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CALENDAR
8th February: Side Effects released (US)
15th March: Side Effects released (UK)


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UPCOMING PROJECTS

SIDE EFFECTS
Information | Photos | Official website Released: 8th February (US)


BEHIND THE CANDELABRA
Information | Photos | Official website Released: 2013


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NEW & UPCOMING DVDS
Now available from Amazon.com:
Haywire
Contagion

Now available from Amazon.co.uk:
Contagion

DVDs that include an audio commentary track from Steven:
Clean, Shaven - Criterion Collection
Point Blank
The Graduate (40th Anniversary Collector's Edition)
The Third Man - Criterion Collection
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?


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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 room window.

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 said.

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 chosen craft.

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 Nicholas Cage.

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 "Ocean's Eleven."

"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 happened."

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 Mr. Clooney.

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 wreckage behind."

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."

 


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