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Steven Soderbergh: The Complete Playlist Interview

Photo of Rodrigo Perez By Rodrigo Perez | The Playlist January 22, 2012 at 10:56AM

Anyone who's heard him at a Q&A, been present for one of his lectures, or even listened to a commentary knows one thing about Steven Soderbergh; he's a great conversationalist. Some filmmakers can barely talk about their own work, but a discussion with Soderbergh won't just involve him talking candidly about his own process and films, but also anything that happens to come up.
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Soderbergh Complete

Anyone who's heard him at a Q&A, been present for one of his lectures, or even listened to a commentary knows one thing about Steven Soderbergh – he's a great conversationalist. Some filmmakers can barely talk about their own work, but a discussion with Soderbergh won't just involve him talking candidly about his own process and films, but also anything that happens to come up.

We were lucky enough to sit down with the filmmaker a few weeks ago in support of his excellent actioner "Haywire," which opened on Friday, and our conversation ended up going on for forty-five minutes. So, while we've run edited highlights of the discussion over the last couple of days, we thought there might be some interest in the full version, so below, you can find the complete transcript of our interview with Soderbergh, with some material that wasn't included in earlier pieces. The director's cut, as it were. And furthermore, you can also listen to the interview via the Soundcloud player, or download it if you like. "Haywire" is in theaters now.

Soderbergh Che
You seem to be busier than ever at the moment; "Contagion" last September, "Haywire" in January, "Magic Mike" in the Summer, and "The Bitter Pill"...
It's not supposed to come out until March. But you never know.

You have a lot on the go, that's the way you like it?
Yeah for now, until I don't [laughs].

What is that? Is that keeping busy or your metabolism that seems to be a lot faster?
I get better results when I work quickly. I'm prone to overthink things if I’m allowed to and at a certain point in my career, I decided I need to, I need to treat it more like a sport. I need to be reacting to things quickly, and sort of make decisions and then move on. People are why do you have to stop, why don't you slow down? It doesn't work that way for me I don’t have gears, I just have on and off. It also keeps me from getting not bored. When you get stuck, or you reach a point where you're working on something and it's kind of lost its lustre, for the moment, the ability to jump over to something else for a few hours or a day or whatever, it always helps. You come back and you may have discovered something that helps you.

You could be editing a script, developing a project and making lateral creative moves?
Yeah I'm playing hooky with other work, so it ends up all coming together. But you have to know when to really, exclusively focus on something in order to move it to the next step. Sometimes it means the writer and I need to lock ourselves in a room for three days, and get a new draft. And it also means in this day and age, I tell this to young filmmakers whenever I give this sort of pseudo lecture, I say "Look, you need to create time in which you are not interrupted and people can't reach you." There are times when I need two or three hours where nobody can reach me, I'm not textable. Maybe that's a generational thing. My daughter can do homework with the TV and the iPod on.

Soderbergh Portrait
People watch movies while they're writing.
Yeah exactly. But for me, for certain things, I need to be isolated.

It strikes me that you're very self aware of your own strengths and weaknesses and then you can go "this is the time for this, and this is the time for that."
Yeah a lot of it's trial and error, and a lot of it's instinctual. You know, 'I feel like I want to jump onto this other thing for a minute.' All I can say is it's worked better then the other method, the first four films, which were much more deliberate, and I think the work really suffered. I was becoming a formalist. I was polishing stuff. When I did the Yes concert (Soderbergh's first directing job, 1985's "Yes: 9012 Live") way back when, they had an expression for that: polishing the vase while the house falls down. I could recognize that in myself, I was fixing little things and not seeing that there were larger problems, you know? I'm not a perfectionist, and I never have been, but there are times when, when on films that are working well, in the attempt to fix something small that's not quite right, you can really screw up something that works. You start pulling at the thread and suddenly stuff that worked isn't working anymore. Over the years, I've developed a good ability to keep seeing the film as though I'm seeing it for the first time. This can be difficult for the producers or the studio, because sometimes I'll generate four new cuts in a week, and to expect them to sit down and watch it end to end, and have them be able to look at it as if it's the first time they're seeing it.

Are they drastically different?
Sometimes yeah, but sometimes they’re different enough in ways that only become obvious as the film goes on. They can't sit there and watch a movie four times in six days but I can. And I love editing, it's fun for me to go "God, if you take this one scene and cut it in half, and push it to the last act, suddenly it's different."

That kind of deconstruction happened on "The Limey," right?
Well god, well that was a complete reimagining. I mean we just rebuilt it in the editing room.

From scratch?
Yeah that was the most drastic editing situation I’ve ever been in. That was scary, it was scary, I wasn't sure if we were going to figure that out and it took a while to figure it out.

The Limey
I loved the editing on that picture. I heard you tried to push it even further but then had to dial back.
Yeah we backed off a little bit. But it was a real count to ten you know moment of "don't panic, don't give up" but it was scary.

That's obviously written by Lem, and you had your famous little battles....
Things went a little smoother on this. To the point where we decided not to do a commentary because if we can't top the other one why do it? [note: the pair's commentary on "The Limey" is a candid must-listen.]

I guess the reason why is because you deconstructed the last one so much that it probably changed...
I think it was a combination of things, it might have been that. Lem's certainly not someone who's opposed to a new approach. There was probably a lot of residual frustration from "Kafka," which neither of us were happy with. It was just a good opportunity for Lem to vent about things in general about movies. I knew that's what was going to happen, and I wanted it to happen... you know, we need more of those.

But you don’t do them anymore, or you haven't in a while.
You can't do them alone. that's the big problem, and I haven't done them lately because, I guess I'm tired of talking about it. If you and I sit down, it's designed to be a sort of digressive, wide-ranging conversation. You're so restricted when you're doing one of these commentaries. You can't really go too far afield. And that's frustrating for me. And I've gotten to the point where I hate calling somebody up and saying, "will you come talk about me with me?" It just seems gross. I love doing it with other people. Like that's been really fun.

Yeah, "The Third Man" and others have been great.
I always learn something, it's fun to do it with another director, because then I can ask them questions and, and I get something out of it. So...maybe that will be my new career.

This article is related to: Steven Soderbergh, Haywire, Interviews, Magic Mike, Contagion, The Bitter Pill, Channing Tatum, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Lem Dobbs


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