January 29th, 2013
On the verge of retirement from film directing once he reaches the age of 50, Steven Soderbergh talked to New York magazine about his career:
Have you noticed how loud trailers have gotten?
They're punishing! I've cut trailers that don't do that, and they test badly. I will point out to the studio that sitting some people in a room and showing them this one trailer is not how they will be seen in a theater, where you get six in a row. I don't want my trailer to feel like the other five. Their response is always, Look at the numbers. That's one good thing – well, there have been many good things about working with HBO – but there are no numbers, no focus groups.
What else has gotten worse?
The worst development in filmmaking – particularly in the last five years – is how badly directors are treated. It's become absolutely horrible the way the people with the money decide they can fart in the kitchen, to put it bluntly. It's not just studios – it's anyone who is financing a film. I guess I don't understand the assumption that the director is presumptively wrong about what the audience wants or needs when they are the first audience, in a way. And probably got into making movies because of being in that audience.
But an alarming thing I learned during Contagion is that the people who pay to make the movies and the audiences who see them are actually very much in sync. I remember during previews how upset the audience was by the Jude Law character. The fact that he created a sort of mixed reaction was viewed as a flaw in the filmmaking. Not, "Oh, that's interesting, I'm not sure if this guy is an asshole or a hero." People were really annoyed by that. And I thought, Wow, so ambiguity is not on the table anymore. They were angry.
For the record, the full interview isn't just a series of gripes about the director's lot today; it's a decent overview of what's snagged his interest and some of the creative decisions he took over the course of a pretty varied career. (Plus a gratuitous swipe at Jennifer Lopez from the interviewer that Soderbergh completely ignores.)
Interesting to note that it's specifically film directing that Soderbergh is walking away from; as well as doing some painting and looking into directing for the stage, he indicates that he'd be up for working in TV if the "something great" were to come along. I have no doubt that once Soderbergh has had a little time to refine his skills as a painter and catch up on some leisure reading1 he'll be hearing from HBO and AMC and quite a few others besides2 who'd just love to get into the Soderbergh business.
[Via feeling listless]