Okay, so this headline was blatantly trollish link-baiting. I’m not proud to admit it, but it was for a good cause. Steven Soderbergh recently sat down for a lengthy interview with Vulture. It’s a great talk and I’d encourage you to read all of it. He talks about his impending retirement (“The tyranny of narrative is beginning to frustrate me”), his upcoming Liberace movie (“it’s pretty gay”), and his tips for young filmmakers (don’t be a dick; being easy to work with is as important as being good), among other things. In contrast to someone like Tarantino, whose movies I love but who seems like a sweaty lunatic who might be hard to be around, Soderbergh seems like a genuine guy who’s interesting to talk to and easy to be around. In fact, we’re probably going to go tug each other off in the shower after this.
I trolled you with the quote in the headline because CINEMA IS DEAD!!! polemics always get a lot of clicks, but here it is in context:
Your 1999 book, Getting Away With It, is a combination of your own diaries from that time and interviews with director Richard Lester, whose films—like A Hard Day’s Night and The Knack … And How to Get It—were major influences on you. At one point you complained to him: “I feel like a codger saying ‘It’s never been this bad,’ but I really think it’s never been this bad … People who make dumb movies that make a lot of money are now treated with the kind of respect that used to be reserved for people who made good movies.” You must be apoplectic now.
It’s true that when I was growing up, there was a sort of division: Respect was accorded to people who made great movies and to people who made movies that made a lot of money. And that division just doesn’t exist anymore: Now it’s just the people who make a lot of money. I think there are many reasons for that. Some of them are cultural. I’ve said before, I think that the audience for the kinds of movies I grew up liking has migrated to television. The format really allows for the narrow and deep approach that I like, and a lot of people … Well, the point is, three and a half million people watching a show on cable is a success. That many people seeing a movie is not a success. I just don’t think movies matter as much anymore, culturally.
I’d tend to agree. TV is on the rise and movies, novels, and theater are on the wane. Mediums start to lose relevance when they stop being able to reinvent themselves or expand on what that medium can do. That said, I’ll read movie reviews, but not TV reviews. Reviews of individual TV shows seems beyond asinine.
On long movies:
Around the same time you also said, “If you go much over two hours, I think you really better have a very good reason.” I was thinking about that as I sat through the big December releases, which seemed to average two hours and 40 minutes.
The thing I also see a lot of is multiple endings—I feel like movies end like five times now! I remember being very conscious of the Lord of the Rings movies having a lot of endings. But I wonder if the audience has come to expect them.
On everything being “loud.”
Music has become another of the most abused aspects of filmmaking. I’m mystified by the direction scores have taken in the last ten years. It’s wall-to-wall—it’s the movie equivalent of the vuvuzelas from the last World Cup! I don’t understand it at all. For me, it’s ideal when you can get the music to do something that everything else isn’t doing.
Have you noticed how loud trailers have gotten?
They’re punishing! I’ve cut trailers that don’t do that, and they test badly. I will point out to the studio that sitting some people in a room and showing them this one trailer is not how they will be seen in a theater, where you get six in a row. I don’t want my trailer to feel like the other five. Their response is always, Look at the numbers. That’s one good thing—well, there have been many good things about working with HBO—but there are no numbers, no focus groups.
Same with commercials. They all try to out-loud each other, but when the rare quiet one comes on, everyone looks over at the TV because they think the electricity went out. And it’s cliché to say that focus groups are terrible, but focus groups are terrible. People aren’t smart enough to articulate what they actually think, they can only regurgitate what you told them, so asking them about it isn’t going to be terribly instructive. “I think that villain was bad!”
What else has gotten worse?
The worst development in filmmaking—particularly in the last five years—is how badly directors are treated. It’s become absolutely horrible the way the people with the money decide they can fart in the kitchen, to put it bluntly. It’s not just studios—it’s anyone who is financing a film. I guess I don’t understand the assumption that the director is presumptively wrong about what the audience wants or needs when they are the first audience, in a way. And probably got into making movies because of being in that audience.
But an alarming thing I learned during Contagion is that the people who pay to make the movies and the audiences who see them are actually very much in sync. I remember during previews how upset the audience was by the Jude Law character. The fact that he created a sort of mixed reaction was viewed as a flaw in the filmmaking. Not, “Oh, that’s interesting, I’m not sure if this guy is an asshole or a hero.” People were really annoyed by that. And I thought, Wow, so ambiguity is not on the table anymore. They were angry.
On his favorite films and filmmakers:
Are there young filmmakers you’re excited about?
Shane Carruth. He did the film Primer, and he’s got a terrific new movie at Sundance. And I’m acting as a presenter on the new Godfrey Reggio film [Visitors], which is exciting. I mean, this is a guy who doesn’t build a film based on other things he’s seen, like I do. It’s his own thing.
Are you entirely satisfied with any of your films?
Out of Sight. It’s less flawed than the others. Or The Informant! As I look at those two, I feel like I don’t know what else I would do.
I’ll have to check out this Shane Carruth fellow. But not if he’s related to Rae Carruth, that guy is a jerk.