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Interview: Soderbergh

11.22.2002

Last Sunday I was more than happy to put aside my typical end-of-the-weekend routine of watching NFL games to attend the press junket for the soon to be released sci-fi/romance SOLARIS. Held at the St. Regis Hotel in Century City, the press junket was a hot ticket, and there was no way I was going to pass it up…especially since Steven Soderbergh, James Cameron, and George Clooney were all going to be in attendance. Oh, and they were serving omelettes. Can’t pass that up.

Anyway, the film, a collaboration between Academy-Award winners Soderbergh and Cameron, is doing its best to divide press audiences. Seems like many of the hard-core sci-fi fans are a little perplexed by the trailers, which are promoting the film’s love story. And those expecting a love story are getting more sci-fi than they want. So, with all this confusion, and mixed feelings, the press interviews became all that more exciting. That’s why we’ll be giving them to you in bits over the next week or so. So, without further delay, enjoy…

The first person I was able to sit down with was Soderbergh, a very interesting chap. Besides being a huge success, and perhaps the biggest filmmaker on the scene right now (he is the only director in history to have two films nominated for Best Director and Best Picture in the same year…TRAFFIC and ERIN BROCKOVICH), he’s a very down to earth guy. With all his power and influence, he still insists on using words like “lame” and “sucks”, and, of course, still wears the Woody Allen-like glasses (you’d think with all that money laser eye surgery would be a given). Anyway, during the interview he talked about working with Cameron, the company he formed with Clooney, and the film’s odd blend of sci-fi and romance. Here’s more from Steven…

This film is relatively short, by sci-fi standards. How did the editing process affect the story and the tone of the film?

I felt very specifically what I wanted and it was very difficult sometimes to articulate and difficult to capture. Sometimes you find yourself in a situation where you’d say, well, it’s close. That’s not it, but it’s close. And it really, it was more like a distillation process that the movie went through, and this is in my mind absolutely the best version of the movie we have because it’s the most clear, emotionally. This film was finished days ago, and I was sort of tuning right up until the very end.

Why was it made so fast (a little over 40 days), and released so fast?

Cuz they didn’t have a big 4th quarter. I felt, it’s the holidays. Any movie that deals with death should come out during the holidays…But I like having those sorts of deadlines. It forces you to make decisions solely on instinct. You don’t have time to intellectualize. You think, hey, I gotta finish this. I gotta make this. I can’t afford to sit around. Should I do this? Should I do that? Just do it. And Jim Cameron was great to have around. He was a great resource. He and I are big 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY freaks, and he understands the pure abstract art film. And he also understands the mainstream film. So he was a great person for me to bounce off of, and talk about how I could maintain this sort of poetic qualities, and not drift too far off course that I start losing people, and they don’t stay connected to the emotional core of the film. He understood both. He was the main person I could trust.

How close do you follow box office? You’ve made FULL FRONTAL and now this. Do you say, ok, I’ve had my fun, now let’s make a commercial hit?

Well, look, I hope for a lot of reasons, for the sake of my career and the sake of people behind me, that there’s a way to put a movie like SOLARIS over to an audience. People bitch all the time that studios make cookie cutter films. Well, 20th Century Fox backed this movie and never blinked. And somebody needs to, I don’t make a habit pouring over press material on films I’ve made, but I think it’d be really lame for people not to address that. You can’t just bitch all the time, and then not acknowledge that 20th Century Fox, Rupert Murdoch’s company, made a pretty unusual movie. They knew what they were getting, and they wanted it. I think it’s one of the more unusual studio movies to come along in a while. And they let us make it the way we thought it should be made.

Why is it so important for you to stay loyal to a specific group of actors? Does it make your life easier?

Oh yeah. And one of the most gratifying aspects of making this movie was seeing George do something that I’ve never seen him do before. It was really exciting. So it’s fun when you can use people in something they’ve never done before. But certainly there’s a shorthand that’s hard to ignore.

But you and George have taken it beyond director and actor. You formed a company together, Section Eight. What makes you such a good team?

I think we have very similar tastes, and very similar attitudes about work, and how you should behave, and how you should use whatever momentum you have at any given time. Our attitude is if you’re not using that momentum to get interesting things made, then you’re lame, basically. And we both enjoy being a part of somebody else’s process, like watching how Chris Nolan works, or Todd Haynes. We enjoy being exposed to someone else’s point of view. It expands your point of view. And the good news is, it’s not our livelihood. I think the only movie we produced where we got a fee on was INSOMNIA. And we rolled that over into the budget for WELCOME TO COLLINWOOD. All the other profits we’ve made have been deferred until the films go into profit…We don’t need to get paid, like real producers do, because we have day jobs.

Do you feel a sense of mentorship, then, to young directors out there trying to follow a similar path as yourself?

Not in any conscious way. I’m still learning. So it’s very difficult for me to tell anybody what they should or shouldn’t do.

It seems like you, Spike Jonze, Todd Haynes, Christopher Nolan…all friends…are kind of like the mavericks of the 70s. A new filmmaking generation. Do you feel like there is a new movement where Hollywood is accepting new ideas?

I hope so. Yeah, I think there are some really interesting filmmakers out there that are getting an opportunity to work in the mainstream. And I think that’s healthy….You know the American New Wave of the 60s and 70s because a group of talented young filmmakers adapted, for the most part, a European aesthetic to American material. And that’s why we got this great explosion of interesting movies. Now this can’t be the same. Of the filmmakers that fit into our new generation, I think they’re a little more in control of themselves, than those filmmakers were. I mean, we’ve all read that book. It’s a cautionary tale. They lost control of themselves first, and then they lost control of their films. And all the filmmakers that are my age took a lesson from them. Our attitude is keep your act together. Keep responsible. Don’t go wildly over budget. Sneak in the door and see if you can make something interesting.

I heard that you and Spike Jonze were in the works to form your own company. True?

There were a few of us that talked about it. But nothing came of it. But it was good to, I mean I got to know Spike, Alexander Payne, Sam Mendes, Fincher, and it was good just to…I don’t know, I feel sometimes like there’s a vested interest to keep artists apart. Because when you get a couple of them in a room, they start thinking up shit. And I don’t think most of the people want that to happen.

What was the biggest surprise about making SOLARIS?

I thought it would be challenging. I kept thinking there would be a certain point where it would just fall together and be done. And that’s fantasy. Like I said, right up to the last few days it just felt like a movie that required every ounce of all day every day. I anticipated that, but maybe it’s just that I’ve been working a lot and I’m tired. There were days on the set where I’d want to turn to the AD and say call the studio, we’re stopping….This was the type of movie, more than any other, that just demanded that none of the decisions be casual.

Other than the original SOLARIS, and perhaps 2001, what other things influenced you as you approached making this film?

Not that many. Those were pretty much it. I watched all the Tarkovsky films. I watched all the Kubrick films again. I watched all the Antonioni films again. And I watched all the Gordon Willis films. And then I just did draft after draft after draft of the script. The script went through a lot of evolutionary steps. Eventually, actually, it landed right back where it started. But it just took a while. It took a while.

Do you think the ending to SOLARIS embraces death in any way?

Yeah. But in the best possible way.

That’s all from Soderbergh.

---------------------------

Read my interview with James Cameron here

Read my interview with George Clooney here

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Source: JoBlo.com

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