8th February: Side Effects released (US)
15th March: Side Effects released (UK)
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LET THEM ALL TALK
Photos | Official website
Photos | Official website
NEW & UPCOMING DVDS
Now available from Amazon.com:
Now available from Amazon.co.uk:
DVDs that include an audio commentary track from Steven:
Clean, Shaven - Criterion Collection
The Graduate (40th Anniversary Collector's Edition)
The Third Man - Criterion Collection
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
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
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
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
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
Hyde Pierce says he didn't know what to make of the script when he first
"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
"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
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,
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,"
"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,