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Soderbergh and Mann: Too Smart for the Room?

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood July 1, 2009 at 2:30AM

As much as I want to see the Steven Soderbergh/Brad Pitt version of Moneyball, reality needs to return to the movie business. Soderbergh himself occupies a strange nexus within Hollywood. He once told me that he didn't want to direct movies out of the back seat of a limousine. And he is willing to play studio ball or indie ball, as he sees fit. At the same time, like all gifted directors, he wants to push himself, and the art form. But he often loses interest in what movie audiences might want. (UPDATE: On Soderbergh's upcoming Warners' agro-business comedy The Informant!, starring Matt Damon, which is set to debut at September's Toronto Film Fest, the director was eager to be "audience friendly," says co-financeer Groundswell CEO Michael London.)
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As much as I want to see the Steven Soderbergh/Brad Pitt version of Moneyball, reality needs to return to the movie business. Soderbergh himself occupies a strange nexus within Hollywood. He once told me that he didn't want to direct movies out of the back seat of a limousine. And he is willing to play studio ball or indie ball, as he sees fit. At the same time, like all gifted directors, he wants to push himself, and the art form. But he often loses interest in what movie audiences might want. (UPDATE: On Soderbergh's upcoming Warners' agro-business comedy The Informant!, starring Matt Damon, which is set to debut at September's Toronto Film Fest, the director was eager to be "audience friendly," says co-financeer Groundswell CEO Michael London.)

Sony chief Amy Pascal (who explains herself to the LAT's Patrick Goldstein) has every right to pull the plug on a movie that started to look too risky for a $57 million starter budget. Add marketing costs and the movie would have to score at least $100 million theatrically, and the DVD cushion isn't there anymore. (The NYT reports its Moneyball analysis here. And the WSJ reports on Paramount's efforts to outsource some home entertainment back office operations.)

That's the real reason that reality has set in. Soderbergh has also stated that the economics of the movie business are out of whack. He's right. A correction is long overdue. But I hate to see worthy movies going by the wayside. It would make sense for more filmmakers to step into the "specialty" side of the business and make these risky movies for a price.

Of course the Soderberghs and Michael Manns of the world want to express themselves as artists. And ride the studio gravy train. But the studios are not going to indulge their whims anymore at high budget levels. I'd hate for Public Enemies' mixed reception to give the studios an excuse to not make movies like this anymore. I also don't want Universal execs to abandon their willingness to try out-of-the-box movies that sometimes work (Wanted, Mamma Mia!) and sometimes don't (State of Play, Duplicity). The last thing we want is for them to make more movies like Land of the Lost!

Kim Masters examines Mann's movie m.o..

Because it's only going to get tougher for smart movies for adults to get made, moviemakers who land a chance at bat need to hit these films out of the park--and connect with audiences. Now is not the time for navel-gazing and experimentation at big-budget levels. That's the deal.

originally posted on Variety.com


This article is related to: Box Office, Headliners, Summer Movies, Summer, Brad Pitt


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.