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Steven Soderbergh Reveals He Dropped A Leni Riefenstahl Biopic To Do 'Contagion' Instead

Photo of Kevin Jagernauth By Kevin Jagernauth | The Playlist March 11, 2011 at 9:10AM

Throughout his film career -- which he is looking to step away from after he completes "Liberace" and "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." -- Steven Soderbergh has easily moved from digestible Hollywood blockbusters like the "Ocean's Eleven" trilogy to studio dramas like "Traffic" or "Erin Brokovich," to stylish genre exercises like "Kakfa" or "Out of Sight" to micro-indies like "Bubble" or "The Girlfriend Experience." But as the years have gone on, and Soderbergh's output continues at a brisk pace, the director has become savvy to the machinations of the Hollywood machine and shepherding a project that will likely be difficult to finance or even find an audience is no longer something the helmer is willing to do.
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Throughout his film career -- which he is looking to step away from after he completes "Liberace" and "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." -- Steven Soderbergh has easily moved from digestible Hollywood blockbusters like the "Ocean's Eleven" trilogy to studio dramas like "Traffic" or "Erin Brokovich," to stylish genre exercises like "Kakfa" or "Out of Sight" to micro-indies like "Bubble" or "The Girlfriend Experience." But as the years have gone on, and Soderbergh's output continues at a brisk pace, the director has become savvy to the machinations of the Hollywood machine and shepherding a project that will likely be difficult to finance or even find an audience is no longer something the helmer is willing to do.

In an extensive interview with Studio 360, Soderbergh reveals that his upcoming virus thriller "Contagion" came about because a biopic that he was developing with writer Scott Z. Burns just didn't make much business sense. "We just wrapped shooting on this film 'Contagion' which was written by Scott Burns who wrote 'The Informant!,'" Soderbergh explained. "This [movie] came about because Scott Burns and I spent six months working a project about the documentary filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl who made documentaries for the Nazis. And suddenly I just said 'Nobody is going to go see this. Like literally, it's going to be me and you.' And I go, 'I can't do this anymore. I can't spend two years making no money on something that I know no one is gonna see.' And I said, 'What else have you got?' And he goes, 'Well, I want to make a movie about about a pandemic.' And I go, 'Let's do that.'"

Soderbergh goes on to admit that age is partially a factor in making that kind of decision; that he doesn't have that fire a younger filmmaker might have to take on as difficult a project as a Riefenstahl biopic would be. But he also adds that, contrary to what some might think, he does want people to see his movies. "It's a public art form. You want people to see them, even though you may look at some of my choices and think, 'I don't believe that,'" Soderbergh said.

As you probably well know, Riefenstahl was a documentarian for the Nazis whose most infamous film was "Triumph of the Will." Yet despite the objections to her affiliations with Adolf Hitler and the Nazis, Riefenstahl is regarded by many as a pioneering and influential filmmaker who, despite the subject matter of her works, was an incredibly accomplished and talented director. And Soderbergh's project isn't the first time Hollywood has attempted to get a biopic off the ground. Over a decade ago, Jodie Foster was producing and developing a biopic about Riefenstahl as a potential starring vehicle but obviously, it never got made.

So we'll have to consign the project as one of the great "What ifs," but there is still plenty of Soderbergh to come. "Haywire" and "Contagion" will both hit theaters this year. You can listen to full interview with Soderbergh below.

This article is related to: Films, Contagion, Scott Z. Burns


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