Steven Soderbergh Not Done Directing Just Yet? Plus His Advice to Filmmakers
Steven Soderbergh has been getting a fair amount of attention lately as PR winds down on what could be his last theatrical feature film, Side Effects (he technically has one more movie left, a Liberace biopic starring Matt Damon which is heading to HBO). In a recent New York Magazine feature from Mary Kaye Schilling, which is now online at Vulture, the DIY-minded director talked about his career, what he plans to do next, whether he’s really retiring from directing, and what he’s been watching on TV lately, which happens to include Lena Dunham’s Girls (though he doesn’t actually say he loves the show as the title of the article would suggest). Click through to read all about it.
Here’s a bit from his interview:
On the few occasions where I’ve talked to film students, one of the things I stress, in addition to learning your craft, is how you behave as a person. For the most part, our lives are about telling stories. So I ask them, “What are the stories you want people to tell about you?” Because at a certain point, your ability to get a job could turn on the stories people tell about you. The reason [then–Universal Pictures chief] Casey Silver put me up for [1998’s] Out of Sight after I’d had five flops in a row was because he liked me personally. He also knew I was a responsible filmmaker, and if I got that job, the next time he’d see me was when we screened the movie. If I’m an asshole, then I don’t get that job. Character counts. That’s a long way of saying, “If you can be known as someone who can attract talent, that’s a big plus.”
This should be self-explanatory, but it’s remarkable that so many people don’t understand just how small this business really is. Everyone knows everyone, and if you work in the industry in one of the bigger cities, it’s likely only a few degrees of separation between almost any two people. How you conduct yourself could affect your ability to get jobs down the road.
Soderbergh on working with actors:
You’ve talked at length about giving actors as much freedom as possible. That’s resulted in a number of performances that have launched, revived, and revitalized careers. In the case of Jennifer Lopez in Out of Sight, you’re responsible for her only good film performance.
It’s not that I never say no; I’m just not trying to control them. I’m looking to amplify and showcase whatever it is about them that I find compelling. You know, my attitude is that all of us have to submit to what the film wants and needs to be. So the best version of the thing is sitting up here, and you have to submit to that.
How do you accomplish that?
I keep the environment pretty relaxed — relaxed but focused. I work with the same people all the time. There’s a form of band humor that develops: inside jokes and references that only a core group of people understand. It’s fun. Some people believe tension is a good creative tool, that you get more out of people if you make them feel insecure. I’m not one of those people, and I don’t want to be around that when I go to work.
He also went on to talk about his love of the television medium, as well as his many other interests, and gave a definitive answer about his retirement from directing:
Just to be clear, I won’t be directing “cinema,” for lack of a better word. But I still plan to direct — theater stuff, and I’d do a TV series if something great were to come along.
Just as we’ve seen David Fincher look to serialized content to satisfy a creative need, Soderbergh may very well not be done with telling stories — he’s just looking for new ways to challenge himself. In this clip below during a Q&A after a screening of Side Effects (thanks to IndieWire), Steven Soderbergh talks about the language of cinema, and his insistence on simplicity:
Be sure to head on over to Vulture to read the entire interview.
What do you think of Soderbergh’s technique for using as few shots as possible to tell a story? How about the way that he works with actors, do you think a completely relaxed environment is the way to go?