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Public shocked to find out iPhone used to shoot $20 mln movie, says Steven Soderbergh

In an interview with TASS prominent American director Steven Soderbergh talks about the future of cinematography and his new projects

- Have you seen The Crown before you cast Claire Foy?

No. Oh, yes, I have. Well, yes. What happened was though I saw her giving acceptance speech and then I watched The Crown. And then I offered her the part. That was the first time that happened where I’d seen an actor not acting and I was compelled and I pursued watching their day job.

She acts very charming. She obviously didn’t expect. She had nothing prepared, she just was made no attempt to discuss the fact that this was a surprise. And she was very sincere but funny and gone off the stage. And you understood in the moment like – okay, thanks, bye! My wife and I were watching and we both thought like – she seems cool! I like her. And then I thought – oh, shit, I guess I should watch the show she won this award for! And my wife had watched the show. After we saw Claire, like – well, you should watch the show, she’s really amazing in it. And I just was hoping, I was doing a little bit of math, that the extreme nature of Sawyer would be fun for her coming off with 2 years of The Crown. 10 months of shooting over, yeah, that’s a lot.

A shot from 'The Crown'
A shot from 'The Crown'

- What is the next project you will work on? Or can’t you talk about it?

No. No, that’s all done. No, this is something I’m working on with Lem Dobbs actually. But it’s like a 6 hour limited series. But it’s complicated. And I don’t have the sense of when that’s gonna be ready. But for the moment yeah, I’ve got a couple. It just turned out that a couple of movie things that I’ve been working on, kind of scripts came in like very close to each other. And they were all really good. So, I’m just trying to figure out in what order these are gonna get done.

Yeah, this is something I’m doing with André Holland, who was in The Knick. We’ve been talking about, we’ve been working at it for 4 years, like we started talking about it during season 1 of The Knick. And that script came in this fall. And I said ‘It’s great. Let’s all do it. As soon as my obligations with this done let’s go’. And André was working on a TV series also. So, you know, contained not a big movie in the budget sense but a kind of dense piece. So, yeah, we start on Tuesday.

- Are you still interested in movie format after you’ve done The Knick?

Well, yeah. I mean that’s what I mean. What was really fun about The Knick is just having a 10 hour canvas. When you get into that format you realize how much more it becomes about character than it does about plot. You realize like – the tyranny of the 2 hour narrative sort of tilts everything toward plot. It’s always good to have a great character but it does tends up just lean towards the direction of pure plot, whereas if you’re doing a 10 hour piece you’re more prone or you’re leaning more toward doing a deep dive on all of the characters. But I like them both. They’re different.

Shooting of 'The Knick'
Shooting of 'The Knick'

- Do you know what will be with distribution (Netflix, VOD etc.) back when you did Bubble, which had simultaneous release theatrically and on TV?

I guess there are many ways, especially in science, technology, where if something is possible, you know somebody is gonna do it, it’s gonna happen. And so, I guess my attitude then was – this is going to happen, it’s possible, it can be done. So, that means it’s going to happen. So, why don’t we start this process of exploration? It was difficult to judge the success or failure of that experiment because we were kept out of. The only theatres that would book us were owned by people who finance the movie. The mainstream chains wanted nothing to do with this. Even though we proposed a scenario, which they would share in some of our revenue, became from now on theatrical. This thing I want to talk about.

- Do you think people will still go to the movie theatres in the future?

I think so, yeah. I still think that’s an experience. When it goes well, the people enjoy. And when it goes well, I’m not only meaning like when I see a good movie, but when they have a good experience at the theatre and believe me I often go out and have an experience in the theatre and I think – this is why people are staying home, that was terrible. Like there wasn’t a good presentation, I didn’t like being in this space, it wasn’t like very clean. People are <...>  rude, they won’t turn their phones off. They talk like it's their living-room! That’s a problem. I’m not sure how to address it.

- What is it that you can express with painting that you can’t express as a filmmaker?

Well, you know, we’ll never know. I was really interested in the 2 months where I was starting to try and get serious about it. I was really interested in trying to bring to it some ideas from my other job in terms of composition and narrative. But I didn’t get very far because The Knick came about. I don’t think so, because if you’re gonna be serious about it like you need to do it, you need to spend the hours doing it that I spend doing this.

But I was starting to think about compositionally trying to do things that were very much connected to what I do as a director and the cinematographer and an editor. The best photographs, the photographs that are taken by photographers that we remember by name, that are sort of strict portraiture, tell a story. Sometimes at these conversations where somebody would say – oh, did you see such and such movie? I go – yeah, but you know it’s hard for me to watch a movie of a director that doesn’t know what a <...>  shot looks like. But somebody finally, a couple of months ago confronted me on this like – what is that? what is the shot? Like – what do you mean when you say that?! What do you mean? And I said ‘A shot is a story!’ You should be able to take that shot. And it’s not about that it looks pretty. I’m just saying the shot should have a piece of the story in it.

- What’s The Panama Papers movie about? 

Well, when the story broke, that’s clearly the kind of thing I’m interested in. And so Scott and I are pretty constant in communication anyway. And he said ‘Are you as intrigued by this as I am?’ And I said ‘Look! Here’s the challenge’.

Most people who read that story don’t feel... or are wondering why this is relevant to now. They’re not rich. They don’t have shell companies. It just sounds to them like a lot of wealthy corporations doing that shit they do to not pay taxes. They don’t feel a kind of this visceral connection to their life vis-à-vis this story. I said ‘So, your job, Scott, is to figure out… I don’t want to see a single journalist in this. And it’s your job to figure out how to make people come up at the movie going’. I had no idea that actually things that happen to me every day, you can draw a direct line to this kind of activity.

So, what he did was kind of perfect I thought. Well, then what if we took a sort of Wild Tales approach where we have multiple stories. And some of them you wonder like – how is this gonna end up intersecting with? But they always do. And you realize – yeah, as you walk around, there’s actually many people and businesses and situations that you encounter that can be traced back to The Panama Papers in this whole shell company scenario. So, when the script came in I was really really happy. It’s set all over the world, so you have this multiple stories and different characters that appear and disappear. It’s really smart.

- Sounds a bit like your Traffic in some respect.

A shot from 'Traffic'
A shot from 'Traffic'

I think if you can do that added value for the viewer, what I liked about what Jim and Jonathan did was add enough of these elements from the real world that are sort of leaking under the frame. We keep it from being just disposable. You know what I mean. That’s in the same way that in Get Out, like it operates on this one level. But then you can’t just like throw it away when you walk out of the theatre.

Yeah. That would be nice if we were able to find the audience for that movie. Today I don’t know. It’s an open question, and we’re trying to figure out right now just what’s the best home for this project. It’s not cheap. It’s not like wildly expensive but it’s not cheap. And a movie aimed at grown-ups, that really challenges. It’s not a passive experience for a viewer think watching this thing. How many movies like it have made a hundred million dollars? Which is what I would need to make to return its investment.

- How much are you into “Ocean's 8”, gender-bender “Ocean’s Eleven” remake? Is it only credit for you or something more?

Oh, Garry and I have been on talking a lot. No. That’s not just a credit. We’ve been working on that, but by the time the movie comes out that’ll be over 4 years that we’ve been working on that.

So, it’s very rare that I take a producer credit as opposed to an executive producer credit. I usually take executive producer credits because I feel like – I take that credit very seriously. And in this case I earned that credit. Like I’ve been very attached to Garry’s as he’s gone through this. At his request. Because he’s the one who came to me and said ‘What do you think of this idea?’ And I say ‘I think that it’s a really great idea!’ And he made it clear like – well, will you be my producer on this? And I said ‘Sure’.

- I should ask about Magic Mike. Is there any news about this project?

Magic Mike XXL showed that Channing created this really well. And he’s really popular. And the Broadway version of a musical that we’ve been developing is getting very close to achieving critical mass I think. At some point this year will go to one of those added-on things. That’s starting to take shape. So, that feels like the natural progression of that universe with these 2 different spaces. I think everybody felt like – we were able to finish off some things in XXL that we’d started in Magic Mike. I think all of this walked away from that filming, it was kind of a diptych, and it’s finished.

- And if I got that right you won’t shoot expensive projects from now on. Or it depends on the project still, doesn't it?

Yeah. We’re gonna see some developments technologically this year, I think they’re gonna make these kinds of questions even more interesting. For some people obviously they can’t quite wrap their mind around doing a 20 million dollar film and shooting it on a phone that costs 700 dollars. That’s for some people like a real obstacle. It wouldn’t be for me.

But I think you’re gonna see some stuff coming out this year, in which the size of the camera remains basically the same as the phone but you’re gonna be dealing with the much larger sensor. I think that’s coming. And that will be interesting. Because then you’ll have the best of both, then you’ll be able to put the lens anywhere you want but you’ll have this sort of large format capture that sometimes you want.