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Big thanks to kgn, who attended the Q&A session with Steven Soderbergh at the Edinburgh International Film Festival, for writing up and sharing the report below about what Steven discussed.
(Based on notes, impressions and research by kgn and with permission from Shane Danielsen.)
Shane Danielsen interviews Steven Soderbergh for 'Reel Life' at Edinburgh International Film Festival, Saturday 19 August 2006.
Steven Soderbergh arrived to vigorous applause directly from the airport where he reportedly had landed only 47minutes earlier. His luggage had not arrived with him and having also had a 25 minutes wait on a landing strip listening to someone’s mobile phone call recounting what “you really don’t want anyone else to hear”, Shane Danielsen, suggested they’d start with a clip so everyone could catch their breath.
More warm and vigorous applause made it clear the audience was at least as grateful for Steven Soderbergh’s arrival here as he must have been himself.
(“Sex, Lies and Videotapes” clip of the scene where Andie MacDowell’s character comes to James Spader’s character’s house and asks him to make a tape of her.)
Shane suggested it still worked if not for Spader’s jeans, but Steven Soderbergh wasn’t having it; it was “very much of a time”, he said, before telling a little anecdote about the filming and how a local guy using a leaf-blower near by had to be paid off repeatedly.
The answer as to Steven Soderbergh’s response could lay in a remark he made shortly after: “I’m still figuring out what I want to do”; having made more than a career’s worth of movies since and still very much the searching film maker, it could indeed easily be hard for him to find a present relevance in something he did back in 1989.
In his search Steven Soderbergh has formed some theories to explain what’s going on. One of them goes like this: “filmmakers are a lot like their films” and not being “interested in amassing money” it has meant larger scale movies have been out of bounds for him.
He’s also got a theory explaining the rate of great movies being produced: he believes that in any one year, whether there’re 500 or 5000 made, there can only be 7-8 great movies amongst them. In ’93 he made “King of the Hill”…….. ”My mum likes it” he said expressing another bit of subtle dry humour sitting just above detectable levels.
So had this keenly aware director been surprised by the outcome of some productions? Not always and on one occasion it had been obvious quite early on: he knew “2 weeks into filming Schizopolis, it was going to be rubbish”.
He “had to start over” and with “Out of Sight” made a “conscious attempt to lift my career”. Shane Danielsen, now having fun trying to get just one compliment accepted, praised “Out of Sight” - Steven Soderbergh, however, is far too loyal to his attitude of “still figuring things out” for that to have slipped passed him: “It’s not as flawed as others I’ve made…it’s the least flawed movie I’ve made” he said.
Even that seemed a hard self-admission to come up with and it was time to tug into the grouse which had made it’s timely landing on the table…….. Steven Soderbergh proved a wonderful exponent for the local tipple, and if claims it would help cure jet-lag were true, he looked set to be cured before the interview was over.
Thus replenished Steven Soderbergh was ready to explain his take on how to handle “flawed”: there’s a “difference between bad and failed – bad can get tough”.
As it happened “Out of Sight” was neither “bad” nor “failed” and lifted not only Steven Soderbergh’s career, but also the career of George Clooney, whom Steven Soderbergh had seen on ER. Both were widely “considered to have potential not yet showed” and, sounding grateful, Steven Soderbergh wanted it to be known that you “can’t underestimate the choices people in that position make”.
About Section Eight he said it had been a "really nice little ride" but also that it “ends March ’07”. He and George Clooney had decided to have it stay lean and mean, but more meetings etc. appeared, and though Steven Soderbergh considers himself lucky and usually "jump out of bed to go to work", it just stopped being fun.
Shane Danielsen suggested there was also a risk of losing a friendship if they didn't stop in time, but Steven Soderbergh never really commented one way or the other, but added, as another way to explain ending the company, that he had "too much respect for producers" – and that he'd found he wasn’t one of them.
Responding to Shane Danielsen having counted 19 producers in film credits and wondering what they all did, Steven Soderbergh said he wasn't even sure Hollywood knew what a producer does. “It's depressing” and "not cool to take credit for something you didn't do” was his comment.
It was time to find out about the two Oscar nominations. By now it was obvious Steven Soderbergh wasn’t about to take credit for it, but would more likely respond with dry humour – and so he did: Maybe it was due to “money well spent?” He had used the same crew and were piggybagging one to the next and “Traffic” had been in development for a while when, on set at the huge mansion on that film, he was first told the Erin story.
Later, in “editorial hell on “Limey””, the script was sent to him and with Julia Roberts already attached and seemingly good with how Steven Soderbergh wanted to do it, they went ahead.
For the filming they had gone to the kind of place where meths houses can be spotted by how “super clean inside” they are and by the men having taken engines apart outside on the lawn. Steven Soderbergh himself stayed at a Holiday Inn for “4 weeks – the happiest of my life”, it had been “such a joy” and he had “just kind of watched” it happen. Albert Finney had also been a real treat to work with.
Steven Soderbergh is open to most any films, though a western has got to “be really good”. Still - any talk about journeyman directors and auteur theory Steven Soderbergh just feel “doesn’t matter”. He just knows he’s “not an original” like some he could mention, and that he’s “got to work with what I can” and “shouldn’t write anymore”, that ““Sex, Lies” is an anomaly” in that sense. “I’m most happy with the movies I didn’t write. “Out of Sight” was a model for what I think I can do”, he said.
About other talents he may or may not have: he is his own cinematographer and editor, but has “no idea of casting.” When Shane teasingly suggests costumes Steven Soderbergh was quick as a flash: “No idea of costumes…….as you can see – it’s my airline outfit.”
(He also talked about how directors more often have the last word in films and writer and producers in TV production, maybe indicating he’s not likely to work in TV.)
Steven Soderbergh worked for a very good photographer early on in his career but was just “irritating them with all my questions”. Later “I knew what I wanted” and it was hard when you are working with a photographer who “can’t shoot a bad image”. That’s when Steven Soderbergh decided to become his own D.O.P. And thought up another theory: “60% of a good idea is better than 100% of a bad idea.”
“It just took too long” working with others - he likes to work fast and actors working with him have expressed how they like that about him too. There’s also the added advantage of knowing the director and the D.O.P. is the same, closely watching the shot for the notes he gives them - there’s “no better way to judge” Steven Soderbergh confirmed.
An audience member sneezed and was immediately offered a “bless you” from Steven Soderbergh. There’s a humble side to him which also comes across in the way he handles his many job descriptions in film credits: “Hollywood doesn’t know the word “enough” but “I just like my name being there once” he said, and uses some of his father’s names for D.O.P. and his mother’s maiden name for editing.
As if the all round decent film maker needed to prove his decency any further another story presented itself: When early in his career Steven Soderbergh had spoken ill of another film maker, he had felt the need to go apologize, explaining you can speak of work you have seen, but it was “not cool” to speak of people you haven’t met. He had also thus early on “learned you can’t say what you want.”
Despite years in the business he still has no idea how he’s perceived, but had noticed a thing or two about the Hollywood business men: Hollywood meets the likes of him with “freaked wide eyes”. They live by straight lines so when there’s been failure they only imagine the line continuing. And “hedge-fund? What is that?” Maybe a “Euphemism for people ready to lose their money?” “These are like people’s money – pensions!” Under Steven Soderbergh’s breath you can just hear him say: “someone should be punished for “Poseidon””.
“George and I gamble on ourselves” and “Perfect Storm” was the only film George got full pay” for, so Steven Soderbergh has thought about what could be done: “revolution takes casualties” and he suggests capping up front salaries for actors – but “what agent would buy that?”
“Do you read reviews?” Shane Danielsen wonders. But no – he stopped in 1999-2000. “Polanski is right – if you believe the good, you have to believe the bad ones too”, besides “negative comments couldn’t highlight” anything he wouldn’t already have seen himself. “I’m cool with “I don’t like it” – not with “I don’t understand it” – then I did something wrong.”
As if to explain this point further he goes on to mention “Full Frontal” is a comedy, how much of a great time he had with James Cameron and how great a producer Cameron is before deeming “Solaris” too slow and well lit to be set in the future where it’ll “all go fast and be badly lit”. It also wasn’t entertaining enough and “suicide is not a point people relate to”.
He thinks “it's important to make stuff that's not important - silly stuff” and found e.g. “Scary Movie 4” had some 'funny shit' in it, but “comedy is hard” to make. So how did the “Ocean’s” come about? He and George Clooney got sent the script at the same time, and Steven Soderbergh had accepted a job that was to be much harder than “Traffic” ever was, mainly because of the need for action and maybe 11 people talking at one time. Add to that a goal of not repeating a shot and a director who doesn’t “like to storyboard.”…….
After the complicated “Ocean’s 12” and especially George wanting "to go out strong" they are now working on “Ocean’s 13”, which will be the last in the series. Steven Soderbergh told the festival audience “Ocean’s 13” is a comedy, production is going well and Al Pacino is a great bad guy - in fact "this guy's a monster!"
David Holmes is back to compose the original music - "He did “Ocean’s 12” too and he's so good. So gifted", said Steven Soderbergh.
Before the questions from the floor Steven Soderbergh solidified his decency:
He wanted to make up for having let Shane Danielsen down in last years programming, and offered his time this year even though it meant stopping the filming of Oceans 13 and producing some nifty scheduling over the weekend. For him it was a case of “you have to do that.”
He added he would have liked to not only just come here, but to have brought “The Good German”, but that will now go to Berlin(so close, yet so far!). He would also have liked to have brought the 5 minute trailer they used to raise money for Che with, but also didn’t. Adding tease to his attributes……….
Questions were raised:
About work and actors:
On that anticipatory note the interview ended and we saw his profile leaving through the side door to great applause.
(Titles and Steven Soderbergh Quotes in quotation marks only.)
In case you were wondering: Hedge fund - Definition (http://www.investorwords.com/2296/hedge_fund.html)
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