Steven Soderbergh on the Three Major Turning Points in His Career
Steven Soderbergh has a career like no-one else, past and present, because of the amount of work he has produced in the last 30 yeas, and because of the variety of genres and formats he has tackled, from ultra indie to blockbusters, from experimental to TV shows.
Since announcing his retirement from film (not TV, film), Soderbergh also tweeted a novela, and open a partly-blog, partly-memorabilia-website where he regularly put up great content for aspiring directors.
In a recent in-depth interview he gave to the DGA about his career both as a filmmaker and as an active member of the Guild, Soderbergh mentioned three clear turning points in his career that made him take clear turns but also keep moving forward as a creative:
#1 – Understanding What Type of Filmmaker He Was (1985)
In 1985, at the age of 22 and still 4 years before winning Cannes, Soderbergh took on directing and editing a feature documentary for the rock group Yes. Even though he was nominated for a Grammy and, Soderbergh mentions it as his first turning point at understanding where lied his strength:
“[The video] was a great opportunity—but unfortunately, while I was editing, I happened to see Russell Mulcahy’s Duran Duran concert film called As the Lights Go Down, and I wanted to blow my brains out because this thing was so electrifying and beautiful. I just couldn’t believe how much more sophisticated it was. Granted, it’s a different group, different music, different set of demands—but as a pure piece of visual material, it made me realize I should not be pursuing music videos, because I couldn’t compete on that level. For better or worse, I’m narrative driven. And that was an important thing for me to realize, what my strengths and weaknesses were. There have been a few times in my career where I’ve had real moments of assessing where I’m at, what I’m doing, and how I can optimize my skill set.”
#2 – Letting Go of Writing (1995)
“Another time I had a real sit-down with myself was during and shortly after making The Underneath. I really was unhappy with where I was creatively and was trying to figure out how to get back on track. I felt lost. I felt like I had drifted way off compass and needed to essentially annihilate everything that had come before and sort of rebuild and rediscover the enthusiasm of the amateur. (…) During the whole Underneath period, I was feeling,What am I doing? How do I change it up?One of the things I realized was, I’m not a writer, and I needed to stop doing that. It was a huge thing for me to let go of that and realize I have the ability to talk about story and character and to suggest how something should be laid out in narrative terms—but in terms of pure writing, I’m so far behind what I know about directing that it’s really better for me to work with writers who know as much about writing as I know about directing.”
#3 – Stepping Back to Reconnect with His Creativity (2013)
Around the time he was doing Che (2008), Soderbergh started wondering if he still wanted to make films. This lead to his much covered announcement about retiring from cinema in 2013.
“My relationship with movies had reached a point where I felt I needed a trial separation. I would hate for people to think that it was out of some sense of, ‘Oh, I’ve figured it out.’ It wasn’t that; it was actually the opposite. It was, I’ve just reached a point where I’m not sure how to get to another level with this in terms of my abilities. I feel there’s another iteration in terms of my relationship with cinema, but I don’t know what it is. All I know is there has to be something else, and until I can figure that out, I’m going to step off because I don’t want to go to work feeling stuck. And the good news is that I’ve been able to work on The Knick and have a lot of fun and continue to learn, while in the background I’m thinking about my relationship to cinema and whether or not there is another version of me that can evolve and come back. I didn’t know at the time of Che what I would be doing in five years would turn out to be TV, but I just knew it wasn’t going to be movies. And now the only area of growth in the entire entertainment industry is one-hour original content. That’s exploding, while everything else is shrinking. So from a Guild standpoint, that means we now have to be especially diligent about how directors who work in that medium are being treated both economically and creatively, because that’s become a real power base. And now I’m part of that world as well.”
Thanks to Thompson On Hollywood