8th February: Side Effects released (US)
15th March: Side Effects released (UK)
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Released: 8th February (US)
BEHIND THE CANDELABRA
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NEW & UPCOMING DVDS
Now available from Amazon.com:
Now available from Amazon.co.uk:
DVDs that include an audio commentary track from Steven:
Clean, Shaven - Criterion Collection
The Graduate (40th Anniversary Collector's Edition)
The Third Man - Criterion Collection
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Trying to Combine Art and Box Office in Hollywood
(New York Times, January 18, 2005)
You know anyone who
thinks this stuff lasts and is permanent, to me, is an idiot," said George
Clooney, as he tumbled onto the leather couch in his Hollywood Hills home two
weeks ago, a shower of raindrops falling on the swimming pool outside his living
Mr. Clooney was as somber as the Southern California weather then, far from the
43-year-old cocktail-sipping party host and celebrity prankster so popular in
tabloid magazines. Perhaps it was the recent back surgery that left him with two
rows of stitches along his spine and too many ruminations on his advancing age.
Mr. Clooney was particularly wistful about his five-year producing partnership
with Steven Soderbergh, the Academy Award-winning director of "Traffic" and
"Erin Brockovich." The two men created their company, Section Eight, hoping to
recreate the heady days of Hollywood in the late 1960's and early 1970's, when
innovative filmmakers like Francis Ford Coppola and Stanley Kubrick worked free
of corporate restraints.
But what Section Eight has aspired to in maverick spirit, it has so far lacked
in popular appeal, and Mr. Clooney suggested that he and Mr. Soderbergh would
split when their deal expired with Warner Brothers Pictures in two years.
"Steven and I both look at it, like, there are other things we want to do," he
Since the early 1990's, many prominent actors and directors have created their
own production companies, largely to produce their own projects. Section Eight
took a different approach, seeking to give emerging directors a voice in an
increasingly hostile studio system in which executives are afraid to offend
worldwide audiences and independent filmmaking has largely disappeared. But Mr.
Clooney and Mr. Soderbergh, one of the most powerful teams in Hollywood, have
struggled under the crushing demand of studio meetings, correspondence and
project development, while, at the same time, trying to remain vital in their
Aside from the blockbuster "Ocean's Eleven" and its sequel, "Ocean's Twelve,"
directed by Mr. Soderbergh and starring Mr. Clooney, Section Eight has produced
few bona fide hits. "Welcome to Collinwood" cost $8 million to make but brought
in only $334,000 at the domestic box office in 2002. Last year's "Criminal," a
quirky tale of two con men directed by Mr. Soderbergh's long-time assistant
director, Gregory Jacobs, was a $10 million flop.
Other highly anticipated projects, including Mr. Clooney's directorial debut,
"Confessions of a Dangerous Mind," came and went with barely a shudder. But what
really set Hollywood atwitter was Warner Brothers' unusual step last August of
firing the director of "Rumor Has It," the $55 million Jennifer Aniston romantic
comedy from Section Eight that is to be released this year.
"My motivation is not to make money which, on occasion, makes us a sorry
proposition," said Mr. Soderbergh in a telephone interview last week. "I think
you could make an argument that it is not important to have too much taste as a
producer if you are working for a large company. It's hard to find commercial
stuff that doesn't make you feel bad in the morning."
As such, producing quality movies, which means securing financing, overseeing
scripts and coddling the insecure actress or director on set when needed, has
proved a hard education for the two men. "There is the weird paradox of having a
company like this if the personalities are like mine and George's," added Mr.
Soderbergh. "If you are going to do something and do it well, you have to apply
yourself. But we both have day jobs. It has become overwhelming. We both talk
about how can we sustain it. It's just such a mountain of work."
Mr. Clooney said the two minimized their risk - and that of their investors - by
cutting their fees and keeping budgets low. (Except for the "Ocean's" movies,
Section Eight has never made a movie for more than $50 million; most have cost a
small fraction of that amount.) Producing fees, like the $400,000 Mr. Clooney
said they earned on "Insomnia," are plowed into other projects. And they reach
out to nontraditional Hollywood financiers, like Todd Wagner, the business
partner of Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks basketball team, to pay for
projects they are passionate about but major studios will not fund.
One of those is "Goodnight, and Good Luck," a black-and-white film about the CBS
commentator Edward R. Murrow, which Mr. Clooney will direct. "I'm not looking to
make my money back," said Mr. Clooney. "I just don't want to lose Todd Wagner
any more cash."
Like almost every Hollywood venture, Section Eight was hatched over a meal. It
was 1999 and Mr. Soderbergh and Mr. Clooney were dining at Jones in Hollywood,
discussing what movies they wanted to make. Mr. Clooney, a handsome leading man
who had starred in "Out of Sight" and "Three Kings," was looking for a new
producing partner because his tastes differed from those of Robert Lawrence, his
previous partner. "Robert's ideas were doing 'The Rock' kind of movies," said
Mr. Clooney, referring to the action adventure starring Sean Connery and
Mr. Soderbergh's taste skewed toward the offbeat but socially relevant -
"Traffic" was a film about drug wars and "Erin Brockovich" a toxic waste
lawsuit. Still, he was intrigued.
"Look, if we can keep it lean and mean and it's fun, I'm in," Mr. Soderbergh
said he told Mr. Clooney.
The two pitched the idea of a production company to Warner Brothers Pictures,
where Mr. Clooney had a long relationship. "We said, 'Neither of us are looking
to get rich as a company, so we can bring you the lowest overhead of any company
you'll ever have,' " said Mr. Clooney.
Warner Brothers, which was seeking producers with potential Oscar cachet,
agreed. In 2000, it gave the two men Jack Warner's old office on the Warner lot
as well as about $1 million to cover overhead, said Mr. Clooney. (The resources
have since increased to about $1.5 million with a small staff that includes Ben
Cosgrove and Jennifer Fox as co-presidents.) The company's philosophy was
straightforward: Give filmmakers a wide berth and protect them from studio
meddling. "I'd rather let someone learn from what they've done than chokehold
them," said Mr. Soderbergh.
Mr. Clooney and Mr. Soderbergh have shown a knack for promoting some of the most
creative minds in Hollywood. Chris Nolan, who previously directed the thriller
"Memento," was hired to direct "Insomnia," starring Robin Williams and Al Pacino.
It was a hit in 2002, earning $67 million at the domestic box office. Mr. Nolan
is now directing Warner's big-budget spectacle "Batman Begins."
While "Welcome to Collinwood" was a financial bust, the directors and writers,
Anthony and Joe Russo, went on to direct the Fox television standout, "Arrested
Development." Stephen Gaghan, the Academy Award-winning writer of "Traffic," is
directing "Syriana," an upcoming Section Eight movie he also wrote.
Section Eight is one of the few production companies of its kind to have such
influence. Todd Haynes, the writer and director of "Far From Heaven," which was
nominated for four Academy Awards in 2002, said the making of that movie was
contingent upon Mr. Soderbergh having final cut on the film. (Mr. Soderbergh has
final cut on a lot of director's movies, even Mr. Clooney's.)
"It's a weird alliance between this popular and this nerdy guy,"
said Mr. Haynes. "But they became this super powerhouse."
But Section Eight's approach to talent has not always worked. Last summer Warner
Brothers took the almost unheard-of step of firing the first-time director Ted
Griffin from "Rumor Has It," a Section Eight project. Mr. Griffin was a close
friend of Mr. Soderbergh's and Mr. Clooney's who had written the script for
"I'm sure George would side with me on this, but it is a scarlet letter for the
company," Mr. Soderbergh said. "Not the movie. The experience. It shouldn't have
Mr. Griffin declined several requests to discuss his experience publicly. Mr.
Clooney said that Mr. Griffin had approached Mr. Soderbergh in 2001 about
producing a romantic comedy he was writing based on the characters in "The
Graduate," and wanted to direct. Mr. Soderbergh agreed, and in May 2003 the
script was done.
"Ted got the project to Jennifer Aniston and Jen liked it," said Mr. Clooney.
Warner Brothers agreed to make "Rumor" for $40 million, a
budget four times larger than those of most Section Eight movies. "In the
history of our company, not once have we had a 'go' picture that quick," said
Filming began on July 21, 2004. But within a few days there was trouble on the
set, said Mr. Clooney, Warner executives and others
involved in the movie. Mr. Griffin clashed with Ed Lachman, the movie's
cinematographer, whom he later fired, and Warner executives were displeased with
the early daily footage that had been shot. "He wasn't getting what he should
have been getting," said Jeff Robinov, Warner's president of production. Some of
the actors too, including Ms. Aniston, were getting nervous.
Mr. Soderbergh and Mr. Clooney had been preoccupied with "Ocean's Twelve" and
less involved in the movie's early stages. "The truth is, we never really felt
like it was going," said Mr. Clooney. On July 29, Mr. Clooney said, Warner
executives visited his "Ocean's Twelve" trailer and told him and Mr. Soderbergh
that they were considering pulling the plug. "The studio was like, 'We're in on
this one and it's a big one,' " said Mr. Clooney.
Mr. Clooney said he and Mr. Soderbergh told studio executives they should stop
production and cut their losses - near $20 million. Instead, studio executives
wanted to find a new director, in part because the studio would have had to bear
the full cost of an abandoned project. The next day Mr. Soderbergh fired Mr.
Griffin. He was succeeded by Rob Reiner, an experienced director and a good
friend of Alan Horn, the Warner studio chief.
The fallout has been significant, with hurt feelings and lost friendships. The
movie's budget escalated. Section Eight did not accept its $600,000 producing
fee. And Mr. Soderbergh said he had been hearing some Hollywood gossip that he
fired Mr. Griffin because Mr. Griffin refused his request to write the script
for "Ocean's Twelve." Mr. Soderbergh says the gossip is not true.
"If you dragged me into court for paying too little attention, I'd be in jail,"
said Mr. Soderbergh. "It's a huge, huge learning curve with a lot of human
In Hollywood, though, there is always the next project. And Mr. Soderbergh and
Mr. Clooney are buzzing about their upcoming movies, including "The Jacket," a
thriller about a military veteran who sees the future, and "A Scanner Darkly,"
starring Keanu Reeves. But they seem most excited about "Syriana," an espionage
drama about politics and the oil trade set in the Middle East - and not just
because they might end up making a lot of money; they probably won't. They do
hope to leave something behind that writers and directors 30 years from now will
want to look back on.
"If it ends up being a wash, we win because we got some interesting stuff made,"
said Mr. Soderbergh. "Maybe that's not what you want to hear from a producer,
but we can't lie."