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So the other day I was reading this transcribed speech from Steven Soderbergh, which he recently gave at an event. The speech was significant because Soderbergh hinted that he would be dropping some bombs on Hollywood. Soderbergh has become an interesting topic of discussion over the last year or so because he’s a successful filmmaker who’s decided to retire at a relatively young age, which NEVER happens. Hollywood decides when to spit YOU out. Not the other way around. If someone’s still giving them money, most directors direct until they die.

However, strangely enough, Soderbergh’s career has picked up to an unfathomable pace, with him directing more movies than Woody Allen. It’s almost like everyone out there wants to get him before he’s gone. I’ve heard about this guy retiring 6000 times yet he’s STILL making movies. He’s even discussing Magic Mike 2. Which leads me to believe that he’s not going to retire at all. He’ll just keep this charade going because it keeps getting him work.

However this is a man who DID say to Matt Damon awhile back, “If I have to do one more over the shoulder shot, I’ll slit my wrists,” so let’s assume he IS going to retire. This means this was sort of his “going out” speech, the one where he says fuck you to everybody who was an asshole to him during his career. Well, it wasn’t exactly that, but he did take out his frustrations on the Hollywood machine, a machine he believes has lost touch with the very art it’s trying to produce.

It all started when he saw a random guy on a plane load up a video that was two hours of ONLY action scenes. This freaked him out because it convinced him he was completely out of touch with the movie-going public. If people aren’t watching full films anymore, but only the “good parts,” then where are we headed? To a place where only Michael Bay is allowed to make films?

Here’s the thing. I know people like that guy on the plane. I have a couple of friends who watch stuff like that. I make fun of them. But they make fun of me too, calling me a film snob who would rather watch an audio commentary track than the actual film (note: this is only occasionally true). The thing is, these people are just as rare as the people I see going to artsy foreign films. They’re the extreme, not the norm. You’re just as likely to see someone pop in a rare indie film on the plane as you are someone who only watches two hours of edited action scenes.

Soderbergh goes on to say that the meetings he’s been taking are getting stranger and stranger. He keeps running into executives who don’t know anything about movies. They’re way more concerned with the business side of things. Well yeah, that’s because since the beginning of cinema, movies have been a battle between art and business. People don’t just give money away (except for on Kickstarter of course). They want some kind of return on their investment. So if you tell them you want to make a movie about a sheepherder who lives a life of solitude called “Solo Sheepherder,” they’re going to ask you if you can include a girl, no matter how “stupid” that sounds since “solo” is in the title. It’s the nature of the business.

Soderbergh even went so far as to say if he were running a studio, he wouldn’t have all these restrictions on directors. He’d just find talented filmmakers and let them make whatever they wanted. He even used Shane Carruth as an example. I think this exemplifies how off the mark Soderbergh is in this speech. You’re going to give people who make movies about psychic pig people money to do whatever they want? You’ll be broke within six months.

As much as it sucks, movies are a collaborative effort. Too many people are required for them not to be. This means you’ll ALWAYS have to deal with other humans. True, sometimes you’re going to run into idiots. But is that any different than if you were working at Wal-Mart, Facebook, or Pink’s Hot Dogs? I’ve found that idiots are everywhere. So of course you’re going to get them in the movie business.

All you can do is try and understand their perspective and work through it. You might be upset that they only see two movies a year. But so does the average American. Which gives them a perspective you don’t have. They want that extra explosion scene because the person coming to that theater never sees explosions. They’re not like you or me, film nerds, who have seen every movie known to man and therefore see 20 explosions a week. Maybe giving them a little more of that could be a good thing. Your job, then, is to figure out how to make it work inside your specific story.

I mean yeah, it sucks that not everyone has free reign to do whatever they want. But that approach hasn’t exactly proven successful either. I mean take Soderbergh’s Bubble, where he had 100% creative freedom. I dare you to watch that movie without being bored out of your mind. Or Upstream Color, a nonsensical badly written film about psychic pig people. No, that’s not a good thing. Or look at the granddaddy of indie film, George Lucas, who had 100% creative freedom to do whatever he wanted with his Star Wars prequels. How did those stories turn out?

I think part of the problem here is that Soderbergh has always been an insider/outsider. He’s an indie guy first who struggled mightily after his breakthrough film, Sex Lies and Videotape, making strange movies with no commercial appeal like the black and white “Kafka.” Because Hollywood rejected him after those films, he came back to it with only one foot in. And I think everyone who deals with him approaches him with that information. Executives are going to treat him differently than a guy like David Fincher because they know what kind of movie David Fincher is going to make. With Soderbergh, you don’t know if you’re going to get Ocean’s 11 or Bubble 2.

So I think Soderbergh is telling this side of the story from a very unique perspective, from a guy who’s in an industry he’s never completely been comfortable in or understood. For example, another part of his speech was how he couldn’t figure out why his most recent movie, Side Effects, didn’t do well. It was a thriller. It had two young stars. Why the heck didn’t it pull in better numbers? Well to me, the reason it didn’t do well was obvious. Every ad and trailer I saw showed a dark indie “smart” thriller.

Tell me the last time a dark indie smart thriller made a lot of money at the box office. They don’t. Contrast that to, say, Halle Berry’s latest movie, The Call, which did way better than expected at the box office. People went to that movie because it was a clear thriller. No pretense. No artsy undertones. It knew it was a thriller so people knew they’d get thrilled.

I’m not saying there’s any right or wrong here. I really liked Side Effects and although I haven’t seen The Call, I’m pretty sure I’d dislike it. But if I remove the screenplay enthusiast and cinema lover in me and place my producer hat on, which one of these films would I make? Probably The Call. That’s the one that keeps my production company open. That’s the one that allows me to make more movies.

Of course, I’d hope that it wouldn’t come down to just those two movies. My ambition in life is not to make movies like The Call. One of the points Soderbergh skips over, here, is the potential for a happy medium. Money guys never get exactly what they want. Filmmakers never get exactly what they want. But you work hard enough and learn enough about the craft so that, hopefully, you can make both sides relatively happy. If someone wants an action scene in your drama, sit down and see if you can use the note to your advantage. Sometimes the best ideas come from the most nonsensical suggestions. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about screenwriting, it’s that if you only do what you want to do, your scripts tend to be boring. Being pushed outside your comfort zone forces you to explore new areas, which leads to new ideas, which often leads to a more interesting screenplay.

I think what bothers me most about Soderbergh’s speech is that it spreads this message that Hollywood is this evil hopeless business where it’s impossible to do what you want to do, even if you’re one of the top directors in the world. But I’m a firm believer that life is what you make of it. If you tell yourself everyone’s a moron who doesn’t see how good your product is, you attract morons who don’t see how good your product is.

And I believe the same thing applies to screenwriting. If you think Hollywood is run by nepotism and it’s impossible to get your script read or sold, then you’re never going to get your script read or sold. Why? Because you’ve convinced yourself it’s impossible, and therefore stop trying.  If you believe it IS possible, you’ll explore every single avenue until you find a way in because you KNOW it’s achievable and therefore won’t quit until it happens. With the rare exception, these are the people who I see breaking in the most. They work hard and never stop believing. Which is exactly what you guys should be doing. Hollywood is not an evil place. It’s what you make of it.  Never forget that!

  • maxi1981

    Hollywood = ‘Keep your friends close but your enemies closer’. Maybe Soderbergh’s PA should have whispered this in his ear.

  • Vitamin Bee-otch

    It’s always annoying when people who were given amazing opportunities and LOTS of money complain when they can’t take every measly thought in their head and just run with it. Or people like Spike Lee. Spike Lee is rich and has been given every opportunity to succeed as a filmmaker, but all you hear from him is angry bitching (mostly about “racism”). I mean, the guy literally never smiles. And now Soderbergh is complaining like he has the right too. How can you not be satisfied with movies like Traffic and Ocean’s 11? These are great movies in their own way. Someone should be proud of these.

    What possesses people to be so damn negative and ungrateful all the time? How can someone, who’s been given a rare 1% chance to be happier than everyone on the planet by being granted their dream job, be so disconnected from the reality of their success, that they can’t even enjoy it? It’s really sad. I think there’s a certain amount of wisdom and maturity required to not be so damn self-destructive, and apparently even talented people don’t possess it.

    I mean, right now some 10 year old kid is lying in a hospital bed somewhere dying of Leukemia, and yet we have to listen to this. Get some real fucking problems people.

    • m_v_s

      But surely given your response, it was important enough for you to read and respond, irrespective of where you feel greater attention should be directed.

      “And now Soderbergh is complaining like he has the right too.”

      That’s because people are entitled to their views.

      I think the lady does protest a little too much to be honest.

    • PatKirkSS

      The common thread between Soderbergh and Lee is they are amazing directors that had very early success with their work but followed it up with mediocre, unsuccessful (both critically and financially) movies. This forced them to direct movies that were not their work (by their work I mean they thought it, wrote it and chose to take the project on from the start). You talk about Traffic and Ocean’s 11 which are good films but they probably aren’t the babies Soderbergh wanted to start with. Spike Lee is sort of the same with his most successful films being ones that he doesn’t write. Either way, I have to agree with m_v_s on this and say everyone is entitled to their opinion and feelings and in this case, I think they’re justified.

      My sister’s dream job was to be a neurosurgeon and guess what, she’s a neurosurgeon and guess what, she complains about her job ALL THE TIME! Sometimes it’s people who are in their dream job that are the most miserable! It’s like meeting your idol. Most things just don’t live up to your dreams. Like Carson said, it’s up to you to find the light at the end of the tunnel and not everyone does.

      And PS don’t compare lives across social spectrums. I know I just said everyone’s entitled to their own opinion but you cannot compare a Hollywood film director and a kid dying of leukemia. It is not fair for either party and it really does nothing for the discussion. And I mean this with all seriousness: If Soderbergh and Lee’s problems upset you, take initiative and start helping 10 year olds with cancer and don’t attack film directors for their issues with their jobs. I’m sure Soderbergh and Lee know about world issues and donate money to good causes anyway.

    • garrett_h

      The thing is, these “Successful Unhappy” people are so successful BECAUSE they’re unhappy.

      They weren’t satisfied being a PA, they had to get on the camera. Then they weren’t happy with that, so they went to film school and killed it. But that wasn’t enough just having some good student films, they had to direct. Then they direct and have a successful movie, but that’s not enough, they want ANOTHER one. And they just keep going and going and going chasing something they’ll never achieve: happiness.

      Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant are two good sports examples. They fought and scratched and clawed their way to the pinnacle of their sport, and that STILL wasn’t enough. Most would love to get paid to play a game, but these guys play(ed) it with a scowl on their face.

      Meanwhile, Joe Schmo is content with his day job, but he really loves movies. So he writes a few specs, maybe does some shorts. He doesn’t get any takers. So he just goes back to his day job without a fight.

      So sometimes these folks are so successful because of that unsuccessful nature. It drives them. It’s a part of them.

      That’s why it never surprises me when they start bitching about how unhappy they are.

      • Malibo Jackk

        By that reasoning, grendl should be the next Spielberg.

        (Not saying that I disagree.)
        (Love the comment.)

        • garrett_h

          LMFAO

          It’s funny you say that. Carson’s comment in the article about the people who gripe about nepotism and the Hollywood system keeping people out reminded me of him lol.

        • Poe_Serling

          Hey Malibo…

          Nice to see you back on the SS clock. ;-)

          Speaking of Spielberg, just read where he has found his next directing project: American Sniper.

          It’s based on the book of the same name and tells the story of how Texas native Chris Kyle came to record the highest number of sniper kills for an American.

          • Ninjaneer

            Speaking of being back on the SS clock, has anyone heard anything from Bodhicat? That guy was one of the most prolifoc, funny and insightful SSers and then just stopped. Too bad.

          • Poe_Serling

            I’m pretty sure his last post was around the same time when The Disciple Program post sent the site into the stratosphere.
            Perhaps his bowing out was tied to that event for some reason… but it’s only a guess on my part.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Carson-Daves/100003247228938 Carson D

    So basically Soderbergh is butthurt that studios are all up in his business because he himself has no clue what the average movie goer wants to see.

    “Bubble” is quite ironic.

    • Deaf Ears

      I actually liked BUBBLE a lot. It reminded me of a Flannery O’Connor story. But FULL FRONTAL can’t be defended.

  • Xarkoprime

    Good moral to the article Carson.

    As for Soderbourgh, his directing ruined Side Effects for me. I thought the script had a serious amount of potential and I felt he dropped the ball. The film generated positive reviews but I felt it had so much more to give. The twists had zero UMPH to them and the story played out like one big bland sequence of events. It felt like SS was bored with directing. I guess this thread was an inevitable “post your thoughts on Soderbourgh” day, I know I won’t be the only one.

    • garrett_h

      I actually quite enjoyed Side Effects. It did move slow in parts. And there were a few Refrigerator Moments (for example, why is she pretending to be drugged when she stabs him? It’s 100% in there just to misdirect the audience.) but I still give it a positive review.

      What really sunk Side Effects IMO was the marketing. The average person who doesn’t hang out on film forums had no idea what it was about. Is it about pills? Is it about a murder plot? An overdose? A trial? WTF is going on in this trailer?!?!

      If they had done a better job of presenting some plot points to the public, I think a few more people would have showed up. But still, a “Pharmaceutical Thriller” is hardly a sexy premise.

      • Xarkoprime

        Just curious, did you read the script prior to watching it?

        I know a few people who have watched it and I’ve asked questions. None of them recognized the pen scene. I think that’s a pretty significant clue that could clear a lot of confusion. There was a TON of exposition that was dull to me. People sitting and talking in rooms. The twists happened without any UMPH. It wasn’t a BAD movie, but I read the script first and thought it could have been directed much better.

        • garrett_h

          Actually I started to read the script but put it down after a few pages. It was late, it was moving kinda slow in the beginning, and I was more in the mood for an action script. So I don’t really have anything to compare it to. But I believe you when you say some things were changed for the worse. There were some holes. And that falls in the director’s lap. It’s a shame. This could have been so much better, like you said.

  • ripleyy

    Our relationship with Hollywood differs entirely to who you are and what you’re trying to succeed from it but it will never be healthy. 80% of what he said was true and I respect him and his opinion, I respect anyone’s opinion, but you cannot expect to play with fire and not get burnt.

    Artists and Filmmakers are completely different and occasionally they merge into one like Terrance Malick, Shane Carruth and Sofia Coppola to name a few. Terrance Malick irritates me because, for example, “To The Wonder” was nothing but 2 hours of frolicking around and soft whispers. No story. But it was made out of pure art – it was, quite literally, moving art.

    So in that sense, I can respect people who just want to make moving art – no story, no plot, just *something* and that’s fine. Honestly, if you want to do that, you can. Don’t be afraid that you can’t. But then you have Michael Bay, Steven Speilberg etc. who want to make actual movies – artistic creativity second, making a film first. The reason they succeed is because they just get on with it. No one said Hollywood was this gleaming bright light at the end of the tunnel, and if you have the guts to actually go there, you might as well fight tooth and nail to get what you want and stick at it.

    It’s going to be both business and art. But isn’t that what art is? Aren’t we *buying* art? Aren’t you going to an art exhibition – paying to see it – to look at art? So, no, Cinema is no different from an Art Gallery or going to a museum because it’s still a business and if you expect to get into Hollywood and replicate Terrance Malick, I’ll first hunt you down and kill you and secondly you’re an idiot if you think people will give you money to make, what? “Girl Dances For 2 Hours And Whispers Softly To Her Husband Who Doesn’t Love Her (And It’s Almost Entirely In French): The Sequel No One Gives A F*** About”? You’re sort of crazy. Good luck.

    What I’m saying is, is there is no difference here. Art is made to pay for. And as he said in the speech, no one gets anything for free. That’s not what I’m getting at, what I’m saying is, is Art is Business and Hollywood (or studios, I should say more specifically) just go about it in a very aggressive way. If there are execs who know more about business than making movies, that’s going to be frustrating for sure because your idea about Aliens being taken over by Humans is going to be awesome but if there aren’t enough in there (explosions, sex, etc.) then they have the right to add it. I’ve always wanted to be a director, so if an exec said to me “Look, this won’t work, there isn’t a role in here that Jude Law could play” I would totally understand. I’m an understanding person so for me I’d be like “Okay, that’s cool, I’ll add it”. I’ll understand that in the end of the day, no matter how creative and artistic this film is going to be, business is that last hurdle I need to cross and I’m not going to be arrogant like Shane or Soderbergh.

    Another thing I liked about his speech was when he was talking about remaking. I thought that was pretty cool – they’re remaking famous movies and not movies that had good ideas but failed to live up to the standard. I mean, the 60/70/80s were ripe with B-movies that you could turn into awesome films right now. Who asked to remake Carrie? No one. But they’re getting so desperate. Just watch. I’m not even kidding, in 20 years time, they’ll remake The Matrix. They’ll remake Oblivion for Christ’s sake in 10 years time if it comes to it.

    In layman’s terms, art is business no matter how many times you spin it. Don’t like it? There’s the Indie circuit over there, go and try your luck with that. Still no luck? Try Kickstarter.

    • http://twitter.com/KennyNOL Will Vega

      I find it amusing how people knock remakes. I’m no fan of them unless they’re done right, but its kind of obvious why they do them.

      I mean, seriously, what would you rather greenlight as an exec? A nameless unknown movie that might have the potential to be successful? Or a movie with a familiar brand name or had a successful run in the past? Unproven or proven? It’s a lot easier to say the unproven crappy b movie and try to make it good when its not your money you’re putting up.

  • Ambrose*

    I read the transcript of Soderbergh’s talk a couple of days ago and for me it was merely a case of, “Move along. Nothing to see here.”
    For me, there wasn’t anything new in his speech. It was just another artist frustrated with the system he works in. That’s not a criticism of Soderbergh, it’s just the way that “show business” is. And probably always will be.

    Some people are more comfortable working within the defined parameters than others.
    If you truly want to cut out the bureaucracy then just become a painter. Then it’s just you and the blank canvas. No middle man.

    But movie making is a collaborative business. Unless you yourself are putting up all of the money then there are people you must be accountable to.

    Yes, wouldn’t we all like to have complete artistic freedom and a blank check to transform our creative impulses onto film.
    But how often does that happen?

    Soderbergh’s idea to just give filmmakers complete artistic freedom sounds good in theory – if you’re the filmmaker – but at what cost (literally)?
    Andy Warhol can make a film where he shows the Empire State Building for 24 hours but how many fannies will that put in the seats?
    I’m not equating Soderbergh’s artistic vision with that of Warhol, but I am saying that there is a balance between the artist’s vision and how big an audience that “art” will bring in.

    Film studios are much different today than they were 70 or 50 or even 20 years ago. Back in the days of Louie B. Mayer or Jack Warner you didn’t have corporate boards and stockholders to be accountable to.
    Of course, back then it wasn’t as good for the actors, during the studio system, because they were told what movies to make and traded between studios like chess pieces.

    I enjoyed ‘Side Effects’. Was it perfect? No. But it at least attempted to be a complicated adult drama. It was certainly a refreshing break from the onslaught of comic book characters and CGI excuses for what makes a good film.

    ‘Oceans 11′ was pretty good. ‘Oceans 12′ was an insult to the intelligence – and wallet – of anyone with an IQ above room temperature. If I remember correctly, Soderbergh even admitted that they didn’t really have a script. At least in the normal way you do a sequel.
    They took a script written for another movie and jerry-rigged an ‘Oceans’ script from its bones. Not the ideal way to make a movie but when the first movie makes a lot of money and people are clamoring for a sequel some people will give the people less than they deserve.
    ‘Oceans 12′ was a travelogue (“Hey, isn’t this European scenery beautiful? We’ll just dazzle you with the visuals and maybe you won’t realize that the story is absolute dreck.”) masquerading as a feature film.

    So Soderbergh is hardly above reproach with his choices of what “art” he creates (or is part of the creation of, since film is a collaborative medium).

    I don’t have anything against Soderbergh. He makes some fair, if not new or earth-shattering, points in his speech. I’ve enjoyed some of his movies and others not as much.
    I don’t think there is anything in his speech that will have a long-lasting effect. He’s just one more “artist” who’s fighting against the system. A system that has made him a pretty rich man I’m guessing.

    • blue439

      Megan Ellison could tell you.

  • denisniel

    I’m a big Soderbergh admirer, for his original approach both to indie and to hollywood productions. The guy has definitely got a voice, no matter what genre or film scale he works on. Having said that, however, I feel like victimizing the director and making Hollywood the big villain against the art of film skips a very important step in the creation process, which is using the resources you have available in order to make the best film possible. That meaning, sometimes a budget limitation can come to be a good thing, forcing the producers (writers, directors) to be more creative, in order to find alternatives to materialize their vision in a more practical way. Also, a more commercial approach to an artistic vision can work to its favor, not only in terms of business, but also in creative terms; it will force the writer to not only think outside of his comfort zone, but also to consider alternatives he wouldn’t otherwise, which can only do good in a creative process.

  • fragglewriter

    Good advice Carson. A happy medium and to always persevere is good motivational talk for everyone.

  • garrett_h

    When I first read the transcript yesterday, my initial reaction was positive. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized how flawed it was.

    First of all, he’s not saying anything new. The talent side of Hollywood has been beating this drum ad infinitum. And especially after Jaws kind of ushered in the “Summer Blockbuster” culture. I don’t expect it to change any time soon. As Carson said, find the happy medium and deal with it.

    Secondly, his premise of just giving away millions of dollars to directors to “do whatever they want to do” is not only absurd from a business standpoint, it doesn’t even work from an art standpoint. You don’t even have to point to George Lucas. Just look at United Artists.

    He did make a few good points, especially about the inflated marketing budgets. They just make zero sense to me. Never have.

    As for the rest of it, he should have just STFU.

  • JakeMLB

    Pretty surprised by the comments here.

    Isn’t it refreshing to have someone come out and rant a little once in a while? Let the man rant. Much of what he said had some meat. Yeah, some of his suggestions were a bit far-fetched — but what he did do is talk, publicly. He started a dialogue, publicly. Shouldn’t we be embracing the fact that someone is at least saying something? How else can we evolve without dialogue? Far too many people nowadays embrace the “that’s the way it is” mentality. Maybe that’s a function of politics but can’t we accept that’s the way it is and also think about where we’re heading and how we can change/evolve/improve?

    I mean, a 28% decrease in studio films is pretty scary stuff, isn’t it? That affects everyone: budding screenwriters and budding producers like Carson. To me it signifies the increasing challenges of having a legitimate career as a screenwriter (you know, the kind of career by which you can feed a family). Shouldn’t we be talking about this stuff rather than the person himself? When did we become a culture of ad hominem?

    This might not be news to those of us close to Hollywood but the issues of Hollywood probably aren’t well understood outside of the pearly gates. Isn’t it nice to see someone actually speak their mind? I definitely didn’t get a sense of hopelessness from his speech. He seemed pretty upbeat and accepting about it. It might help to watch the actual video. Transcripts are biased by your own inner tone/voice.

  • DD

    I work in film marketing with the major studios. I tended to agree a lot with what Soderbergh had to say. People ask me all the time “what movies are good? What’s worth seeing?” and it’s extremely disheartening, as a film lover my entire life, that 90% of the time I have to tell them “nothing really. They all kinda suck or aren’t worth you’re time and money.” It’s so rare when a movie from a major studio makes you even sit up in your chair. And a lot has to do with what Soderbergh is talking about. Spectacle over story. Focus grouping good ideas to DEATH (comedy the obvious exception.) And above all, commerce over art. The eternal struggle. He’s got a lot of good points and I wish more people would listen to him.

    I also agree with Carson. You gotta think commercially. But even 15 years ago, interesting movies got released all year long. Not just “awards season.” Now literally the entire year is filled with movies formerly relegated to summer. Tentpoles. Big spectacles. And for the most part, they all are very, very underwhelming. But the sad thing is, the same movies are doing amazing at the international box office (part of Soderbergh’s point.) So nothing will change the mindset or the culture. Glad someone was able to speak up.

  • Michael

    If I had to listen to anyone gripe about Hollywood, I’d pick Steven Soderbergh. I’ve already had the pleasure on several occasions and I highly recommend it. Soderbergh is possibly the most sarcastic person on the planet and all of his lectures are infused with it. It’s not mean spirited, but the love of a disappointed parent poking fun at a beloved child’s short coming, over chastising them for a fault. It’s stand up comedy with an underlying message and you don’t get that from reading his speech. He is speaking form the heart with more love for this business than anyone could.

    Soderbergh is a guy who has been on booth sides of the fence, he’s made blockbuster commercial movies and auteur cinematic films. Who better to question Hollywood’s struggle with commerce over art? If you took the time to read the entire speech he fairly lays out both sides of the issue. He clearly argues greater support for indie filmmaking, but isn’t blind to the realities of making and distributing even a modest budget film.

    Everyone who cares about film has debated this issue. It’s sad to see economics strangle the artistic output of this industry. This is a trend that is only going to get worse as baseline production costs continue to soar. Real economic forces are driving the changes in this industry, it’s not just the whims of a few greedy studio heads and Soderbergh acknowledged that. I’ll agree there is a lot that can be done to improve how efficiently studios spend money and make it possible to fund lower budget projects.

    Soderbergh isn’t bad mouthing Hollywood because he’s an entitled brat, he’s putting out a clarion call to strive for art over commerce. “Do you know how lucky we are to be doing this? Do you understand that the only way to repay that karmic debt is to make something good, is to make something ambitious, something beautiful, something memorable?” Soderbergh may not have said this in a meeting when he felt he should have, but he’s said it to the world. One can only hope some studio heads were influenced by this speech and he deserves support for that.

    What underlies this whole debate is the nagging feeling that it doesn’t cost any more to make a quality film, dare we say art, over a commercial film. More people would go see a film if it was actually good, over the hype and the special effects that get people to initially buy tickets. Isn’t that what this very site is dedicated to, razing the bar, put a substantive story at the core of every film? I think Carson and Soderbergh are arguing two side of the same coin. They both want the same thing, better quality films. Soderbergh argues for changing the system and Carson, as I often have, argues for working with the system, in hopes of achieving a better result.

    Hindsight is always 20/20. We look at all the bad movies and ask how could these get made. The problem with art is, it’s not art until it’s already made and it can’t be predicted. Like William Goldman said, “Nobody knows anything.” Soderbergh can fund Shane Carruth’s next picture, but will it be art? Was Carruth’s last picture art? “The Tree of Life” got made, was that art? “The King’s Speech” got made and won the Oscar for best picture, see, art is still getting made.

    Most films are insanely expensive to make, but that doesn’t mean one can’t create art without money. A GoPro and a laptop is all that’s needed to shoot a feature film today, for next to nothing. You don’t need Hollywood. You know what, at the end of this day, this is a discussion about hope.

    • wlubake

      I love watching artsy movies – on DVD or Netflix. I don’t go to the theater for them. The theater does not add one thing to the viewing experience of a movie like Full Frontal. But Jurasic Park (or Gladiator, or, heck, Fast and the Furious 6), that you have to see in the theater. The sound, the scale, the crowd (huge for enjoying comedies) all add to the experience. A quiet little think piece indie film is almost better at home, where you can reflect on it quietly.
      Studios make money in the theater, not on Netflix.

      • Michael

        Couldn’t agree more, I feel the same way and I bet a lot of other people do as well. Studios track this trend, one more factor deciding which films get funded and at what level.

  • JakeMLB

    “You know how many small indie films could have been made for Battleships budget. How many Evil Deads? How many Beasts of the Southern Wild?”

    And that’s the crux of the issue: the more consolidated, the more blockbuster-centric Hollywood becomes, the less of the pie there is to go around. The typical attitude is “but if I work hard enough, I’ll get there”. While that’s true to some extent, there is an inherent limit to that truth.

    Imagine the extreme where only 5 mega-blockbusters are made each year within the studio system.

    Wouldn’t it be grand to be the writer on one of those five? Sure it would. “If I work hard enough, I’ll get there.” But the reality is no, you probably won’t. At some point, this model will cease to breed and sustain talent. Talented people will either fall through the cracks because they’ll be unable to financially support themselves (or their families) on that journey to the top, or they’ll never undertake that journey because the risk will outweigh the reward.

    All that said, it’s entirely possible that we’re experiencing the ebb and flows of an industry in growth and perhaps within a few years such fears will be confounded. Somehow I doubt it thought. The budgets of these films will likely continue to expand. Population is growing. More people have access to technology that allows them to view films. And we’ll likely soon move to a streaming-only model where physical ownership of a copy of a film will be non-existent. All of this will work to feed the audience-hungry blockbuster model. Of course, it might not. No one can truly predict the future. On the flip side, it’s also never been easier to make a film so it’s possible that the indie film industry will keep the studio industry in check. But in a world where we’re bombarded by information, it seems unlikely that the indie film industry will have the marketing budget to get enough eyes on their films outside of the few breakthroughs. Interesting times indeed!

  • filmklassik

    Here’s an excerpt from a profile of the late, great Sydney Pollack which Jonathin Bing wrote for Variety in April of 2003, just as Pollack was gearing up to direct THE INTERPRETER.

    Again, what follows was written a full decade ago:

    In what could be his first directing assignment since 1999′s “Random Hearts,” Sydney Pollack is likely to helm “The Interpreter,” a thriller about a U.N. interpreter, for Universal Pictures, Working Title and Misher Films.

    Sitting in his office on Beverly Drive, just back from a bicycle trip through Cambodia and Myanmar, surrounded by trophies from his four-decade career as director, producer and actor, Pollack displayed his usual robust enthusiasm. He has had several meetings on the project and is expected to take the directing job.

    Pollack has sustained a dual career as a producer and director since the 1970s but he’s been slow to return to the director’s chair.

    Pollack is famously noncommittal about his directing choices. A year ago, he flirted with the adaptation of Michael Chabon’s novel “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay” which Scott Rudin is producing for Paramount. But he told Daily Variety he opted not to helm that project after disagreeing with Rudin over the development process.

    Pollack’s hesitation to take his next directing job may be traced in part to his sensibilities, which — in franchise-hungry Hollywood — are something of a throwback. Pollack tends to be interested only in high-caliber stories with adult themes — a genre that nowadays occupies a tiny niche on studio slates.

    As one producer puts it, “There aren’t that many scripts being developed at studios that would be of an ilk that interests Sydney. He doesn’t make cartoons.”

    “He doesn’t make cartoons.”

    Gotta love it.

    Rest in peace, Sydney.

    • Alan Burnett

      But Pollack made ‘Sabrina’. Doesn’t that AUTOMATICALLY INVALIDATE EVERYTHING HE HAS SAID AND DONE? Doesn’t that mean he can NEVER ‘WHINE’ ABOUT HOLLYWOOD? Shouldn’t he have just SHUT UP AND DIRECT?

      • filmklassik

        Jesus Christ, Alan. What’s up with you and that movie? Did you get mugged outside the theater or something? I hope they caught the bastards.

        • Alan Burnett
          • filmklassik

            Ah. Apologies. You may be right, Alan. I may be sarcasm-blind. In fact you might wanna add deaf and dumb to that list as well.

          • Alan Burnett

            I guess I should have been clearer. I am appalled by some of the comments here in the mold of “hey, you know, Soderbergh did [film I didn’t like and feel you shouldn’t like to]”. On the basis of ALL interviews of him I’ve seen and read, his audio commentaries on his films and others as well as his success in the industry, I would have thought he had the right to tell it the way he sees it. My mistake, clearly. ‘Bubble’ apparently means “nah, this guy doesn’t know or understand the industry”, apparently. Sheesh …

          • filmklassik

            No, you were perfectly clear, Alan. *I* should have read more of the comments on this page, after which I (possibly) would have been less irony-challenged.

    • Malibo Jackk

      “There aren’t many scripts being developed at studios that would be of an ilk that interests Sydney.”

      You can add Frank Darabont and Rob Reiner to that list.

      • tom8883

        Why was Shawshank such a good movie? (Which bombed at the box-office, btw.)

        • Malibo Jackk

          Wrong person to ask. Never been a fan of prison movies.

          I ran into FD down in Austin. Super nice guy.
          One of the things he told me was that Hollywood didn’t want to make the kind of movies he and RR wanted to make.

  • Nickmistro

    Wow did my comment get eaten up or does it take time to get approved?

  • shadypotential

    this article is ridiculous. Steven is IN the system. he knows what is going on way more than Carson or anyone knows about. People think their Hollywood because they have an agent or “know” a producer. Please. Make dozens of movies and get meetings with top execs then come back and talk down on a legend like Steven. what a joke

  • https://twitter.com/deanmaxbrooks deanb

    Soderbergh’s rant reminds me very strongly of a conversation George Castanza once had with Jerry Seinfeld about “artistic integrity.”

    Or, it almost sounds like an Onion headline: “Man Who’s Directed Five Feature Films With A-List Stars in a 20 Month Period Complains About Inability to Express Himself Artistically.”

    Overall, it seems like his biggest gripe is really with foreign distribution costs, something that is largely controlled by overseas demand. Well, considering the language barriers, cultural, and economic disparities, it’s no surprise that vastly more people in other countries might be more drawn to an ‘Avatar’ or ‘Transformers’ than a rousing opus about psychic pig people or the trials and tribulations of a miserable Wall Street wife with a pill problem (‘Side Effects’).

    Now, this distribution problem is not just overseas. I live in a small town in ND. There’s one theater. If I had wanted to watch ‘Side Effects’ (and I did) when it premiered, I would have had to drive well over 500 miles to find a theater. Now I have wait and hope Netflix will stream the film (right now it’s playing ‘Haywire’), or just wait for it to come out on DVD. So, yeah, I agree with Soderbergh on some level that it sucks more talents like him can’t pull the power levers in Hollywood, but from an economic standpoint, it’s totally understandable why only certain kinds of films tend to travel abroad. Perhaps it’s the same reason McDonald’s has more restaurants than Taylor Swift has ex-boyfriends, and why In N’ Out Burger is confined (tragically) to the West Coast. Quality tends to be exclusive and self-restrictive.

  • ximan

    So well said. I feel EXACTLY the same way. I think a lot of people find it hard to drop their preconceived notions and just LISTEN to what advice he gives. It is PRICELESS and always optimistic, no matter how cutting. This is the best blog for screenwriters ever.

  • ximan

    I agree with everyone on Bubble. That was a really interesting quiet little film. Loved it. But Carson is right about EVERYTHING else!

  • J

    Yo C, a few things here…
    1. The chicken and the egg. I get Soderbergh’s issue with “execs” and all of the “rules”, but it’s almost more of a commentary on society than it is on those “execs” (I’m using quotes because I use that terms very, very loosely). The “execs” are there to churn out what is going to create box office buzz, but it’s the people who create the back end of what that box office is, so in essence, do we have a right to get mad at the people who are building something they know others will flock to? What’s the quote – “If you build it, they will come.” Hard to fault those people in my opinion. Of course, art is art, and the artists will always say it’s not about the money. I think the fallacy has and always will be that you cannot make a smart film people want to watch. It’s been proven time and again that that is not the case.
    2. Marketing 101. Soderbergh’s ‘Side Effects’ didn’t do poorly because it was a “smart” thriller, it did poorly because the trailer couldn’t tell us what the story was about. And, if the trailer can’t tell us what the story is about and get us intrigued enough to go see it, then that’s where the flop comes in. ‘The Call’, while probably not as good (I didn’t see it), gave us what the story was about and in doing so intrigued enough people to fill seats. Bottom line. Perfect example – Elysium. Potentially the worst Matt Damon film I’ve ever seen. Watched the trailer the other day and could see the fact that those putting it together realized there was no story they could give the audience to fill seats, so what did they do, they went to voice over. Smart, smart move, because if I hadn’t already seen the film, I would be like, “I’ll go see that.” And, because people love Damon, they will see it. I apologize to all those people in advance.
    3. I agree with others. I’m tired of Hollywoodites talking about how much their life sucks or telling everyone how we shouldn’t care about money or how we should give our lives to causes. You know what, live in the trenches for a while and see what really sucks. Boo-hoo, you can’t make the film you want to make. Cry me a river. What about people who bust their asses a majority of their life to make a film more indie than Soderbergh will ever be and never reach that state? And, while that isn’t me, I speak for those people because there are plenty out there. Just as talented, just as hard working, just as good of storytellers, but without the backing. Buck-up and get used to working within the system. If not, get out and give someone else an opportunity who wants it. Trust me, there’s a line.

  • JanePlain

    Carson, who said that you were a film snob? I don’t actually believe anyone would call you a film snob. You should demand a recount.

    You know who’d do a great job at writing/directing “Solo Sheepherder?” That would be Bela Tarr. You should watch “The Turin Horse”. It’s kind of along the lines of “Solo Sheepherder”. Of course, “The Turin Horse” is not as good as Satantango, but it’s definitely still worth watching. And as a bonus (from your perspective), “The Turin Horse” is 5 hours shorter than Satantango, so it doesn’t take as long to watch.

  • Deaf Ears

    One irony that hasn’t been pointed out (I don’t think) is Soderbergh relating how he rescued MEMENTO from the junk heap and then decrying the trend of super-hero, sci-fi, and fantasy movies – did he actually miss that he’s partially responsible for launching Chris Nolan, one of the most financially successful practitioners? Also, TRAFFIC was a remake of a superior British TV series. SOLARIS was a remake too.

    I have a lot of respect and admiration for Soderbergh, but I do feel this was a lot of sour grapes and old news, albeit eloquently stated.

  • FD

    Now I’ve disagreed with Carson so often, and when it comes to Hollywood I’m so outside, I’m outside the outside, but in this case, I just saw the photo that they are advertising Side Effects with, and it’s a bored looking chick on a sofa. It took me about 2 seconds to know that I didn’t want to see that film.
    I don’t want to diss a guy like Soderbergh, but as a Joe Average moviegoer, I would say to him that this rant has something of a spoilt brat. Before you start seeking the fault elsewhere, you should check out if the mistake isn’t within you. Here – and I hate myself for saying this – but here, Carson could have told him upon seeing the logline, before the script was even written, that Side Effects was doomed to fail.
    Memento mori Mr. Soderbergh, but thanks for the Oceans.

  • filmklassik

    I’ll never forget a guy from Rudin’s company telling me in 1999 how his boss was very hands-on and willful and tended to, ah, impose himself on all of the directors he hired. Basically he would just micro-manage the crap out of them. No exceptions.

    Except Sydney Pollack.

    Pollack, he said, was the ONE GUY Rudin could stand back and watch directing all day long without wanting to throttle him. He really respected him. I think everyone in town did.

    And yeah, like you, I am curious to know what the hell that fight was about.

  • JakeMLB

    Will have to check that out, thanks! Yeah the rise in television is great for writers, especially considering that the writer is king in TV.

    As for your latter point, it’s that kind of apathy that necessitates the formation of unions like the WGA. We can’t be so desperate to make it (or once ‘there’, to sustain) that we forego all job protection. As amateur writers, it’s less of an issue but at the very least it’s worth being aware of. It might for example guide your decision between TV and film. And it’s not like professional writers, even those with successful careers, aren’t concerned about the future of screenwriting as an industry and career. Craig Mazin speaks at length about the issues facing feature screenwriting. And screenwriters have families too.

    Of course there’s a level of risk involved in choosing this career path and everyone is aware of that. But there’s a level where that risk becomes unacceptable, a point at which the protections of screenwriting as a career degrade such that it selects against talent and risk-taking (both personal and at the studio level). We’re not close to being there yet but we need to be careful not be so blinded by the lights that we arrive there without knowing it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=22702269 Zaike Airey

    good counterpoint. thanks Carson.

  • http://twitter.com/KennyNOL Will Vega

    The way I would build success in a studio is to get licenses to proven franchises or past hit movies, make/remake them the best possible way on a creative front and most marketable on a commercial front, reap the benefits, then try the “riskier” material. Whether it be Art House or something off-beat and less conventional. It’s the only way I can be able to take a shot at a Korine and a Carruth.

    I don’t see any benefit to take risk after risk after risk unless you KNOW these risks have huge potential for a return on investment and profit. Something like a Found Footage film or a concept similar to a major recent hit. I went to a seminar on how one Producer said that taking a huge risk on a film is very much like gambling. You have your “hand”, bet alot or everything on it, then cross your fingers and hope for the best.

    Using a gambling analogy, only bet small if you have something “good” and bet big when in all probability your hand is next to impossible to lose. There’s is much more risk in films than there is with music and painting, which really don’t cost a whole lot by comparison.

    • GeneralChaos

      But what’s more of a risk – spending $220 million to make Battleship (not including marketing), a film no one was clammering for, or $50 million for something original?

      • http://twitter.com/KennyNOL Will Vega

        That depends on what that “original” is. Alot of movies are made for that and either barely make the budget back (hardly benificial) or don’t make it back at the BO. Exceptions are movies like Juno, Superbad, and Taken.

        I would’ve passed on Battleship anyway, blatant derivatives hardly get success. Plus fighting robots that turn to cars >>> alien warships. An example of a similar concept is the remake Italian Job, which came after the Oceans Eleven remake.

  • James Inez

    Totally Agree!

  • tom8883

    The problem is that the people in the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China) do not relate to American or European Western life. They just don’t. You could argue that they relate to the underlying themes of love, revenge and hope, sure. But the actual cultural fabric of the movie just isn’t something they can relate to. Now, is it still possible to write effective stories driven by characters the BRIC countries will respond to? Yes, it is.

  • http://twitter.com/V3ntricity Mercutio

    since when is carson a film buff? he is out of his element on anything other than commercial movies

  • Film_Shark

    I have to add my two cents on this topic since I admire Soderbergh’s moxie for speaking up. Movie directors have been battling the Hollywood studio system since the dawn of time (think Orson Welles, Alfred Hitchcock and Stanley Kubrick just to name a few). Soderbergh is in ‘semi-retirement’ mode whatever the hell that means. He is just plain burned out right now and will return to making films but probably on his own terms. In defense of ‘Side Effects,’ I enjoyed that movie but I like smart psychological thrillers. Besides ‘Traffic,’ it is probably one of his better films. When that film came out, it was playing at my local cineplex and was tucked away in the smallest corner theatre near the fire exit. On opening day when I saw it, the crowds were lined up for that piece of crap movie, ‘Identity Thief.’ That retarded comedy made bucks at the box office while ‘Side Effects’ struggled to find an audience… Why? I call it the ‘dumbing-down’ of American cinema. The masses don’t want to overwork their noggin at the movie theatre. They want explosions, car chases and superheroes.

    With that said, everyone wants to grasp that last vestige of the American Dream – To become a successful screenwriter and exclaim, “Look, Ma, I’m not a loser after all… I got my screenplay optioned in Hollywood.” Most of the screenwriting contests are a huge waste of time. Think outside of the box. Tens of thousands of writers from all walks of life are bombarding Hollywood with their half-baked stories every year (only about 100 get optioned for a movie deal). I say don’t give up the dream but maybe modify the dream to give yourself a better shot. With the low cost of digital cameras, why not try to create an indie short that shows off your vision? Or why not convert your screenplay to a book? The reality is that Hollywood studios are gobbling up book rights because they want to find the next Twilight or Hunger Games. I’m not saying write a YA novel. I’m saying there are several ways to skin a cat to break into the biz.

    Just remember that “screenwriting 101″ is a booming cottage industry. If you don’t believe me, sign up for The Writer’s Store emails and see how many screenwriters (who in most cases only have had one script sold their entire careers) are now teaching others the winning formula to be a successful screenwriter in Hollywood. If it were that easy, don’t you think these screenwriting instructors would be writing over teaching?

  • srdiction

    This rant comes from a man who does any sort of a movie he wants. He basically tried himself in every genre, with any budget. If he wants to do something way different, he should go to kickstarter. He’s a big name, he can do virtually anything.

  • grendl

    The shame lies in your failure to produce your own work for scrutiny.

    You’re a coward, taking potshots at someones work on a message board without providing proof that you can do it yourself.

    And some judges in respected contests found it filmmable enough to place it above 6000 amateur scripts.

    I’m sure you don’t know what that feels like. Maybe that’s the reason for this attack.

    Don’t try to paint yourself as some nice guy. Some hard working scribe in the screenwriting trenches. You’re a troll. Hiding and shooting from the grassy knoll.

    And again, I would put my Nicholl Qf up against yours, any day of the week. I know you won’t do it. Because your stuff is incoherent boring tripe. You’re nowhere in the business, pretending you’re somewhere.

    Or prove me wrong. What have you done? You know so much about screenwriting can we Google anything about you or your script. Because people can Google mine,

    I know this hurts. You’ve lost. But that’s okay. The important thing is you learn from your mistakes. Why aren’t you a success Steve?

    Why oh why oh why????

  • http://twitter.com/KennyNOL Will Vega

    Maybe not or maybe so, but the point I’m trying to make is that its understandable to fallback on tried and true formulas versus taking risks on new material. Battleship is well-known but they took it in the wrong direction and spentvtoo much money on it. And no one knew what John Carter was.

    The new Evil Dead was made for about 17 mil and almost made a 100 back (70 as of now). If it had been any other horror film, then you’d run into the risk of not making its money back since it’d be just another horror film. But since It’s a retelling of a familiar cult classic, more people took notice.

    Of course, you have the other side of the spectrum: Paranormal Activity and Insidious. I’d take a chance on those cause their budgets are tiny, on top of the fact they’re original IPs.