go, 'Sorry, I can't go to that screening, can't make that dinner party, sorry'. If you bail on all that stuff, you have all that free time to work."
For his next movie, a remake of the Rat Pack's first film Ocean's 11, Soderbergh admits he's treading water. "I'm not a very technically proficient director, not like some other directors," he says, nodding.
"And Ocean's 11 really requires that. So that's what's scary about it, that it doesn't play to my strengths in that regard. And I've got to train myself to think more along the lines of David Fincher or John McTiernan, people who are used to making very complex physical films. And that's not my metier."
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