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?

Link: Steven Soderbergh on Quitting Hollywood, Getting the Best Out of J-Lo, and His Love of Girls -- Vulture

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I was amazed by a scene in Magic Mike when after watching a major conversation go down I realized it was all completely one shot. Noticed this in a lot of his work. Lved the bizarre shot compositions and long takes in The Girlfriend Experience as well. Reading John Huston's autobiography An Open Book, he says "...if you can make use of two or even three set-ups--going from one balanced, framed picture to another without cutting--a sense of richness, grace and fluency is evoked... Such linked shots are the mark of a good director."

February 4, 2013 at 8:12PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


Whatever works, works. Getting what you need from talent takes gift of bringing our their potential. If it takes waxing their car, I say do it. People need to feel empowered, this approach does that. DP or director needs to guide talent to go the shot, make the scene and wrap it into something worthy of time and money spent. If this work for Steve, it's a great formula. Simple is better. Context and brevity.

February 4, 2013 at 9:04PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


I find it depressing if it's true he's over making cinema.

Can't help but feel it's a bit like another old man lays down his hand and quits the holy game of poker.

February 4, 2013 at 10:15PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


Love him or hate him, he definitely is one of a kind.

February 4, 2013 at 11:53PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM

Soosan Khanoom

I'm not a fan of his - his oeuvre feels self-serving - just trying out one genre or technique and then moving on.
Must be a fun experiment for him, but not much fun to watch.

He also spreads himself to thin. I have the feeling he just doesn't take much time over projects. Films like Contagion just move from start to finish without much personality or soul.
The Oceans 11 sequels are unforgiveable.

Saying that, Out Of Sight was superb - the reason I keep giving him another chance when I see one of his films pop up.

February 5, 2013 at 1:06AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM

Fresno Bob

Ocean's Twelve is one of his most impressive films, stylistically, and has a strong following amongst more academic cinephiles. It wasn't a mainstream critical success (and I believe he and cast members have since apologized for it), but make no mistake, it is his most adventurous (soderbergian?) big budget film. And this is a filmmaker who really shines in his smaller budget work.

February 6, 2013 at 11:15AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


I knew it, I fkkin knew it

February 5, 2013 at 5:55AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


I like Soderbergh's directorial style and cinematography sensibility. When I think of the couple of movies of his I like, it's because of those two things.

February 5, 2013 at 6:31AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


Honestly, who cares if Soderbergh retires. In my own opinion, the man has been grossly overrated since his debut. His attitude towards cinema is redeeming - in that he retains his indie roots - but what has he made that really deserves the 'heart breaking' retirement announcement relevant? Sex, lies, videotape? Kafka? Schizopolis? Out of Sight? The Limey? Traffic? Erin Brockovich? The man's a prolific director that is as professional as they come, granted.... But who cares?

I just can't feel sad for these huge names of cinema anymore. Get in the young guys/gals with something to prove.

February 5, 2013 at 6:37AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


No dissing of Sex, Lies plix. Ty.

February 5, 2013 at 10:50AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


I think people care because he's one of a few directors that's managed to produce a lot of work on their own terms. Does he want us to feel sad for him? I think it's more that he sees more creative opportunities in different mediums.

A big reason there's opportunities for young guys and gals with something to prove is that sex, lies, and videotape opened the door for tons of small budget indie and Hollywood pictures in the early and mid-90s. It gave a huge amount of legitimacy to Miramax - that was one of their first major hits as a distributor.

February 5, 2013 at 12:08PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


Touche, Joe. Indeed he has made films on his own terms and that is very much something to admire. Also, good point on SLV and its impact on the indie scene. (I still think its overrated as a film, hehe)

I'll admit, my pov is biased in that I've never cared for his films and the recent crop of 'big name directors' have been critical of our generations young filmmakers. I'm referring to the genre haters (of whom state 'films aren't like they used to be), technology haters ('film isn't a film unless its shot on film') and every other 'past their potency' aging director that condemn recent filmmaking trends.

In my short sighted , hasty remark.. I realize soderbergh is none of these things.

*hangs head in shame*

Statement retracted, though my opinion on his films remain.

February 5, 2013 at 1:34PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


No need for shame, Brock, just remember we're not talking about the legacy of Brett Ratner here ;-)

February 5, 2013 at 6:41PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


The movie THIS IS 40 is a prime example of dead screen time or as he put it noise vs signal. They had no clue how to end or when to end that movie! Steven should have been in the editing bay!

February 5, 2013 at 12:27PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM

Marky Mark

Totally agree. Soderbergh is technically a very accomplished filmmaker but his films have no heart. He leaps from one style to another, from mainstream films to independent ones, but I can´t find a film which can barely be considered as a masterpiece. And I´ve watched all of them except Gray´s Anathomy, Schizopolis and Full Frontal.

February 13, 2013 at 4:10AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


Actually, I found Solaris to be a quite enjoyable experience, adding another layer compared to the original movie and the novel.

April 30, 2013 at 3:16PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM