In Part 1 of our interview with director Steven Soderbergh, we spoke with him about his new action-thriller Haywire, starring Gina Carano, which you can read here. In Part 2, he talks about working with writers, working with actors like Matt Damon and George Clooney who are also writers, his relationship with the MPAA, award shows and more.
ComingSoon.net: I’m interested in your relationship with writers, having spoken with Scott Burns last July, so do you generally have writers on set and involved every step of the way?
Steven Soderbergh: Yeah, I like them to be around constantly whenever possible. Some of them are really happy to do that, and some of them don’t want to be around at all. But that’s really the fun part to me, is to have somebody there to keep calibrating, to keep trying to make it better, to keep asking the questions, “Is this the best version of this idea?” I’m very, very protective of them, and also, if you look at my list of films, on a percentage basis, I would argue that I had more sole credits either to a writer or a writing team than any other director you can find. I have never replaced a writer.
CS: You obviously do movies with studios quite a bit, and I’m assuming they’re the ones who might normally do that.
Soderbergh: Yeah, they are, more than filmmakers, which I don’t understand why writers are so angry at directors all the time. In my experience, it’s usually the studio that’s going, “Yeah, let’s throw this person under the bus and get somebody new.” I wouldn’t allow that to happen.
CS: Have you had any time to do any writing yourself? Is that something you might do when you go on that sabbatical?
Soderbergh: No, I hated it. It’s terrible. I’ve found it to be a really horrible job, and when I stopped writing, all the movies got better.
CS: I’ve spoken to other writer-directors who’ve said that when they’re directing a movie, they just don’t have time to focus on writing.
Soderbergh: Well, yeah, right. I wish Alexander Payne was making a movie every year, but that’s hard to do when you’re writing.
CS: You’ve also worked a lot with Matt Damon, who writes, and George who both writes and directs, so is that something preferable in an actor you’re collaborating with?
Soderbergh: No, it’s a huge benefit. I mean, Scott would be the first to tell you. In a couple of cases in “Contagion” we’d have a scene that he and Matt and I would sort of re-tool on the set based on what we were thinking that day. To have someone like Matt who’s not looking at it from the point of view of, “I’m the movie star,” but who’s someone who has written and is very sort of savvy about how movies work and how narrative works. It’s great to have that person in the conversation to be able to talk about the movie on a macro level and not just the thing that we’re doing right now. That’s just a huge plus for a filmmaker. I mean, he’s very bright.
CS: I’ve talked to a lot of filmmakers who’ve worked with him now, who will vouch for Matt’s contributions as a collaborator.
Soderbergh: Yeah, he understands that stuff. It’s something he thinks about a lot, and his instincts are good. My opinion is if you can get him, you should get him.
CS: I’m also curious about your relationship with the MPAA. I know a lot of your movies have been R-rated, but “Haywire” got an R, which you mentioned you were surprised by.
Soderbergh: I think a lot of filmmakers walk away from their interaction with the ratings board kind of shaking their heads because it’s difficult from our standpoint to see any consistency. Then, in this case, I felt that if you’re going to make “Hanna” and “True Grit” PG-13, then we should get a PG-13, but they didn’t agree. I don’t get it.
CS: That’s especially strange because they’ve often been more focused on censoring sex than movies with violence.
Soderbergh: Yeah, I don’t know. Ultimately, I don’t know what the economic effect of that is, frankly, because we’re not really aiming this movie at teenagers, but I was just saying I was shocked when we got that rating that these other two films got a less restrictive rating than us with more violence and with younger protagonists, also female.
CS: Why’d you end up with the title “Haywire?” I know at one point it was called “Knockout,” which was a little more on the nose, I guess.
Soderbergh: Yeah, I was afraid that gave the wrong impression that since she was a fighter, the movie was going to have a lot of fighting, like ring fighting in it, cage fighting. I felt like it suggested a sports movie. I felt I was looking for a title that felt a little more like a Hitchcock movie. “Frenzy” is one of my favorite titles, so I was trying to find something that felt like that.
CS: I know “Moneyball” kind of fell apart after you had been developing it for years, and also “Man from U.N.C.L.E.,” so when that happens, is it completely debilitating or do you have enough stuff you’re developing it’s easy to move on? How do you get past it?
Soderbergh: My first priority is that I have a crew of 100 people that thought they were going to work, so I gotta find something to do. Normally, I have a couple of things going, so I can just switch. In both of those cases, I needed to find something new because none of the stuff I had been developing was ready to go. That’s how “Haywire” happened, and then in this case, that’s why I turned to Scott and said, “Will you give me The Bitter Pill?” because we were going to be working on “U.N.C.L.E.” together in the spring and I needed to go to work. So luckily he agreed.
CS: The last time we spoke, you talked about having seen footage from “Avatar” and considering it a game changer, and you were right, so did you have any inclination to play around with 3D yourself?
Soderbergh: Yeah, I mean, we were going to the “Cleopatra musical” in that format, but then that couldn’t happen. That was really the only thing I had that was appropriate for that format, so it looks like I may miss that one.
CS: After “Liberace,” do you have any idea what you might do with your free time?
Soderbergh: Eh. I don’t know.
CS: You probably could have taken time off any time you wanted, but when you have so many projects you’re developing, is it just a matter of striking while the iron is hot so you can’t just take six months off?
Soderbergh: I mean, I don’t have different speeds. It’s either I’m all the way in or I’m all the way out, so I’ll just drop off the grid for a bit and see what happens.
CS: My last question is one I’m asking everyone this year–not sure why, just decided to do it. What movie last year impressed you or did you wish you directed?
Soderbergh: Well, I don’t think that way. (chuckles) I find the whole process kind of nutty. I don’t know. I just don’t think that way. I’m not a critic, and I know a lot of these people, so if I start saying, “Oh, I liked such and such,” then everybody I know who I didn’t mention is going to assume I saw their movie and hated it. There’s no upside for me to sort of breakdown what I thought of stuff this year. A lot of it I’m still trying to catch up on because I’ve been busy. I just feel bad that the process for artists, filmmakers, actors, technicians, compared to even the last time that I was involved in any of that, it’s just gotten so much worse and it’s just so out of control now – the screenings, the awards. It’s like a friend of yours calling you every week and going, “It’s my birthday.” I can understand one or two of them, but I mean, this is just out of control, and it’s soul-crushing. You can’t go to all these things and be happy unless you’re just a freak or a crazy person. It’s debilitating.
NOTE: We should mention that we were getting ready to attend the Critics Choice Awards in a few hours on the same day we were doing this interview.
CS: I don’t really understand how George is handling this week, because he has events and awards shows pretty much every night.
Soderbergh: Oh, and this isn’t going to be the end of it. He’s going to have to go to the Oscars, and nobody enjoys it! (laughs) I mean, nobody! It gets expensive, and I wish everybody would just get together and go, “You know what? Let’s just list when the films are being screened and just leave it at that.” It’s just crazy, and it’s Harvey’s fault.
CS: Him and a couple other producers, I’m sure. Then again, something like “A Separation,” the Iranian film–I don’t know if you’ve seen it–a movie like that might never get seen without these things.
Soderbergh: Yeah, absolutely, absolutely. That’s the upside potentially, but it’s a very specific form of psychological torture.
CS: There’s gotta be a middle ground basically between where we are now and where things were before.
Soderbergh: Yeah, it’d be nice, but I don’t know. Each year, it just feels desperate.
CS: My last question is kind of the second part of that previous question, which I’m not sure you’ll want to answer either, but what movie this year are you most looking forward to seeing? Is there any movie you think, “That’ll be a cool movie. I want to see that”?
Soderbergh: Oh, what’s coming out? God, I’d have to look at what’s coming out. Well, let me think Well, a lot of them I don’t even know if they’re coming out this year. Like, I know Spike Jonze a little and I know a little about what he’s about to go and do. It sounds awesome. (Laughs) So, I don’t know if that’s coming out this year or next year or whatever, but I’m always fascinated to see what he’s going to do because he’s just totally amazing.