had a London trailer for "Side Effects" that didn't test well, so had
to abandon it. Not that testing is all bad; especially for comedy. You
need 400 people that are not your friends to tell you what's wrong.
And yet "Magic Mike" tested poorly.
Effects" didn't do as well as they'd hoped. Was February 8th a bad
date? The Oscars had just been announced, and gave large bumps to the
nominated films. There was a storm in the Northeast, an important
market -- Nemo came in, was God getting him back for his comments on
monotheism? They sold it as a straight thriller, disconnected from
pervasive theme of pill-taking. There were four attractive white
people, that usually works. It was well-reviewed.
attempt to show how a certain kind of rodent might be better than a
studio in choosing movies. The rodent will take the button that gives
you a 60% chance of food over the one that gives you 40%. But the
studio increases their chances of choosing wrong. He would gather the
best filmmakers he could find -- he cites Shane Carruth, Amy Seimetz,
and Barry Jenkins -- and give them money and time, with which they could
make three movies or one. But that only works if you're good at
identifying talent. I
you're a studio, you need all kinds of movies. What they tried to do
at his company Section 8 only works if budgets are low. But what's most
profitable are big-budget home runs, not singles or doubles. It feels
better to spend $60,000,000 promoting a $100,000,000 movie instead of a
$10,000,000 one, and it's easier for a $100,000,000 movie to make
$320,000,000 than a $10,000,000 one to make $140,000,000.
maybe nothing's wrong. Maybe he's a clown. There are fewer releases,
and he reads a "Variety" article that says the studios have boosted the
financials of the conglomerates that own them. The international box
office now counts for 70% of a picture's returns, rather than 50%.
studios are one place where trickle-down economics actually work --
they spend more to make more -- not like the mortgage bullshit that
almost brought down the world.
are too many executives, too many that you have to talk to who can't
say yes. Why do the studios remake the famous movies? Why not the
infamous ones with interesting content? Even if they don't know about
those movies, surely they could hire somebody who did. The executive
ecosystem is distorted. They don't get punished for bombs the way
are the third biggest export the US has. It's one of the few things we
do that other people like. So he's no longer ashamed. He's wrong so
much it doesn't even raise his blood pressure anymore. One thing is that
admissions have changed -- from 1.5 billion ten years ago to 1.3
billion now. Theft is a big problem. He quotes Steve Jobs about
protection of intellectual property. It's not just because it's a
person's livelihood. It's wrong, and it changes you.
thinks that what people go to the movies for has changed since 9/11 --
collective PTSD. We haven't healed. We're looking more for escapist
entertainment. Only people who have it good will spend money on
entertainment to make you feel bad.
2003, 475 films were released. Last year, 673. And despite a 28% drop
in the number of studio films (versus 100% more in independents), they
have a 76% share of the market, which is greater than ten years ago. So
the independents are scrambling for a smaller piece of the pie.
is the force that is pushing cinema out of mainstream movies. He's
repaying karmic debt by making something good and beautiful.
There are a couple of movies that represent half a billion dollars. Kickstarter!
he doesn't want to bring this to a conclusion on a down note. He once
got a call from an agent who wanted him to see a movie that no
distributor would pick up. It was "Memento." He was upset -- if no one
would release this, it was over. But the people who made it formed
their own distribution company and made $25,000,000.
ends with this advice: if you're in a meeting -- the story can be
about genocide, a child killer, the worst kind of criminal atrocity --
stop yourself at some point and say "At the end of the day, this is a
movie about hope."
scarcely 45 minutes after Sodebergh began, he exited the stage without
pausing for the customary q-and-a. Leave them when they're wanting
more! I could almost feel the audience yearning to hear more about what
he had planned for his "retirement." To me he just sounded like he was
temporarily stepping away from the meetings with people who can't say
yes, but can attempt to simplify and homogenize your vision.
I'm sitting with my friend Alison Brantley, not only a respected
acquisitions exec but also Soderbergh's onetime sister-in-law (and aunt
of the 22-year-old girl whose possible equanimity in the face of
changing media he cited), I'm swept up along with David Siegel, Scott
McGehee, and Rebecca Yeldham to join Soderbergh backstage, in a cramped
improvised dressing room. I overhear him tell assorted complimenters
that he'd practiced the speech a number of times.
then all march down the street to a State of Cinema party at 1300
Fillmore. Siegel, still thrilled that he and Scott got to present
"What Maisie Knew" at the Catro in the city where they lived for 15
years, reminds me that our mutual friend Howard Rodman once said that the
purpose of the studio development project was to take a script that had
been written by one particular person and make it read like it could
have been written by anyone. David also tells me that Soderbergh was
responsible for getting him and McGehee finishing money on their
first feature, "Suture." From Hope's Vawter story to "Suture" -- a nice
example of circular thinking and putting your money where your mouth