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Steven Soderbergh: The Complete Playlist Interview

The Playlist 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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To some it would seem like you're ticking off genres. But I guess "Contagion" is a horror in some sense.
Yeah that's the way I looked at it, that was my version of a horror movie.

Which is very different from your traditional horror.
Yeah, but it was, we joked about it, but it was true, it's an Irwin Allen movie. I can't do Westerns, I'm terrified of horses, which is unfortunate.

Two which eluded you: Westerns and musicals.
Well, [the musical] almost happened, I might do "Cleo" [an aborted musical version of "Anthony & Cleopatra," with Hugh Jackman and Catherine Zeta-Jones, with music from Robert Pollard of Guided By Voices] onstage. It's too bad I don't like Westerns because Scott Frank has an original western that he's written that's spectacularly good, like great.

And you don’t like Western films?
I just don't want to make one.

But you enjoy like a John Ford or an Anthony Mann film?
Yeah but the idea of being out there around a bunch of horses, I can’t do it.

I guess you're looking for new tools and elements to keep yourself on your toes, one of the things that strikes me that you didn't get to do that you almost did, almost twice was 3D.
Yeah, although that's not a genre. "Cleo" would have really been the one. Because that was such a stylized piece. It's a Ken Russell movie and it really leant itself to going crazy with the 3D shit. So it would have been really fun.

There was talk that you might have done Contagion in 3D.
I did some tests, yeah.

Isn't Peter Jackson using the same cameras that you would have done?
He's using the Epic, I'm sure.

So you did tests and it didn't work?
I was worried about these two sort of go-to shots if you're making a drama. You know a contemporary drama, not "Hugo." That the over the shoulder and the clean single were distracting to me in this context.

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In that style of film?
In that style, yeah. I mean, it surprised me, I didn't anticipate it until I saw it. The over the shoulder is kind of annoying because there’s this blob in your lap on one side of the screen, and the clean single just looks like they've been cut out and pasted onto a background. But it's an interesting tool, maybe. If I'd had more time... it was a tight schedule and if it weren't so tight I might have gone "alright." But I could tell I would have had to rethink every shot. If you're going to create shots with depth that aren't distracting and annoying, you've really got to spend time getting all of the elements right. I just knew this was a run'n'gun movie in terms of the schedule, I knew there was no fucking way. It was not the one to experiment on.

Going back to the retirement thing, do you find it interesting that some people are like, "this cannot be happening, this is a lie, he's going to renege"?
Yeah I think it’s amusing, because a  couple of months into it it's just going to become such a non story. I find it amusing that people keep asking about it. I know three months after it's started nobody's going to give a shit. The world will move on and the business will move on and nobody will care. That's why I think it's funny when people bring it up. Let's see if you're still calling six months after I get out.

People are just projecting I guess. Anybody that works with me and anybody that's around me understands. The point is it doesn't feel like a choice anymore than the work decisions I’ve made over the last ten or twelve years have felt like a choice. This is just something that has to be done. I have to slough this skin off and grow a new one. I'm really pleased with the work that I've been doing lately, I'm happy with what we've got coming. I feel like I’ll be leaving at a time where I was still able to see the ball and hit the ball. I would never want to be one of those filmmakers that people go "God, that last group of films, there was a big fall off." They're going to say it anyway, but I don't want to feel that.

Right, but even "Frenzy" is a pretty good Hitchcock film.
But it's the last good Hitchcock film, and that's on the heels of a couple of bad ones, you know, and then an underrated one. I really liked  "Marnie" more then most people. "Torn Curtain," a couple of good things in it. But "Topaz" is fucking unwatchable, as is "Family Plot." But there are a combination of reasons for that. I read about artists a lot and about filmmakers and try to figure out, well what happened. Why were John Huston and Luis Buñuel the only people that made really good movies right up until they died? I read this Hitchcock biography that came out a few years ago and was fascinated and saddened to hear that he wanted, after "Marnie" and "The Birds," he wanted to come to New York...when he saw what was happening in Europe, what Antonionini was doing, the permissiveness that was starting to take hold. He wanted to come to New York and shoot a black-and-white movie that had real violence in it. Prepped it, was ready to do it and [Universal chief Lew] Wasserman talked him out of it. Just said basically don't do that, you'll fuck up your brand. He had this really hardcore fucked-up movie that he wanted to come and do on the cheap and the people that were part of the cottage industry that he had created all talked him out of it. I just thought, god, how horribly sad that we didn't get to see that.[editor's note: he's talking about Hitchock's unmade "Kalidiescope," by the way].

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You have no brand.
No, my brand is no brand. Absolutely, it's an anti-brand.

Is that by design?
No, it's just my taste, I'm just restless.

When you're making a film, do you think "What kind of filmmaker do I need to be to make this one"?
Yeah, I try and disappear and rebuild myself as the right filmmaker for this piece. Just based on what I like to see. I think it's dangerous to be a brand, people get tired of brands, they switch brands. Brand loyalty is you know hard to come by. And frankly there's only two, maybe three directors that the public really knows by now, and will, if not show up, at least express a real interest in going to see their stuff. And so I think this whole idea of promoting yourself as a separate entity apart from the picture, I just don't get it.

Different from most filmmaker's choices.
It's a lot harder to be coming up now then when I came up. I can understand a young filmmaker really trying to figure out how do I distinguish myself? There's so many fucking movies and so many young filmmakers. How do you...now it's not even enough anymore that the movie's good. So I get it, but the problem is there's a real price to pay for that later. If you move into the world of referring to yourself in the third person, and start using words like first, best, only, then you're going to pay for that at some point.

"The Bitter Pill," you're shooting that soon?
Yeah April.

Channing’s going to be in that right?
I hope so.

Here's the audio. It's a pretty good conversation I think. Just note, it sort of starts and ends abruptly. We begin talking about "The Bitter Pill" release date and by the end my recorder cut off. If you enjoy this sort of thing, let us know and maybe we'll do it again.

The Playlist - Steven Soderbergh Interview - January 2012 by The Playlist

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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