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kottke.org posts about David Sims

Steven Soderbergh’s Theories on the History and Future of Movies

posted by Tim Carmody   Feb 15, 2019

Soderbergh - iPhone.jpg

Filmmaker Steven Soderbergh had a very interesting interview with The Atlantic’s David Sims. Here are some excerpts.

The first (and maybe the juiciest) is on how September 11 changed the genre palate of the movie industry.

Sims: Most of the studio movies you made were in the the mid-budget tier that Hollywood doesn’t make anymore. What happened to it?

Soderbergh: Look, I have a lot of crackpot theories about how moviegoing has changed and why.

Sims: I would like to hear your crackpot theories.

Soderbergh: One of the most extreme is, I really feel that why people go to the movies has changed since 9/11. My feeling is that what people want when they go to a movie shifted more toward escapist fare. And as a result, most of the more “serious” adult fare, what I would pejoratively refer to as “Oscar bait,” all gets pushed into October, November, December.

Sims: And people have become conditioned, in the fall, to go and see a couple of serious movies.

Soderbergh: Put on a heavy coat and go see something serious. What that creates is what you see now, which is this weird dichotomy of fantasy spectacle; low-budget genre, whether it’s horror or comedy; and the year-end awards movies. I guess that’s a trichotomy.

Sims: From January to March, you can have some cheap fun, then in March, here we go …

Soderbergh: The big shit’s coming.

The second (and maybe the most interesting) is how partnering with distributors like Amazon and Netflix might create different markets for different kinds of movies.

Sims: You tried [a simultaneous in-theaters and home release] with Bubble in 2005, back before anyone thought that was a thing you could do. You tried it with The Girlfriend Experience in 2009. Were you just inventing the wheel before there was a car to put it on? What’s changed in the past 15 years?

Soderbergh: Well, I ran into the problem that all platforms are having, which is that the big chains don’t want to engage with this. I know [the National Association of Theatre Owners president,] John Fithian well, and have had a lot of interaction with NATO, and I am sympathetic to this issue. What I don’t understand is why everyone in this business thinks there is one template that is gonna be the unified field theory of “windowing” [or how long a movie screens in theaters]. The minute that I knew, which is usually around Friday at noon, that Logan Lucky wasn’t going to work and that Unsane was definitely not gonna work—as soon as that happens, the studio should let me drop the movie on a platform the next week. There should be a mechanism for when something dies at the box office like that.

Sims: A backup option of, You know what, if it doesn’t hit this number on opening weekend, then release it online.

Soderbergh: I think in abject failures, they should let you do whatever the hell you want. If Unsane drops and doesn’t perform, who’s harmed exactly by me 10 days later putting this thing on a platform? You can’t prove to me that that’s hurting your business.

And last, and the most concise, is on how Soderbergh would change the Oscars if he were in charge.

Sims: What do you think of the Oscars potentially excluding some categories from being televised live?

Soderbergh: There was some discussion for a minute about the Oscars doing what the Emmys do—having two ceremonies. Everybody shouted that down and said they would be creating two tiers. What I wanted to do was produce that show: We’ll go back to the Roosevelt Hotel, every nominee can bring a plus-one, and that’s it. Super intimate, food, drink, all that, you can get up there and talk all you want. It’s not televised. It’s a private event for the nominees and their significant others. Make it fun and cool. ‘Cause here’s the dirty secret: Going to the big thing is not fun. It’s more fun to watch on TV. The trick would be doing something super cool and small.

I also think it’s both interesting and cool that Soderbergh is shooting video using an iPhone now. The small size, he argues, is actually an advantage. As he tells Sims, “The more things you can eliminate that actors have to ignore, the better.”