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Steven Soderbergh’s Retirement?

Friday, February 8th, 2013

Steven Soderbergh’s new film, Side Effects, is out today.

Soderbergh claims it’s his last film, but as just about everyone is saying, “don’t hold your breath,” and it would be sad to lose him as a working director, when he’s one of the most original voices out there right now, at least in contemporary Hollywood filmmaking. But as Mary Kaye Schilling wrote in Vulture on January 27, 2013, “Steven Soderbergh has directed 26 films since his 1989 debut, sex, lies, and videotape — the behind-closed-doors portrait of yuppie Louisiana often credited with kick-starting the indie-film revolution of the nineties, released when he was only 26. In the 24 years since, he’s been a remarkably prolific chameleon, managing arguably more than any other director of his generation to successfully bounce between the low- and high-budget, not only directing but often editing and shooting his own films, each, in its way, an audacious experiment.

In one extraordinary three-year streak — 1998 to 2001 — he directed two noirish classics (Out of Sight, The Limey), pulled an Oscar performance out of Julia Roberts (Erin Brockovich), earned an Oscar of his own (Traffic, the same year he was also nominated for Brockovich), and launched a lucrative franchise (Ocean’s Eleven, followed by Twelve and Thirteen). Then in 2011, the seemingly abrupt ­announcement: He wanted to be done making movies by the time he was 50, to focus on painting, among many other things.

[As Soderbergh noted] ‘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 [. . .]

The worst development in filmmaking—particularly in the last five years—is how badly directors are treated [. . .] 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 [. . .] People were really annoyed by that. And I thought, Wow, so ambiguity is not on the table anymore. They were angry.’”

Fascinating stuff. You can read the entire interview here.

About the Author

Wheeler Winston Dixon

Wheeler Winston Dixon, Ryan Professor of Film Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is an internationally recognized scholar and writer of film history, theory and criticism. He is the author of thirty books and more than 100 articles on film, and appears regularly in national media outlets discussing film and culture trends. Frame by Frame is a collection of his thoughts on a number of those topics. To contact Prof. Dixon for an interview, reach him at 402.472.6064 or wdixon1@unl.edu. Visit him at his website wheelerwinstondixon.com.

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