Steven Soderbergh – The Movie Business Mindset

“I think if I were going to run a studio I’d just be gathering the best filmmakers I could find and sort of let them do their thing within certain economic parameters. So I would call Shane Carruth, or Barry Jenkins or Amy Seimetz and I’d bring them in and go, ok, what do you want to do? What are the things you’re interested in doing? What do we have here that you might be interested in doing? If there was some sort of point of intersection I’d go: Ok, look, I’m going to let you make three movies over five years, I’m going to give you this much money in production costs, I’m going to dedicate this much money on marketing. You can sort of proportion it how you want, you can spend it all on one and none on the other two, but go make something.” – Steven Soderbergh (who else would this be? Come on now!)

I think it really says something about how cinema is currently, as a business, that a director like Steven Soderbergh can be one of the more well known directors in Hollywood at the moment. Sure, he’s no Spielberg, Tarantino, Scorsese or Fincher, but practically nobody is, and for a director of brilliant, small and oddball projects like Bubble (2005) to be able to also make consistently massive hits with audiences in a way that seems so impossibly effortless, Soderbergh is seriously impressive. I first became impressed by him when I saw some of his most recent works – namely Contagion (2011), Side Effects (2013) and Haywire (2011) – all three of which are very different but all show a taut style in direction that is second to none. Soderbergh’s style is one that is surprisingly able to distort and contort itself in so many different ways, allowing him to enjoy success when directing (almost) any story from any genre. Getting his start in 1989 with the classic drama Sex, Lies and Videotape (actually one of his films that I saw last!) at only 26 years old, it quickly became clear from his succession of hits that Soderbergh wasn’t to be reckoned with, but it seems like many didn’t really start to pay attention until he remade Ocean’s Eleven with THAT infamous cast. 

Lying beneath that facade of dreamy slickness, however, are a group of really quite strange and impressive indie efforts. Soderbergh, on top of his cinematic achievements that are visible on screen in many of his films, also really pioneered the ‘one for me, one for you’ mode of studio filmmaking (even if he has since gone back on this, stating in 2018 that he doesn’t want to make films for any studio anymore, most likely due to studio meddling with his projects – this was short lived, as he also explained how he begged Apple not to edit his recent Netflix feature High Flying Bird), a mode of filmmaking which has allowed him to make some of his most ambitious projects on studio time and dime. The rules were simply, Soderbergh would direct one films that the studios wanted him to, if in return that studio would allow him to do a smaller project without interference (or at least, with much less interference). It was this plan which allowed Soderbergh to leap from remaking Solaris in 2002 to making two films on Che in 2008 and also making a group of very low budget features such as the aforementioned Bubble (a great film!) and The Girlfriend Experience, which has also since become a TV show (and which I have reviewed before, here: )

Steven Soderbergh's latest is thriller Unsane, filmed on an iPhone

It was really this mindset which made me seriously impressed with Soderbergh on the level that he is good enough at making films that studios are willing to bet on him making consistent hits across a range of genres, allowing him to constantly refine his style by bouncing back and forth between so many different styles and genres and budgets so quickly. Soderbergh made FOURTEEN (!) features in the last decade (with a four year retirement in there, just for good measure), at the same time as producing another eleven and still working in TV. 

I was only further impressed when Soderbergh started making films in the steps of Sean Baker on a phone – starting with Insane (which is also one of his best projects!), and then also directing High Flying Bird the year after on a phone too. Whilst Soderbergh has temporarily ditched phone filmmaking, he has been so noted for his work within the parameters of digital cinema since 2002 with Full Frontal that Christopher Nolan actually called out for him to return from the ‘dark side’ of digital cinema, oddly enough. Evidently, Soderbergh has no plans in stopping his digital escapade, though – it allows him to become far more productive and to continue to refine his style endlessly, something he has seemingly always been focused on. 

One final thing that I just find interesting and thought worth including was a link to this list of films, TV shows and books that Steven Soderbergh watched/read last year – it was the final tipping point that got me to writing this article on him, as it just impressed me even more with his insane level of productivity. Happy reading! –

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