INT: Steven Soderbergh

Academy Award winner Steven Soderbergh has become one of the most powerful and eminent directors in Hollywood . With an impressive resume consisting of noteworthy films and a long list of A-list actors at his disposal, he has put on his directing cap once again for his forthcoming film, THE GOOD GERMAN.

Set in the ruins of Berlin in 1945 just after WWII, THE GOOD GERMAN uncovers a different story of post Nazi Germany. It is the story of a U.S. war correspondent sent to cover the upcoming Potsdam Peace Conference only to stumble upon a murder, run into a former love and discover that everyone who has lived through the horrors of the war is burdened with little secrets stemming from the need for survival and power. The film is reminiscent of the classical CASABLANCA and is shot in a traditional film noir style. It's a mystery, romance and thriller all in one.

Soderbergh, who is an acclaimed director of such famous films as OCEAN'S 11, TRAFFIC, ERIN BROCKOVICH and OUT OF SIGHT, sat down last week, to talk about his latest creation, THE GOOD GERMAN. See what the brilliant director had to say.

Steven Soderbergh

Did Paul [Attanasio, the screenwriter] know that you were going to do this movie in black and white?

No. That came later. There were a couple of different ways to go. I think the assumption initially was that it would be normal. Color, we'll go to Germany and we'll do it like a regular movie. And then that started to seem less interesting to me and also expensive, like more expensive than I thought. It should be strangely enough, but the way we ended up doing the film was one of the more economical ways to do the film. Then this idea from being able to use archival footage in some way or footage from other films that were made from that period became appealing and that started and then that started to dictate the black and white.

Did you decide to leave modern aspects like language, sex scenes out because they couldn't be done in that era?

If you're just literally imitating that aesthetic in every particular including the way people speak and the fact that those filmmakers were working under the Hays code, then to me it really is just a pastiche, and you're not pushing the ball forward or sideways or anywhere, you're just literally making a copy of something. So again, like for instance Far From Heaven or like The Last Picture Show, we thought the most interesting version of the movie is, this aesthetic from sixty years ago with...... when we say it's modern, people were saying f*ck in 1945 and they were feeling each other up and there were moral issues that were difficult and ugly.

The problem is again; people making movies in this country were censored. So that combined with a desire to have attention between those two things, attention between this aesthetic that's very glamorous, very romantic inherently and an approach to narrative and characters, that is the antithesis of that which is interesting to me. I wanted that battle to be played out through the song because I thought that would be interesting, that would be interesting to watch. It would not be a passive experience to watch a movie in which that battle's taking place.

Honestly, until we get into these situations, it's not something I've ever articulated to anybody involved in the movie or would have. That's the result of thousands of hours of work and conversations about "how do you want it, or how do we want to do it or how should people talk." And you have to remember, our sense of how people behaved sixty years ago is largely shaped by the movies that were made sixty years ago.

Can you talk about the archival material and how tricky it was in using it?

We got some of it from here, we got some of it from Germany but we got most of it from Russia strangely enough. There was a Russian archive that had an enormous amount of material from Berlin from the summer of 1945. It was a real find for us and the trick was organizing it and filing it, and then trying to fit it into the script, identify the areas where I needed it. It was very laborious but we had so many different people working on that for years. It was a very elaborate system of what the shot was, what time of day, what part of the city, were there cars in it, were there people in it. It was really boring.

Can you talk about your collaboration with George [Clooney]? Are there things that you're still learning about him and what did you learn from him in this particular film?

I want to say he's getting better and better but it makes it seem like he wasn't good when we started and that's obviously not the case. I just think he's getting better and better. I always thought he was...I was one of the people when I saw him on ER and went, that guy is a movie star. That was just my gut reaction when I saw him on that show, like that guy is a movie star. And you know when Out Of Sight came up, and that was a movie I had to pursue, part of it was my belief that this guy's ready to pop and I felt like Out Of Sight was, you know I really wanted to do it and I really wanted to do it with him.

I just felt like I want to get on this train. And so like I said I just think he's getting (better).... and you look at the choices he's made since Out Of Sight, it's a pretty incredible range of material to go from Out Of Site, Three Kings, O Brother, to Solaris, to Syriana, that's a pretty impressive array of performances you know. And I think people... he gets this rap like you know "George is always George," but I don't think that's true at all.

Do you feel that you have to convince him to do low budget movies like this or is he just as excited to go into them because of your relationship?

Oh no, no. He does that anyway. When he does a movie for the Coen brothers or when he did Three Kings or doing movies like Syriana, he's not making a lot. He doesn't care about that. I mean I'm sure he feels very pragmatic about it. He's like, I have money, what I want is a series of titles on the shelf of movies that I made that I can look back on and feel good about.

What does it take to get you to say yes to a project?

It starts with the story. It starts with the content. That’s how this started. I just thought, ‘This is a good story, an interesting story, one I really hadn’t seen before.’ (It’s) the exoneration of Nazi scientists by the Americans. This was not something I’d really read about and so I was really interested. By the way, there’s a great, great documentary that PBS did a year ago, a little over a year ago. We watched it a year and a half ago, about this subject. I think it’s called In Search of Nazi Scientists. Anyway, if you can find it, and I’m sure it’s available, it’s great. So that’s how this started.

In essence, this is a story about torturers getting away with it, about Americans bringing scientists who did evil elsewhere onto American shores…

I just think there were no good options here. There was no good choice. There really wasn’t. This is what happens in a post-war environment. I think the Americans in this case didn’t have a choice. I suppose you could have gone to the American public and said, ‘Hey, look, we want to bring these people over to build these rockets because if we don’t they’re going to go to Russia . But there’s this thing – a lot of them ran slave camps. How do we all feel about that?’ But we don’t live in that world. We just don’t. There was an operation, and it was called ‘Overcast’ in its initial incarnation, and then it got called ‘Paperclip.’ It was a mandate to do exactly this, to find these people, clean up their past, get them to Utica and ‘Let’s start building stuff.’ Like I said, I don’t know what other options there were.

How does the collaboration between you and George work?

We are alike in ways that are helpful to getting work done and we’re not alike in ways that are helpful to making the work better. So it’s a good mix. We both have a similar attitude about how you do your work and we both like to work a lot. Creatively, we’re very much in sync and the ways we’re not perfectly in sync are helpful; you know what I mean? He’s less pretentious.

Going back to how you choose projects is there something thematically; stylistically you keep going back to that we’re not seeing?

Well, I try not to look back. That’s ultimately… I don’t know that I’d ever think about it. It’s certainly something I wouldn’t think about until I stopped because I think this is not an intellectual medium. There are a couple of examples and I won’t state them, but I think for the most part intellectuals don’t make very good movies. It’s an emotional medium and I think you can really outsmart yourself. So, analysis of that kind is just something I think can be dangerous. It’s a business in which a great number of people have managed to move bag and baggage into the third person. You have to watch out for that. Part of that process is thinking about, ‘Well, what is my career like and how do people think about me?’ That’s just something I don’t want to get into.

How’s Ocean’s 13 going?

Horribly (sarcastically)


You’ve been quoted as saying it’s a return to the first film, but you’re not known for stepping back. So how do you pull off both: return to the first, but not repeat yourself?

They’re very risky. I’m really happy with it. It was sad, near the end of it, to basically go, ‘this is the last time I’m going to see these people in a room.’ I really like them all and they all like each other, and there was a very strong sense of ‘We were really lucky that these movies came about and that we got to do them and this is it.’ At the end of it there was a real sense of passage and wondering, for me, ‘Wow, I wonder if I’ll ever find another commercial movie to make.’ But also, just these people; I won’t be hanging out with those people anymore.

Why two Che Guevara projects (The Argentine and Guerrilla) back to back?

Well, Kill Bill. Those were two movies. What’s the quickest thing I can say? I think the reason for it being two films will be apparent to anyone who sees them. I think the biggest issue is going to be how far apart to put them out. I would like them to go out a week apart. That specific thing hasn’t been done yet. The Clint Eastwood movie just got moved up, but I don’t know that anybody has ever made two movies that were released a week apart. I think that would be really cool, but we’ll see.

Are you incorporating The Motorcycle Diaries stuff or is all that after?

It’s after.

Ocean’s 13 doesn’t have to be the last one…

Yeah, it does.

Source: JoBlo.com



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