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Steven Soderbergh & Shane Carruth Talk ‘Upstream Color,’ Its Lack Of Cats & Suspicious Marketing In China

Photo of Rodrigo Perez By Rodrigo Perez | The Playlist April 9, 2013 at 1:18PM

Now "retired" filmmaker Steven Soderbergh has Oscars, a Palme d'Or and other accolades to his name. At a whirlwind pace, he directed 26 feature-length films in 24 years (not counting shorts and TV projects) mostly free of any signature filmmaking brand, omnivorously moving from style and genre to style and genre to keep things fresh. And while Soderbergh is well-celebrated for his contributions to cinema, one thing audiences tend to forget is his mentorship and how the "Side Effects" helmer got behind several filmmakers.
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Shane Carruth, Steven Soderbergh, IFC Center Q&A
Helena Wolfenson/IFC Center
How do you judge information that you want to stick because I find that always, I'm always stunned what people latch onto and what they don't.
I don't know. That's tough. I wouldn't be comfortable with something like a test screening because I wouldn't know what to do with it. I wouldn't know what 85 percent of people are getting it, means something or doesn't. With all the collaborators, Amy, David, our production designer Tom Walker, once we had confidence in what we were doing and it felt like a true collaboration at that point, If I'm getting this and a couple other people are, that's more or less it. I guess I'm just not that worried about that. It's like "Primer" which is one of the most obtuse films out there and yet I feel like there was consensus that formed that pretty much nailed everything the film was attempting to do so if a narrative is purposefully going to be veiled in some way, I don't know how to decide how veiled it should be other than to go by my sensibilities. That’s it I guess.

"I’ve got this woman who is haunted by soundscapes, she is looking for pebbles underwater as part of -- maybe I shouldn’t say too much about that."
Are you an outdoorsy type? Are you concrete or dirt?
I have a Denim shirt. No, not really. I don’t spend a lot of time in nature. Probably less than most people that live in urban Texas. The nature in the film arises from – I needed this construct and I needed it to satisfy this criteria. And I think there’s a lot of ways to do that. If you just want to strip someone of their identity, their narrative, I think there’s lots of ways to do that. It could be they get in a car wreck and there’s amnesia or it could be an alien presence or a pharmaceutical one, or all of these different things, but what I needed was something that didn’t feel specific, didn’t feel modern, didn’t feel foreign as if it had entered the arena in some way, because that would be saying something about where it comes from and I don’t want it to come from anywhere. I want it to always be here. I want what’s different about this is Kris’ experience, not how she’s put into this system, but how she gets out. And I guess I was worried if it was anything other than that it would be too pointed and that lead me to – well, if it’s been here forever, that goes to the natural world and if it’s got a life cycle, it’s got a cycle.

Was the pigfarmer/sound composer there from the script stage?
He was. There was a slightly different version of him at the beginning of the writing process he was a originally going to be a reclusive composer and so when he’s moving through his goldfish bowl of emotional experiences, this corral of pigs and shopping for the right experience to be inspired by, it would be to help him in his composing work. But it was meant to be for his symphony and at the end, he would be launching that symphony and coming back into the city and all of our abductees would respond to hearing a bit of advertisement on the radio – that’s what they would key into and that’s what would bring them together. That got thrown out.

So it’s not an accident that "Walden" gets thrown into this circle of ideas. Is that your favorite nature book? It’s free.
[Laughs] It is free; it is in the public domain. It was that and that I had to put Kris through these menial tasks that she’s meant to perform. I needed a work of fiction that she would be re-writing and re-writing page by page and creating these paper chains. Great, what is this book? My only recollection of Walden was reading it in high school and not having a positive experience with it. I thought of it as very dry and boring and you typically knew all you need to know with three pages of it. So I picked it knowing it had to do something with the natural world and knowing that it wouldn’t be anything that would incite someone to wake up from their hypnotic state because there’s not much going on in it and it’s very passive and meditative. And then I have this bizarre plot structure that’s using all of these elements from the natural world and it’s using light and sound in both figurative and real ways and so I go looking through Walden for a bit of prose that I need for the plot to connect a few moments here and there and it’s a very bizarre thing because I don’t know what to do with this. But I began to see a lot of language in there that’s too appropriate. There’s a line in my script with [the thief] saying “my head is made of the same material as the sun,” and I’m seeing phrases [in the book] that say, “a halo of light over my shoulder and the sun is but a morning star.” And there’s all this language of light and sound at a distance and the way sound works underwater and above water and [in my script] I’ve got this woman who is haunted by soundscapes, she is looking for pebbles underwater as part of -- maybe I shouldn’t say too much about that –

Upstream Color

God forbid.
[Laughs] And it just seemed way too appropriate so I almost got rid of it entirely. What it had looked like somebody had grabbed “Walden” and taken every fifth passage and said, “Ok, now that’s a plot” and I was worried about that. But it just ended up being too perfect so we ended up playing up some of the elements that I thought were more effective. Especially when Kris is in the pool near the end and she’s able to do nothing but recite lines from “Walden” then I would grab lines that were part of her experience. Like she says lines like, “for want of food and also sleep,” but they are appropriate to her experience.

Upstream Color” is in limited release now. To learn more about when it will come near you, check out the film’s website. For more Shane Carruth and unveiling the mysteries of “Upstream Color” you can read three parts of our interview with the filmmaker here (part 1), here (part 2) and here (part 3).

This article is related to: Upstream Color, Shane Carruth, Steven Soderbergh, Interviews


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