How Does Steven Soderbergh Make Movies Differently Than Other Directors?

No one makes movies quite like director Steven Soderbergh.

Except for a few major technological advances in sound and editing, movies have more or less been made the same way since the late 1800s. Character introductions are usually blatant explanations of self, sex scenes are usually just a bunch of close ups of body parts, and dialog scenes are shot in a series of establishing, over-the-shoulder, medium, and close up shots (in that order). And then there's Steven Soderbergh who does pretty much everything his own untraditional way. In this video essay, Declan Taaffe explores the many ways in which the director breaks cinematic convention in his films.

Soderbergh's filmography is one of the most eclectic, so studying Soderbergh is less about pinpointing his style or preferred subject matter—I mean, he's the guy who made both The Limey and Magic Mike.

Really, understanding Soderbergh is more about uncovering his philosophy on cinema, and Taaffe does a great job highlighting examples from his work that speak to this. But perhaps the easiest way to comprehend it is by hearing from Soderbergh himself:

A desire to just find a new way to give the audience information about the story and about character. There has to be a better way to lay things out for people, or at least you can be more adventurous and release information in a way that's less traditional."

I think it's safe to say that Soderbergh's whole cinematic philosophy is all about change—changing the way visual information is given to the audience. So, the next time you watch one of his films, maybe focus less on what the film looks like or its themes, focus more on how the story is told cinematically.     

Your Comment


I have the three DVD Ocean's collection and watch them at least once a month.
To me... they are film-making 101 and should be, for many reasons, part of all film schools curriculum. The "red herrings" with are explained by flashbacks and back stories in these flicks are pure genius. There are parallel, yet invisible events, going on simultaneously. The photography, staging and story lines are great!
No... Steven is not my brother... but I wish he was!

December 8, 2016 at 2:41AM, Edited December 8, 2:54AM

Jerry Roe
Indie filmmaker

I dunno about this... Sod is a great filmmaker because he takes chances, regardless if they work or not. Julia Roberts playing Julia Roberts didn't "loose me" at all. I got the joke. It's even funnier considering that Bruce Willis plays himself and she doesn't. He's playing with a well established device, which, is my point. The reason why he's innovative is that he takes what is established and pushes it a little farther. The more you push it, the more people you will "loose" but the one's that subscribe to the thinking will call it genius. I dunno if everyone should innovate. There is a reason films are told a certain way, a reason why scenes are shot a certain way, and a reason why all stories have the same structure. It's part of our human condition. It evolves, sure, but if you push it too far, it won't resemble anything that is familiar, or relatable. Those things are called "ahead of their time" but remember at "the time" those things pretty much sucked. Van Gogh, Kafka, Bach, Poe.

Video essay had some nice points, and does point out some of the beautiful advancements that Sod experiments with. I was hoping that the video would be an evolution of video essays as well... taking his own advice a bit. Raise the bar;)

December 12, 2016 at 3:40PM

Roberto Serrini
Director • Editor