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Steven Soderbergh: Man of promise
The acclaim lavished on American director Steven Soderbergh for Traffic and Erin Brockovich marks a welcome return for the maker of sex, lies and videotape.
The low-budget movie in 1989 was a surprise Oscar-nominated hit for the 26-year-old debut feature director.
More great things were expected to follow, but Soderbergh went rather quiet. He carried on working steadily but obscurely on a series of films that were generally ignored by mainstream moviegoers. Some, like the Depression movie King of the Hill, were lauded. Others, however, were panned - like the surreal Kafka - or considered too low-budget and off-the-wall - like the satire Schizopolis.
"There might have been people who believed I was never going to re-emerge or had lost interest in finding an audience," the director said recently.
"But I was just sort of practising. I was more concerned with pushing myself and trying to get better at my job. I felt that if I put the time in it would pay off."
Soderbergh was born in Georgia on 14 January 1963 but grew up in Baton
Rouge Louisiana, where his father was the dean of Louisiana State
University's College of Education. As a high school pupil, Soderbergh
enrolled in the university's film animation class where he began making
short 16mm films with second-hand equipment. After he graduated from high
school, he decided to focus on writing screenplays and making short
The finished product, 9012 Live, was nominated for a 1986 Grammy. He went on to film the short Winston, which then developed into sex, lies and videotape.
The film, starring James Spader and Andie MacDowell, was an international
hit because of what was widely considered its inspired exploration of
modern relationships. But, it was not until Soderbergh's 1998 movie Out
of Sight that the director's so-called "practice" time looked like it
was beginning to "pay off." The irreverent film, adapted from the novel by
Elmore Leonard, starred heart-throb George Clooney and actress and singer
Jennifer Lopez and was a critical and commercial success.
Erin Brockovich in 2000, about a legal secretary who uncovers a major environmental scandal, has triumphed on almost every front. Its star Julia Roberts has already scooped awards this year, and Soderbergh's direction has undoubtedly contributed to the $125m raked in at the box office. Coupled with drug-war thriller Traffic - based on the 1989 British TV mini-series Traffik starring Bill Paterson - Soderbergh's return to form is looking more and more complete.
As well as movies, the director has also acted as producer and screenwriter for other directors' projects, including Gary Ross's Pleasantville. For his next project, Soderbergh is reuniting with Julia Roberts on Oceanís Eleven, which also features other A-list stars George Clooney and Brad Pitt. The film is a new take on the 60s casino-heist drama with Frank Sinatra and is due out sometime next year.
"Coming on the heels of Erin and Traffic, it's good for me," Soderbergh said in a recent interview.
"It's a film of no social value whatsoever. It's just fun, and I'm really looking forward to it."
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