Steven Soderbergh Talks SIDE EFFECTS, Retirement, MAGIC MIKE, His Filmmaking Process, Digital Cameras, Christopher Nolan, Twitter, CONTAGION Deleted Scenes, and More

     February 9, 2013

With all of your movies, what is the one or two that have the most deleted scenes?

SODERBERGH: Proportionally, Contagion had the most material that was shot and cut and never made the movie.  There’s 45 minutes of cut material that’s gone.

I apologize for not know, is that material available on the Blu-ray?  Will it ever see the light of day?

SODERBERGH: No, I’ve sort of gone the other way.  I feel like all the people who went back and fucked around with their movies from the 70’s made them worse.  So I kind of feel like that’s the movie, that’s it.

I’ll get specific and say Lucas, and I think the reason most fans are angry at him is that he never offered the original version, and that is ultimately the problem.  If you want to fuck with your movie, if you want go ahead and edit, more power to you, but give me the original version.  So, for example, on Contagion, as a fan of yours I would love to see this alternate version just to see it, but as long as the other version is there then I’m fine.

SODERBERGH: Part of me is like, I don’t really know if it’s fair to the actors, the stuff that didn’t make it.  I used to be fine with it and then I just suddenly wasn’t.  [Laughs]

steven-soderbergh-magic-mikeYou are like Guillermo (del Toro), in terms of you both edit as you’re shooting.  When did you first start editing as you were shooting?

SODERBERGH: As soon as I started working with an editor, they would be editing while we were shooting.  It’s horrifying now to think that the first three films that I made, that I cut myself, I didn’t start editing until we wrapped.  That’s unbelievable.  What’s changed is the ability to start editing two hours after you’ve wrapped the set.  That’s what’s really been the huge difference for me.  The ability, that night, to cut that days stuff and make decisions about whether or not we got it and adjust accordingly if necessary, that’s been gigantic.

I have a whole bunch of things I want to ask you about.  A few people, a few filmmakers, asked me to ask you, are you Bitchuation on Twitter?


OK, have confirmed that yet to anyone else?

SODERBERGH: I think Rich Eisen confirmed that.



I don’t think you tweet enough.

SODERBERGH: Here’s the thing, I have rules about that, which is I’m not there to sell anything.  What will happen, it’s going to be streaky, what will happen is I build up a bunch of stuff and blow it out all at the same time.  I don’t know if that’s the way you’re supposed to do it, but that’s the way it’s happening.  I’m about a week away from another burst of tweets.  It’s fun to have, it’s kind of like having a pseudonym, it’s kind of like being Peter Andrews, I feel I can hide behind that, which is fun.

steven-soderberghSpeaking of pseudonyms where did Mary Ann Bernard come from?

SODERBERGH: That’s my mother’s maiden name.

I apologize for not knowing that, I probably should have.

SODERBERGH: Not many people do.

I always do a lot of research; I should have picked up on that.

SODERBERGH: It’s funny, people focus more on the cinematography for some reason, I don’t know.

You recently offered to edit The Canyons in 72 hours and I guess they said no, am I wrong about this?

SODERBERGH: That…god…All I will say is that it seemed to me that there was no upside in that conversation ever being known outside of the room and that I was stunned when it went out of the room.

That probably sums up that movie though, that movie is loaded with issues.

SODERBERGH: It sure seemed like a dramatic production.


SODERBERGH: But, no, I know Paul [Schrader], I like Paul, I just never would have anticipated that any conversation about that would ever go outside the room.

Are you a little stunned at the huge success of Magic Mike?

SODERBERGH: Yeah, those numbers were significantly higher than anything we hoped for; they were significantly higher than the numbers that were going to make it work for Warners, for instance.  Their buying North America for the amount of money that they paid was predicated on the movie doing like 60, if the movie does 60 we’re gold, so to just fly past that, it was fun because it was so atypical.  Even the way it performed was really weird day to day during the week.  Danny Fellman, the head of distribution at Warner Brothers would just laugh because, this thing there are just no comps for the way this thing is performing.  It’s so weird, just the shifts from day to day during the week.  We were trying to figure out is it because women during the week they can babysitters on these days and not those?  Certain days would be huge then the next day would be nothing.  It was just all over the place.  But it’s really fun when the surprise goes in that direction. 

magic-mike-alex-pettyfer-channing-tatumWhat was weird was- my experience has been that tracking is very strange; it tends to be very accurate about when things are going to underperform, it tends not to be very accurate and sometimes wildly inaccurate when things over perform, and Magic Mike was the perfect example.  According to the tracking we should have opened to 19, and we opened at 38, or whatever.  So if I were at Warners and I show up Monday morning I would be talking to those people who do my tracking and saying, “How did we miss by 100%?” If I have a department that’s supposed to be tracking, like, where were those people?  Why can’t you find out?

What I’ve been noticing lately, and I’m not the guy for tracking, but I’ve found that on Friday night, the reaction on Facebook and twitter to your movie is huge, because at 9:00 if everyone getting back form the movies is raving about it, the next two days are going to be huge, and if people are like, “This movies not good” then all the sudden it goes like this.  So maybe that is playing into it.

SODERBERGH: I guess so. 

People really liked the movie.

SODERBERGH: What’s interesting to me is so, your methodology for figuring out who wants to see it and who doesn’t has obviously got a gigantic hole in it because you’re not reaching everybody that you have to reach to have relevant data.  If you miss by 100%, that’s a lot.  But like I said, it tends to be very accurate when shit’s going to not perform.  For instance, the flipside of that is Haywire, we knew Tuesday we were going to have a terrible weekend, and we did.

michael-fassbender-gina-carano-haywire-imageI have to tell you I really dig that movie.

SODERBERGH: I was really happy with it and we felt like it was a fun ride, but couldn’t pay people to go see it.

It is a really good movie and she is really good. You did second unit on The Hunger Games, I don’t know if you talked a lot about that, but how did you get involved in that?

SODERBERGH: Well, Gary’s a friend of mine; I’ve known him a long time.  At one point, actually, in the mid-90’s I was crashing on his couch for three weeks.  We just have a history of helping each other out on stuff, I show him everything, I was a producer on Pleasantville.  So we just have a long history of kind of doing each other solids when one of us needs help.  So he called me in April and said, “I’m looking at the board of Hunger Games and I’ve got these two days of second unit at the end of August, what are you doing?  Can you come down?  I’ve got to get somebody I trust to do this, would you be interested?” So I said, “Yeah, actually Contagion will be done and we won’t have started Magic Mike, it’s actually perfect.  I can literally just fly in and do it.” What I found really nerve-wracking about it was shooting and really worrying am I getting what he needs?  Am I getting what he wants?  When imp shooting my own stuff I look at it and I go, “OK, I’ve got it, I need this, I got that.” Here he’s off with the first unit, I’m here, I want to deliver for my friend what he needs.  I found that aspect of it- I was very anxious that I was getting everything that he needed and wanted. 

the-hunger-games-elizabeth-banks-woody-harrelson-jennifer-lawrenceThe fun part of it was my job there was to recreate exactly the aesthetic that he and Tom Stern have set up in terms of framing, and lighting, and movement.  I’m there to be a chameleon and duplicate that so that it’s seamless.  And I love that, I love kind of submitting to that and following their rules.  So we went down, we shot a ton of shit, it was really fun and then I didn’t hear from him and I’m like, “Oh, no.” Finally two weeks later he emailed me and he goes, “I just realized I don’t think I ever responded.” He goes, “I’m so happy with the stuff.  Thank you.” And I went, “Oh god, dude, you had me completely flipped out, I thought I was going to read that you had to redo it.” He’s like, “No, no, no it all worked out great.” So it was fun, it was a tough show.  I was really happy that the movie took off because he worked really hard on it.  It was a tough show.  I totally understood him feeling like “I don’t want to go back and do that again”, because I would have felt the same.

You’re probably the most qualified second unit director of the last decade.

SODERBERGH: It was fun.

I want to jump back real quick to Magic Mike, Channing has talked about doing a sequel and possibly directing it himself.  Obviously you’re going to go and do your own thing but if he were to call you and say, “Hey, I’m doing a sequel” would you produce?  Is that something you would be willing to do?

SODERBERGH: Yeah, I’m happy to be conciliary, there’s absolutely another movie to be made out of that.  There were a lot of ideas that didn’t make it to the first one that we’ve had discussions about here’s an opportunity to some of these things that we couldn’t get into the first one.  Like there’s a lot of stuff still there, stories of shit that happened to him that we just didn’t have time for.  So I hope they do it.  I’ll help in whatever way I can, I just don’t want to be involved day-to-day.  But I’m happy to in a sense be an executive producer and kind of weigh in on stuff.  We had a great time making that movie and I don’t have a desire to try and go back and try and recreate it.

christopher-nolanYou produced Insomnia, you produced Pleasantville, you produced a lot of movies; what is your typical involvement as a producer?  Are you very hands on day-to-day?  Or are you involved in the pre-production?

SODERBERGH: Depends, it depends on the filmmaker, depends on the scale of the movie, I’m sort of keying off what I think people need from me.  In the case of Insomnia, he doesn’t need me around, I went to the set one day, literally, just to say hello to everyone and then flew back home.  All Chris [Nolan] needed was to get in the fucking door, that was the problem was that the head of the studio at that point didn’t understand why George [Clooney] and I were so lit up about him and I had to go in and go, “You need to give this guy this job.  This is good for you.” Once that happened, once he was on, it was literally, “I’ll see you when you’re done.” He doesn’t need help like that.  Other people want you to watch everything, it just depends.

Does Chris ever send you thank you card?  [Laughs]

SODERBERGH: No, he and I will try to have lunch like once a year, catch up, you know what I mean?  He’s been very vocal about, “I’m so glad I got on that movie because it started the relationship with this studio that turned out to be great for everybody,” and I’m happy because it proved that the sort of mandate that we had at Section 8 of taking interesting, young, independent filmmakers and getting them onto movies that typically would be kind of normal if they weren’t involved, they elevate it, they make it something more distinctive by being involved.  That was our whole idea.  It’s what I did.  I was an independent person and I came in and started working with studios on certain movies.  There was this whole wave of people like David O.  Russell.  that was our whole idea, blend these two things.  Why can’t independent filmmakers make shit that opens in 3000 theaters?  So I’m glad that that all played out because Chris the perfect example of why that can work and also from the studio standpoint my belief is that you should bet horses not races.  You should be developing relationships with talent not based on specific projects but based on the fact that you think they’re talented and that everybody hits and misses but in the long run, it’s like the Clint thing, in the long run you win.  If you look at my career, if one person had financed everything I’ve ever made, you’d be up.  I’ve had peaks and valleys, but over the long term if you paid for all of them you would have won.  That’s why it’s very satisfying to watch his career turn into the career that it’s turned into, because he clearly- it wasn’t a surprise to me, he clearly had that in him.  They just, initially, couldn’t see it.

Steven-Soderbergh-Haywire-imageIt’s interesting about him because I did a set visit on Dark Knight Rises and I watched him work, not super close, but close and he’s one of the few filmmakers that will watch over his DPs shoulder and not look at playback, which I find fascinating because every other film set I’ve been on people are watching playback.

SODERBERGH: Yeah, on Out of Sight I started getting rid of that stuff because I felt it was pulling the energy away from where it needs to be.

But you’re shooting a lot of your stuff.

SODERBERGH: Yeah, but even when I wasn’t I was doing the same thing because the actor needs to feel like I’m there and this is where things are happening, not at video village, this is where were making the movie, here.  So what ends up happening now is there’s a single monitor and the focus puller works from, because now with digital, you need to be shooting wide open all the time, that’s how it looks the best, so your depth of field is like this, and so your focus-puller has the 27 inch with his face two inches from the screen with the remote thing making sure, you can imagine on a Fincher set the pressure that guys under.

No, I couldn’t be that guy.  There is no way.  You’re next film, if you will, is with Michael Douglas and Matt Damon all of us are very excited about, we all want to see it, what is the length of that one?

SODERBERGH: It’s like 1:50; it’s under 2:00.

What was it like making that story?

behind-the-candelabra-michael-douglas-matt-damonSODERBERGH: Fun, really fun, because it had a lot of meaning for all of us by the time it happened because it was Michael and Matt, it was for whatever period of time it’s the last thing that I’m going to do and we had to postpone it because Michael got sick.  So getting to do it meant a lot by the time we got there and so it was really fun.  The good thing, as stupid as it sounds to talk about, whatever this break is that I’m on, it was great knowing that that was the last one for a while because I really appreciated everything about it every day, in a way that you never would if you had something coming up nine months later.  I really was able to kind of- you know, the people that I work with are my crew, like Greg Jacobs, I got an opportunity to know like this is the last time that I’m going to see these people for a while.  That made it nice, to know that instead of suddenly you just disappear and everybody’s like, “what happened?” I was able to express my appreciation to people because I knew this was going to be it for a while.

What are the one or two projects that you really wanted to do that just couldn’t come together for financing, cast, whatever, is there one or two?

SODERBERGH: There are only a couple; the things that I was trying to make that I didn’t get to make, Confederacy [of Dunces], Moneyball, Man from U.N.C.L.E.

That’s a pretty small list.

SODERBERGH: Yeah it is, considering what we did get to make.


SODERBERGH: Those are the only three that come to mind of I thought they were going to get made. 

The comic book genre seems to be the most popular thing on the planet right now, is that something that appealed to you at one point?  Or not even a little?

SODERBERGH: I just wasn’t a comic book guy.  When the Russos were going after the captain America sequel, they called me and said, “Will you call Marvel and talk to them about us?” because I have a relationship with them.  I said, “Tell me why you want to do this.” And they go, “Because we have a $60,000 comic book collection, because we’re obsessed with this shit.” And I went, “OK, I’m just checking.” Because I’m not, that’s why I can’t do one, but I didn’t know that and I just wanted to make sure that they were going after it for the right reasons as it turned out they were and they ended up getting the job and they’ll do a great job because they love it, and I’m just not the guy.


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