This article is from 2006.
James Mottram checks in on filmmaker Steven Soderbergh and finds him as busy as ever.
Snagging Steven Soderbergh for one of the EIFF’s Reel Life on-stage interviews is a remarkable coup. Not least because this ‘filmmaker’s filmmaker’, as the catalogue dubs him, is always so busy. While it’s just been announced that Section Eight, the Warner Bros-housed production company he formed with his actor-pal George Clooney is about to shut its doors, Soderbergh shows no signs of slowing down. This month sees the release of Richard Linklater’s A Scanner Darkly, which he produced, while next month Eros - three short films including his Equilibrium with Robert Downey Jr - hits the screens.
Yet, as impressive as his work rate is - matched only by Michael Winterbottom and François Ozon it seems - it’s his level of daring that is truly awe-inspiring. Competent in the studio fold -" he is currently filming big-budget caper sequel, Ocean’s Thirteen -" he is just as comfortable disrupting it. His no-budget drama Bubble, as yet unreleased in the UK, was an attempt to offer a viable alternative to the current distribution system - with the film set to be unveiled simultaneously on DVD, in cinemas and on cable.
The back-to-basics Bubble is typical of Soderbergh, who likes nothing better than taking on small scale projects (Schizopolis or Full Frontal) to ‘cleanse his palette’ as he puts it. ‘There can be times where you want to make a cave-painting,’ he says. ‘You need to strip everything down and do something that’s simple.’
An impossible director to categorise, Soderbergh also feels it’s as important not to repeat your successes. ‘I’ve always said to some degree that whatever you’re working on should annihilate what you’d done before.’
Prior to the arrival of Ocean’s Thirteen next summer, Soderbergh’s next major studio project is The Good German, an adaptation of Joseph Kanon’s novel set in Berlin ‘six weeks after the end of World War II’. The film again reunites Soderbergh with Clooney, who plays an American journalist sucked into a murder mystery. ‘We’re recreating an aesthetic of a 1945 Hollywood studio film,’ says Soderbergh. ‘For Casablanca, they didn’t go to Casablanca. And we’re doing it exactly that way: matte shots, rear projection, black-and-white. It’s going to be like a Michael Curtiz film.’
Then comes the long-delayed Guerrilla, starring Benicio Del Toro as the revolutionary Ernesto ‘Ché’ Guevara. ‘It’s a difficult subject,’ admits Soderbergh, who took over from Terrence Malick as director. He’s also putting the finishing touches to Life Interrupted, a documentary about late actor Spalding Gray, with whom he worked on his 1993 film King of the Hill and 1996 monologue Gray’s Anatomy. There’s even talk of a musical version. ‘All I’ll say as it’s going to be crazy,’ says Soderbergh. ‘It’s going to be like a Ken Russell movie - hallucinatory.’
No wonder the man’s so darn busy.
James Mottram’s book The Sundance Kids: How the Mavericks took over Hollywood (Faber £16.99) is out now.
Reel Life: Steven Soderbergh, Cineworld, 623 8030. 19 Aug, 8.30pm, £15 (£9.70).