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In Conversation: Steven Soderbergh

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Passing Strangers
Passing Strangers

Mary Kaye Schilling of New York Magazine has a quite interesting interview with Steven Soderbergh, who is about to quit making films to paint. I’ve long been an admirer of Soderbergh, probably since his first film came out when I was taking film classes at UT1 I don’t love every film Soderbergh has made, but he often does interesting stuff.

A few excerpts, in case you are too lazy to click the link. For instance:

MKS: You’ve talked in the past about obsessively viewing films for inspiration—like The Battle of Algiers and Z for Traffic. What did you watch for Magic Mike?

SS: Saturday Night Fever was our model. It’s one of those movies people remember differently than what was actually true. Going back, we were startled by how dark it gets. This girl is being raped in the back seat of the car, and Travolta doesn’t really do anything, he just drives around. He does things that you probably wouldn’t want your protagonist doing today.

and 

MKS: But you’ve shown an incredible ability for getting films made, particularly the mid-level, character-driven, superhero-and-­vampire-free films that conventional wisdom says don’t get made anymore—from the esoteric sci-fi film Solaris to, yes, even a somber, black-and-white movie about post–World War II Germany. How do you account for that?

SS: 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.”

 and

SS: Music has become another of the most abused aspects of filmmaking. I’m mystified by the direction scores have taken in the last ten years. It’s wall-to-wall—it’s the movie equivalent of the vuvuzelas from the last World Cup! I don’t understand it at all. For me, it’s ideal when you can get the music to do something that everything else isn’t doing.

MKS: I’ve always appreciated how you don’t use the soundtrack to telegraph emotions; your scores are remarkably subtle. The Informant! was one of the few times you used music conspicuously, but it really worked for that film.

SS: A lot of people had mixed feelings about that score.  Look, it was a very specific choice in the sense that—what I said to [composer] Marvin Hamlisch was, this music is not for the audience. This music is for him [Matt Damon’s character], it’s his soundtrack. For the movie, it worked. But that’s not typically what you’re doing with a score. I think that’s why people reacted ambivalently.

I was saddened to hear that the Confederacy of Dunces script is dead, again:

MKS: Are there many films you wanted to make that didn’t happen?

SS: Less than a handful. There are tons of excuses you can make for something not happening. It’s a very imperfect process, getting a movie made. And I’m one of those people who just ignores that stuff. The film doesn’t have to be perfect. The deal doesn’t have to be perfect. I’ll reverse engineer into whatever box we have so that we can do it and do do it—less money, less time, whatever. I’m looking for reasons to say yes. But, sometimes, nothing works.

MKS: Like Confederacy of Dunces. Whatever happened to that?

SS: I ended up walking away. We had this lawsuit over the rights [against Scott Rudin and Paramount pictures in 1998], and we got the project back, and at that point—it was a good lesson to learn, actually, because I realized once we got it back that my enthusiasm had been beaten out of me. Now it was an obligation, as opposed to something that I wanted to do. I don’t know what’s happening with it. I think it’s cursed. I’m not prone to superstition, but that project has got bad mojo on it.

Ok, one last bit relevant to this blog’s interests:

MKS: That’s a 180-degree turn from fifteen years ago, when you called the film business the silliest in the world.

SS: After making a lot more films, I realized that the movie and TV business is, for all its inefficiencies, one of the best-run big businesses we have. It’s very transparent, financially, and the only business I know of that successfully employs trickle-down economics: When movies and shows make money, the profits go right back into making more movies and shows, because the stock price is all about market share. And these people excel at problem-solving—that’s 99 percent of the job. I look at Hurricane Katrina, and I think if four days before landfall you gave a movie studio autonomy and a 100th of the billions the government spent on that disaster, and told them, “Lock this place down and get everyone taken care of,” we wouldn’t be using that disaster as an example of what not to do. A big movie involves clothing, feeding, and moving thousands of people around the world on a tight schedule. Problems are solved creatively and efficiently within a budget, or your ass is out of work. So when I look at what’s going on in the government, the gridlock, I think, Wow, that’s a really inefficient way to run a railroad. The government can’t solve problems because the two parties are so wedded to their opposing ideas that they can’t move. The very idea that someone from Congress can’t take something from the other side because they’ll be punished by their own party? That’s stupid. If I were running for office, I would be poaching ideas from everywhere. That’s how art works. You steal from everything. I must remember to tweet that I’m in fact not running for office.

(click here to continue reading In Conversation: Steven Soderbergh — Vulture.)

Footnotes:
  1. yes, as we all know by now, I joke I am a film school drop-out, but it is true as well []

Written by Seth Anderson

January 28th, 2013 at 7:14 am

Posted in Film

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Reading Around on November 9th through November 10th

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A few interesting links collected November 9th through November 10th:

  • What’s Alan Watching?: Mad Men, “Shut the Door. Have a Seat”: We’re putting the band back together – “Shut the Door. Have a Seat” felt very much like a caper movie: the jazzy piano music, the intrigue, the plan unfolding perfectly as Lane walked in, got fired by St. John, and walked out happily, leaving a dumbfounded Moneypenny in his wake. Specifically, though, the episode felt like my favorite part of any caper (or other kind of ensemble adventure) movie: the gathering of the team. I have been, and always will be, a sucker for those sequences in movies like “Ocean’s Eleven,” “The Dirty Dozen” and “The Magnificent Seven” where the two leaders (there are always two guys at first, aren’t there?) travel around to assemble the perfect team of experts, explaining their value and using various tricks of persuasion along the way to get them on board.
  • The Watcher: Checking in with Conrad Hilton: ‘Mad Men’ actor Chelcie Ross speaks – I think [Conrad Hilton is] a zealot, and his zeal was focused on one particular area — his business. They don’t get into it on the show but Conrad Hilton’s private life was just about as rocky as Don’s. He left behind women, he worked all the time. But his zeal for what he’s doing relates to his business and his belief in God and America and what it can bring to the world. He feels that’s his mission — to bring America to the world, and he has bought into it 100 percent.
  • Mad Men Postmortem – The Daily Beast – It’s so unambiguous to me that this marriage is over, but the audience seems to cling to the idea that they should be together because we want to believe in those things. The marriage was not good. It was built on a lie and the lie was exposed. In the end, Don coming clean really damaged his relationship with her, more than the lying, her seeing who he actually was. I do believe when he says his mother was a 22-year-old prostitute that Betty is looking at something that is very far from what she had planned for herself… That was the whole story of the season. When Henry Francis (Christopher Stanley) came on to her… a switch went off in her head of what was missing in her life, which was a true, romantic attachment. In the end, that combination with her gut feeling that something wasn’t right in her marriage and finding out the truth, they don’t belong together anymore, kids or not. You’ve got to take it pretty seriously when someone’s flying to Reno to get a divorce.
  • Mad Men Confronts Heaven and Hull: The Season 3 Finale: James Wolcott | Vanity Fair – Although this episode began with ominous echoes of The Godfather…it pedaled into an inspirational tale–an entrepreneurial vision of A Christmas Carol, where everyone comes together under one roof not out of love or family ties or sentimental obligation but out of mutual economic self-interest and buccaneer solidarity, sink or swim, eat or be eaten. “Well, it’s official,” toasts Roger after he, Don, Bert, and Pryce form their rebel alliance. “Friday, December 13, 1963: Four guys shot their own legs off.” The shark cunning entailed in starting up this new agency may seem cold, bloodless, and mercenary—an Ayn Rand mission minus the rhetorical bombast–but the collaborative enthusiasm of this breakout operation was brisk, invigorating: it gave you a lift being in an adult universe where talent and initiative were on the move and mediocrity left behind to fend for itself.
  • The Watcher: Sterling Coup: A terrific ending to ‘Mad Men’s’ season – ” I was just transfixed by Sally’s watchful brown eyes. She just kept looking from parent to parent, waiting for someone to tell her the truth. More effectively than anyone else has ever done, she called Don on his b.s. “You say things and you don’t mean them! You can’t just do that!”

    Later, we see Sally once again in front of the TV, her comforter, her friend. Carla and the TV are the most stable forces in Sally’s life. Truth be told, Carla being the biggest influence on Sally’s life would not be a bad thing at all.

    Later when Bobby was clinging to Don’s body like a little monkey, unwilling to let go, holding on tight with every limb — that was heartbreaking.”

  • Footnotes of Mad Men: Goodbye, All Our Pretty Horses | The Awl – Don’s revulsion at being sold off has to do both with his free-pony-roaming the-silvery-plains sense of individualism (DREAMY) and also McCann Erickson’s noxious reputation in the 1960s. ‘Giantism’ was their business ethos. Beginning in the early 1960s, McCann-Erickson, then known as Intergroup McCann-Erickson, gobbled up a mid-sized shops and retained them under one umbrella, but still forced them the compete for clients. This had an upside: two agencies could be under the McCann Erickson parent with one shop servicing American Airlines and the other shop servicing TWA. And a downside: the fear, at the time, was there would be leaks and betrayals between agencies. In 1964, Nestle left McCann-Erickson because they also serviced Carnation. Continental also withdrew their business because McCann was in bed with other airlines. “Bigness is an evil,” a Nestle executive explained, “that strains relationships that ten years ago were very warm and close.”
  • Eschaton – Evil Google – “As is occasionally pointed out when journalists and news business people complain that Google is stealing their content, if they don’t want Google to index their pages they can simply… tell Google not to index their pages by inserting a bit of code into them. What they really want Google to do is pay them for the privilege of making money from a derivative of their product, the way book reviewers always pay novelists, for example.”

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Written by swanksalot

November 10th, 2009 at 12:01 pm