Steven Andrew Soderbergh (born January 14, 1963) is an American film producer, screenwriter, cinematographer, editor, and Academy Award-winning director. He is best known for directing the films Sex, Lies, and Videotape, Traffic, and the Ocean's Eleven franchise.
His primary high school education was at Louisiana State University Laboratory School, a K-12 school that is directed by the University. While still taking classes there around the age of fifteen, Soderbergh enrolled in the university's film animation class and began making short 16 mm films with secondhand equipment.
Rather than attending LSU, Soderbergh tried his luck in Hollywood after graduating from high school; he worked as a game show scorer and cue card holder to make ends meet, and eventually found work as a freelance film editor. His big break came when he directed the Grammy-nominated concert video 9012Live for the rock band Yes in 1985.
Making good on his Schizopolis-inspired "artistic wake-up call," his commercial slump ended in 1998 with Out of Sight, a stylized adaptation of an Elmore Leonard novel, written by Scott Frank and starring George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez. The film was widely praised, though only a moderate box-office success. It reaffirmed Soderbergh's potential, sparking the beginnings of a lucrative artistic partnership between Clooney and Soderbergh.
Traffic became his most acclaimed movie since sex, lies, videotape, and earned him an Academy Award for Best Director. He was also nominated that same year for Erin Brockovich. He is the only director to have been nominated in the same year for Best Director for two different films by the Academy Awards, the Golden Globes and the Directors Guild of America. The double nomination was the first in 60 years. (In 1938, Michael Curtiz was nominated twice, for Angels with Dirty Faces and Four Daughters, but did not win for either film.)
Ocean's Eleven (2001), featuring an all-star cast and flashy aesthetics, is Soderbergh's highest grossing movie to date, grossing more than $183 million. The film's star, George Clooney, subsequently appeared in Solaris (2002), marking the third time the two have headlined a film. In the same year, Soderbergh made Full Frontal which was shot mostly on digital video in an improvisional style that deliberately blurred the line between which actors were playing characters and which were playing fictionized versions of themselves. A film within a film, the title is a film industry reference to an actor or actress appearing fully nude (aka, "full frontal nudity"). Also in 2002, Soderbergh was elected First Vice President of the Directors Guild of America.
Following up Full Frontal stylistically was Soderbergh next project, K Street (2003), a ten-part political HBO series he co-produced with Clooney. The series was noteworthy for being both partially improvised and each episode being produced in the 5 days prior to airing to take advantage of topical events that could be worked into the fictional narrative. Actual political players appeared as themselves, either in cameos or fictionalized versions of themselves (as were the leads, real life husband and wife James Carville and Mary Matalin). The show caused a stir during the 2004 Democratic Primary when Carville gave candidate Howard Dean a soundbite during a location shoot that Dean then used in a debate.
Ocean's Twelve (2004), a sequel to Ocean's Eleven, has followed. The Good German a romantic drama set in post-war Berlin starring Cate Blanchett and Clooney was released in late 2006. The sixth pairing of Clooney and Soderbergh, Ocean's Thirteen, was released in June 2007.
On May 22, 2008, Che, which may be released in theatres in two parts titled The Argentine and Guerrilla, was presented in the main competition of the 2008 Cannes film festival. Benicio del Toro plays Argentine guerrilla Ernesto "Che" Guevara in an epic four-hour double bill which looks first at his role in the Cuban uprising before moving to his campaign and eventual death in Bolivia.
Soderbergh often acts as his own director of photography under the alias of Peter Andrews and occasionally as his own editor under the alias of Mary Ann Bernard. While shooting Traffic, Soderbergh wanted a credit of "Photographed and Directed by". The Writer's Guild (WGA) wouldn't allow another credit ahead of the writer. Because Soderbergh didn't want his name used more than once, he adopted a pseudonym, Peter Andrews, his father's first and middle names.
A Warner Brothers film will have Soderbergh working with Matt Damon again. A true story, The Informant, will have Matt Damon playing the role of Mark Whitacre, a corporate whistleblower. Whitacre wore a wire for two and a half years for the FBI as a high-level executive at a Fortune 500 company, Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), in one of the largest price-fixing cases in history. Filming is expected to commence on April 15, 2008. The script for the movie was written by Scott Z. Burns based on Kurt Eichenwald’s book, The Informant.
His films are, in almost every instance, distinct in atmosphere and tone. While Soderbergh is enamoured of dialogue, Soderbergh's incorporation of score and montage are equally prevalent in his story-telling. Even Soderbergh's light-hearted affairs, such as Out of Sight and Ocean's 11, contain scenes where images and score are the dominant story-telling mechanisms. Films such as Solaris and Traffic are heavily layered in scenes absent of dialogue altogether. Cliff Martinez, a frequent collaborator with Soderbergh, composes many of the scores that provide Soderbergh with the thematic and sonic landscapes into which he inserts his characters.
But while Soderbergh's subject matter is highly varied, many of his films feature as a central theme the exploration of the act or moral consequences of lying. For example, the protagonists in two early films, King of the Hill and sex, lies, and videotape, are both pathological liars (one in training, one in recovery), while most of the characters in both Oceans films are con artists. It is interesting to note that he directed Spalding Gray in Gray's Anatomy after King of the Hill, an actor who often commented that he was unable to "make anything up". Full Frontal is another film in this thread, where seemingly the fundamental dishonesty of the entire filmmaking process is exposed. More distantly, Soderbergh's interest in Cockney rhyming slang, as seen in The Limey and the Oceans films, may be seen as part of this theme, based on the conjectured origin of Cockney rhyming slang as a language game.
Some critics can make sense of Soderbergh's brave (albeit some times exasperating) folly into experimental filmmaking, others not so much. In his review of Full Frontal film critic Roger Ebert commented that, "Every once in a while, perhaps as an exercise in humility, Steven Soderbergh makes a truly inexplicable film... A film so amateurish that only the professionalism of some of the actors makes it watchable... It's the kind of film where you need the director telling you what he meant to do and what went wrong and how the actors screwed up and how there was no money for retakes, etc." About Soderbergh's film, The Good German and his emphasis on style over substance, film critic Richard Roeper commented that the film had to offer, "a lot of style. Not so much with the plot."
Soderbergh has, nonetheless, been dubbed a stylistic chameleon by Anne Thompson of Premiere Magazine. Drew Morton has extensively researched Soderbergh and has tied him to a modern movement much like the French New Wave.
This is a good moment to comment on the cottage industry that has sprung up around "How To ..." Screenwriting manuals. I think of this because Towne's script, "Chinatown" is often cited as a great template (which it is) but, invariably, with no understanding or acknowledgment of the role "film editing" has in shaping a finished work.
So any discussion that omits this issue shows a palpable lack of experience in the actual making of films on the part of the scriptwriting teacher/author.
|Year||Title||No. of Oscar nominations||No. of Oscar wins|
|1989||sex, lies, and videotape||1||0|
|1993||King of the Hill|
|1998||Out of Sight||2|
(the segment "Equilibrium")
|2006||The Good German||1|
Are our pants on fire? A glance at the headlines would make anyone believe that South Africans are pathological liars, writes Veruska de Vita.(Life)
Mar 30, 2008; 'Liar, liar, your pants are on fire." How many times have we heard that line? We may have been forced to eat chillies or wash our...