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


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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
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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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PLAYING IT REAL: Steven Soderbergh says his low-budget Full Frontal took on a creative life of its own
BY TERRY LAWSON
(Detroit Free Press, July 28, 2002)

As the credits roll on Steven Soderbergh's "Full Frontal," which opens in metro Detroit and selected other cities Friday, a plaintive but urgent song called "Do Something Real" plays over the scroll. It is performed by Bob Pollard and Doug Gillard and written by Pollard, the lead voice in the Dayton, Ohio, cult band Guided by Voices, Soderbergh's favorite group.

It wasn't his affection for the band that led Soderbergh to afford the song such prominence, however; it was his film's affinity with both the message and aesthetic of the song.

"I've attempted to shoehorn GBV songs in my other movies, but they ended up not working," he says. "But this was perfect, because 'Full Frontal' is the cinematic equivalent to that garage-band ethos. It's me blowing out the pipes, working fast, dirty and real. No overdubs or sweetening. Just the straight stuff."

Since the conception of 'Full Frontal,' there has been no shortage of misconceptions about the director's latest project. Soderbergh himself was partly responsible, casually referring to it in interviews he did for his 2001 hit "Ocean's Eleven" as a sequel to his breakthrough debut, "sex, lies, and videotape." It isn't, though it does address some of the same issues of intimacy and commitment.

Then Julia Roberts called it "my little nudie movie," though neither she nor anybody else is naked in it. And there was the original title, "How to Survive a Hotel Room Fire," which was only metaphorical and had to be changed anyway after the events of 9/11.

But perhaps the biggest misconception is that "Full Frontal," shot mostly on hand-held digital cameras using natural sound, was a kind of artistic indulgence for Soderbergh, who has made some of the most popular entertainment of the past few years -- "Erin Brockovich," "Traffic," for which he won a best-director Oscar, and "Ocean's Eleven." In fact, "Full Frontal" may be the most carefully structured and emotionally layered movie of his career.

Rule maker sets the scene

"I will say that I found both the experience and the result as artistically satisfying and challenging as anything I've ever done," says the director. "Which is not to say that everyone involved didn't have a really good time. Nor is it to say that I don't think it will polarize audiences. But to me that means I've done something worth arguing about."

Set almost entirely during one day in Los Angeles, "Full Frontal" weaves together the stories of seven people who are connected, either intimately or casually. Blair Underwood plays a popular TV actor trying to break into features and being interviewed on the subject by Roberts. David Hyde Pierce works at Los Angeles magazine, where Roberts' story is ostensibly headed; he's married to an abrasive human-resources executive played by Catherine Keener.

Mary McCormack is Keener's sister, a masseuse who thinks she may have met her soul mate on the Internet. He is not, however, the young Phoenix artist he pretends to be but a middle-aged L.A. theater director trying to open a comedy about Hitler, played as an egomaniac by an egomaniacal actor (Nicky Katt).

Connected in one way or another to all these characters is a mysterious producer played by David Duchovny, who is throwing himself a 40th-birthday party that evening.

The movie's script was written by Coleman Hough, a playwright and friend of Soderbergh's. Inspired by real-life conversations Hough had with friends and relatives, much of the material originally was used in one-act plays and acting class exercises.

Soderbergh read the material and "knew pretty quickly it could be a movie, mostly because the dialogue was so clever and funny and yet completely natural." He suggested it be structured so every scene involved just two people talking, until the climax, where everyone converges on the party "Fellini-style."

Then he devised the idea of combining the script with interviews he would conduct with the actors he wanted to cast in the film. He sent the script to everyone he was interested in casting, along with a set of rules in the ascetic spirit of the Dogme 95 independent filmmakers' manifesto.

The rules, he says now, were "both tongue-in-cheek and serious": All the sets would be practical locations. The actors would drive themselves to the locations; if they were unable, a driver would pick them up, "but you will probably become the subject of ridicule." Actors also would be responsible for getting themselves fed, for selecting and providing their own wardrobes and for their own makeup.

Nor, Soderbergh says, would there be any fancy trailers or special accommodations for the low-budget, 18-day shoot: "If you need to be alone a lot, you're pretty much screwed." Most importantly, the actors would be interviewed about their characters and the other characters, and they could expect material from those interviews to show up in the film.

Finally, he vowed: "You will have fun whether you want to or not."

Putting in a piece of themselves

Soderbergh says he knew he was on the right track in Hyde Pierce's interview when the actor improvised a story about his character "that proved crucial to who he was and what the movie would end up becoming, although we didn't know that at the time; we just knew it was explosive and we had to have it in the film, which meant we had to be flexible, too. I was aware I was testing myself as much as anybody else, but I'm sure I recognized how
collaborative it would finally be."

In another instance of the film's taking its own direction, Underwood asked if he could take a conversation he was to have with Roberts in the script, about how black actors are dealt with in Hollywood movies, to a friend, a poet and professor of African studies. The friend turned it into a rhythmic Ali-style rap making pointed reference to the characters Roberts and
Denzel Washington played in "The Pelican Brief."

"Julia didn't have a clue what Blair was about to do; she was hearing that for the first time," Soderbergh says, "and that first take is what we used, because he just nailed it. Her reaction is incredible -- because it's 100 percent real. It's acting only in the sense that she stays in character."

Hyde Pierce says he didn't know what to make of the script when he first got it.

"I loved it, but it seemed completely incoherent to me. Then, each time I reread it, I started to see how it linked up. I like what (Soderbergh) leaves out when he tells the stories."

Hyde Pierce was gifted with the film's grace note, a lovely scene that writer Hough says turns his character into "the heart of the film." And Soderbergh is the first to admit that he was surprised when the film began to acquire an emotional resonance that "frankly, I didn't ever expect. I was happily surprised when we got to the editing room, because the film seemed to construct itself. I realized then it was all a testament to the actors, not me, because they were the ones who had to take the leap."

Some, he admits, took longer than others to jump off. Keener, who has become one of the most sought-after character actors in films by playing hard-edged, tart-tongued alienated women, was initially resistant to "baring any real secrets" in the interview process, Soderbergh says.

"She was just uncomfortable revealing that much of herself, and she fought me by saying, 'Lee (her character) would never do this stuff.' But last week we all got back together for lunch, and Catherine said, 'I just feel like you gave me this incredible gift,' and I was just so moved."

Then there was the case of Roberts, who has a storyline that eerily coincides with her recent personal life, something Soderbergh swears was coincidence.

"This was all written before she got involved with Danny (Moder, a cameraman Roberts married on July 4). But the dynamic of someone like the character she plays looking for a normal relationship in Hollywood is not exactly unique, you know. You hear that a lot with actors. But do I believe it was prescient? Maybe a little, but I'd like to think it was more just knowing Julia a little," Soderbergh says.

"I'm a believer in playing to a actor's strength. I'm a bit old-school that way. If you cast George (Clooney, his star in "Out of Sight" and "Ocean's Eleven" and his partner in Section Eight Productions), you're going to capitalize on his charisma and integrity, usually.

"Though everyone is playing a real character in 'Full Frontal,' they're playing people that are not that foreign to them, and that's scary. One reason actors are actors is because it gives them the dual luxury of concealing themselves and revealing themselves, sometimes at the same time."

Recognizing the possibilities

Soderbergh's and Clooney's Section Eight company produced this spring's "Insomnia," for which Al Pacino could pick up an Academy Award nomination; the upcoming "Welcome to Collinwood"; Todd Haynes' "Far from Heaven," with Julianne Moore and Dennis Quaid; and Clooney's directing debut, "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind," which is scheduled to be released this Christmas.

The two have also reteamed for a remake of the 1972 Russian science-fiction drama "Solaris"; while "Ocean's Eleven" was considered an improvement on the original, this remake has a good, if mostly obscure, reputation to live up to.

Clooney says the "lazy part of me could make every movie I make with Steven, because he believes in what I'm capable of more than I do. I don't think too many directors would have wanted me first for 'Out of Sight' (an adaptation of the Elmore Leonard novel, filmed partly in Detroit). He sees every possibility in things, and he's open to the moment. I think that makes him one of the great American directors, if not the greatest, working now."

Soderbergh says he has a number of projects heating up on various burners, and whatever boils first, he'll do. One likelihood is a biography of revolutionary Che Guevara starring Oscar-winner Benicio Del Toro from "Traffic." But he swears he'd like to return to Detroit to make a drama of some kind, after hearing through the grapevine that Curtis Hanson was able
to use the city to get "the real grit" in the upcoming "8 Mile," starring Eminem.

"The right project brings me back there in a minute," says Soderbergh.

"Another thing 'Full Frontal' did was make me want to work where people have to get what's going on and get it quick. That's your city, isn't it?"

 


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