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CALENDAR
8th February: Side Effects released (US)
15th March: Side Effects released (UK)


THE FANLISTING
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UPCOMING PROJECTS

SIDE EFFECTS
Information | Photos | Official website Released: 8th February (US)


BEHIND THE CANDELABRA
Information | Photos | Official website Released: 2013


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NEW & UPCOMING DVDS
Now available from Amazon.com:
Haywire
Contagion

Now available from Amazon.co.uk:
Contagion

DVDs that include an audio commentary track from Steven:
Clean, Shaven - Criterion Collection
Point Blank
The Graduate (40th Anniversary Collector's Edition)
The Third Man - Criterion Collection
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?


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'I want to take more risks'
Despite the Oscar, the Palme d'Or, and grossing millions at the box office, Steven Soderbergh
 is releasing a low-budget hand-held film. Leslie Felperin hears his plans for a year out
 of the mainstream and a new Hollywood studio
(The Big Issue, September 23-29, 2002)

Steven Soderbergh is tired. Anyone would be under these conditions: he's jet-lagged after having just flown in to Venice for the first international screening of his latest film, Full Frontal, and he's been doing tag teams of interviewers all day. God knows how many people have asked what it's like working with Julia Roberts - who appears in this latest film as she did in Ocean's Eleven and Erin Brockovich. Or how many have asked how he felt about the film's mixed critical reception in the States. A trooper who understands what's expected of him, Soderbergh answers every question patiently and thoughtfully, although you get the impression some responses may be better rehearsed than others. But frankly, his exhaustion goes a little beyond jet lag.

"I'm dying to go to a festival where I don't have a movie showing because I never get to see anything, " he says. "I'm taking a year off next year, so maybe I'll just go from one festival to the next as an audience member. I'm just so tired. I've made seven films back to back and I need time to think about what I want to do next."

Steven SoderberghI can just imagine him, with his post-graduate specs and a baseball hat, haunting the film festivals of the world, standing in line to see Hong Kong gangster movies and Latin American thrillers. The guy deserves a break. Only 39 years old, he's already had two distinct career arcs as a director. The first began with the extraordinary success of his debut feature Sex, Lies and Videotape which won the Palme d'Or in 1989. He followed that with a number of well-regarded films - including Kafka, King of the Hill and The Underneath - none of which repeated his debut's financial success. Seemingly pissed off with the pressures of Hollywood, he went underground to make Schizopolis, a truly whacky, barely-seen experimental film starring himself and friends, that views like the bastard love-child of Jean-Luc Godard and Richard Lester (director of A Hard Day's Night), who are tow of Soderbergh's heroes.

The exercise either cleared his head or got something out of his system, or both, because after that it was a steady climb back to box office success, starting with the George Clooney-Jennifer Lopez vehicle Out of Sight, then The Limey, Erin Brockovich, Traffic (for which he won a Best Director Oscar) and the big-bucks-earning Ocean's Eleven. With those movies, Soderbergh cemented his reputation as a supremely talented director with a gift for getting the best from actors and an adventurous storyteller who marries the narrative tricks of the French New Wave with the production values and accessibility of Hollywood mainstream film-making.

And then came Full Frontal. Semi-improvised, shot with a hand-held camera (since Schizopolis, Soderbergh has shot most of his own films under the pseudonym Peter Andrews), it's a bit of a mess as a story and full of interesting ideas, but it will never earn the kind of revenue his last three movies earned. It will be released in the UK in November, hopefully. But what makes Soderbergh so interesting as a filmmaker is that he doesn't seem to care about the release, it's as if he made this just to prove something to himself. (Some have conjectured he deliberately made a difficult movie to get the studios off his back.)

Full Frontal, the story of an interconnected group of LA residents, some in the movie business, some not, was shot in 18 days and cost only $2m (which it's already earned back at the US box office). Soderbergh imposed certain rules on the shoot, for example forcing the cast members to drive themselves to work every day and wear their own clothes. I asked him whether there was a similar motivation to that which drove the Dogme group (Festen, The Idiots, et al) to forswear genre, extraneous props and even using anything but natural lighting. Was he deliberately hobbling himself and others with self-imposed constraints in order to get back to first principles?

"Absolutely," he replies. "Everything interesting has probably been done by Godard already. And he was certainly the first person to push this idea in a really meaningful way. But five years ago when I went and made Schizopolis, I was shooting it as Dogme founders were swearing to their 10 Vows of Chastity. And that whole production (Schizopolis) was very similar to Full Frontal in that we had only five or six people on the crew and there was no money, and that happened because Iw anted to go back and reacquaint myself with a kind of amateur form of film-making."

So was it rewarding in the end? "Making smaller films like Full Frontal is rewarding, yes, but it's also hard. Shooting 115 pages in 18 days is intense. You're really got to push yourself and push those around you. It's very satisfying in a lot of ways, but there's nothing casual about it."

No sooner had he finished it than he began shooting Solaris, a film based on the novel by Stanislaw Lem that inspired Andrei Tarkovsky's 1972 Soviet sci-fi film of the same name. It tells the story of an astronaut of the future orbiting a sentient planet that begins to conjure up ghostly projections of his dead wife. It will star Soderbergh's regular collaborator and producing partner George Clooney. The film has finished shooting and is now in the editing stage.

Soderbergh describes it as a "sort of medium budget film by studio standards. It will be very different fro the Tarkovsky film. I went back to the book and also wrote the screenplay, which I haven't done in a while, so there's a lot of my own preoccupations in it. I really don't know how to describe it because it's not like anything I've ever done before. The biggest difference between what Lem and Tarkovsky did and what I'm doing is that you see their relationship on earth and the events that led to her suicide, so you understand, I hope, that as they play out their relationship in the space station orbiting Solaris, they dread the idea that their relationship is beginning to descend to the same depths it did on Earth. The key question is whether that's inevitable or whether you have free will and can change the course of this relationship."

Which was harder to make, Full Frontal, Solaris or Ocean's Eleven? "I don't know," says Soderbergh, with the sort of weariness one sees in a patriarch discussing a difficult brood of children. "It feels like they're all getting harder. Which just seems weird to me. Ocean's at the time I thought was really, really difficult. Full Frontal turned out to be difficult but in a different way. And Solaris has turned out to be difficult in all the ways a movie can be difficult, so I don't know what's going on. On the one hand, just from a learning my craft standpoint, these should be easier but they're getting harder. Maybe it's because as you know more, you have a better sense of what can go wrong and what does and doesn't work. And then it becomes more difficult to make choices. Maybe that's why I need to take a break."

Have his artistic ambitions changed? "They're changing. One of the reasons I want to take a year off is that I want to take more risks. I don't feel I've taken very many, not by the standard that I follow. And so I have ideas about things I want to do that are riskier than the things that I've done. I have a sense of wanting to step up a little more."

There is something terribly admirable about that ambition, especially as most directors, once they hit this level of success, would just try to coast and keep repeating whatever magic, elusive formula it was that made things work the last time. But Soderbergh has a more adventurous mind, and not content with his achievements as a director, writer, editor and cinematographer, he's taken to producing other people's films, including Clooney's own directorial debut Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind, Christopher Nolan's Insomnia and Todd Haynes' Far From Heaven, which also showed at the Venice film festival this month. There have even been plans to start a mini-studio with other directors David Fincher, Alexander Payne, Spike Jonze and possibly Sam Mendes, although they're still working out the details of how it would be structured.

"We're still working on it," he says. "One of the reasons it's been so slow is that we've all been busy and it's just a weird time in the business in the United States. We've also spent an enormous amount of time analysing why companies like this have failed in the past."

Why did such companies fail before? Personalities played a big part," he explains. "'Plays well with others,' was on the list of criteria [for choosing who to get on board] and frankly there are a lot of directors who don't do that. It's our feeling that the film business in the US is keeping people from making more interesting films. And so our company will operate in a different way from the studios and the independents. A lot of people are hoping it won't quite come off because it will turn everything upside down if it does work."

Is the aim to make interesting films? "Yes, it is to have that freedom while recognising the economic issues involved. We want to create a new model for making movies, in which we share the risk, and the reward," he explains.

It might sound a bit like a utopian, socialist collective, but if anyone could pull if off you suspect Soderbergh and that impressive list of cohorts could. If only the system lets them and the poor guy gets a chance to think it through. Let's hope he has time on that year off.

 


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