Steven Soderbergh Talks SIDE EFFECTS, His Filmmaking Process, Editing While Shooting, Cutting 45 Minutes Out of CONTAGION, & More

     February 6, 2013


Over the past few days, we’ve been sharing bits and pieces from Steve’s recent extended interview with filmmaker Steven Soderbergh.  The two sat down for a 45-minute conversation in anticipation of Soderbergh’s upcoming film Side Effects, which opens this Friday, and they covered a wide range of topics.  In Part 1 we shared what Soderbergh had to say about digital filmmaking, his favorite cameras, and 48 frames per second, then in Part 2 we shared Soderbergh’s thoughts on the success of Magic Mike, the sequel, his second-unit work on The Hunger Games, and how he championed Christopher Nolan to direct Insomina when Warner Bros. was initially unsure about handing this larger-scale movie over to the guy who made Memento.

Today, in Part 3 of the interview, Soderbergh talks about the inception of Side Effects, his filmmaking process, editing while he’s shooting, his attitude regarding deleted scenes, cutting 45 minutes out of Contagion, and more.  Hit the jump to read on, and look for the full interview on Friday.

steven-soderbergh-side-effectsIf you missed Part 1, click here, and if you missed Part 2, click here.

Here’s Part 3 of Steve’s interview with Steven Soderbergh:

Steve: [Screenwriter] Scott Burns wanted to direct this and he was explaining to me how you really liked the script.  Was it weird for you, because you’re very close to him?  What was that conversation like?  Because he’s been trying for a while.

STEVEN SODERBERGH: It seemed to not be that big a deal in the sense that I called him right after The Man from U.N.C.L.E. blew up and I just said, “I really wanted to work with you this spring.  I won’t ask you again, but can I have Side Effects?” And he said, “Yeah” and then we kind of never talked about it again.  I think it would have been weird if we didn’t have the history that we have, you know what I mean?  We’ve worked together twice before, three times before, we worked together on the U.N.C.L.E. movie for a year.  I think if it had been someone else it probably would have been a more difficult decision for him than it was, but it seemed, you know, he knew how much I liked it and I think he felt, “Yeah let’s just go do it.” He’s one of these guys; he’s got tons of ideas.  His attitude was, “I’ll write something else.” He does.  He’s very prolific and very facile so I don’t think he had, he didn’t exhibit any of the proprietary attitude that a lot of writers would have.  I think he felt like, “I got other stuff.”

How much do you change scripts based on actor’s involvement?  Because a lot of actor will come to the plate and then say, “OK, I want to do this, but I want to make this dramatic change to the arc.” Over the course of your history, how much have you adjusted your films for an actor?  Or is each project is different?

SODERBERGH: It depends, yeah.  It really depends on the project.  Sometimes there’s a lot of work to be done and it’s great to have somebody come in with a different perspective.  I’ve been in a situation where I’ve gone to an actor with a script and they’ve said, “I like the project but I don’t think this character is working.” And we’ve gone off and worked with another actor who said, “I want to do the movie but I think there’s work to be done on the character.” They’ve worked with us and then bailed on the movie and then I went back to the original actor and they said, “You’ve solved it, I’m in” That’s happened to me before.  

side-effects-rooney-maraIt really depends on the piece and I think in the last few years there’s been less of that because I think the scripts, from the get-go, have been more done.  You’ll have actors coming in who will have a lot of questions about things to make sure that they’re in line with what we’re intending, but in the last few years the scripts have been in pretty good shape by the time we started casting.  Me and the writer have kind of beaten it death and there wasn’t a lot of room for somebody coming in and rethinking the character.  Now having said that, in post on Contagion we did a lot of work and ended up going back and doing a week of reshooting to accommodate a version of the movie that was created in the editing room that was very different from the script.  So that was an interesting circumstance because we had a movie that wasn’t working at the length that we shot it and then we did a really radical 90 minute cut that solved a lot of problems, but in order to work it needed some connective tissue.  So we went and shot stuff to make the 90-minute version work.  That was a pretty dramatic overhaul in post.  

Obviously I’m the one sort of saying to Scott “This is what I think we should be doing, look at this cut, I think we need scenes, I think we need to re-do these scenes, and we need scenes that connect here to here to here.” Typically if you’re going to be talking to the actors it’s more explaining why you’re doing what you’re doing than to solicit input and so that’s a lot different than…god, I remember we had like a week of rehearsal on Sex, Lies, and Videotape and now I think, “God, what did we talk about for a week?” That’s the only time I think I’ve ever felt on a set that we had all the time in the world, where I never felt under any time constraints at all.  Because I think of that movie now we had 30 days, I could shoot that thing in 12 days now.  I just remember just sitting there, which was fine, it was a cheap movie anyway; I think we had 10 people on the crew.

side-effects-channing-tatum-rooney-maraOh, how times have changed.

SODERBERGH: Yeah, I know.

Clint Eastwood likes two takes, if you’re lucky, Fincher likes 50; where do you fall on that scale?

SODERBERGH: It depends.  I fall mostly towards the let’s keep it fresh, 3 is my ideal, but there was one scene that ended up getting cut significantly, I’m only using the front part of it now, in Side Effects where it was a long dialogue scene that I wanted to play out in one shot and there was a lot of movement in it so there was like seven different destinations for the camera.  We did 23 takes before we got it.  If that’s what it requires, I’ll do it, but in general if there’s not a big technical thing going on, I feel like unless there’s something wrong with the text or the actor, 3 takes and we ought to be thinking of moving on.

I don’t know what the final running time is on Side Effects, what is it?

SODERBERGH: I think total with credits, 105 minutes.

What was your assembly cut?

SODERBERGH: Two hours.  So it wasn’t too long.

side-effects-jude-law-catherine-zeta-jonesSo there’s not a lot of deleted scenes?

SODERBERGH: There are but a lot of them are scenes- there’s some, you’d be surprised how many, but a lot of them just…it’s that trial and error thing where people are ahead of us.  They’ll make that leap that he goes from here to here.  A lot of it though what you would find is scenes that I just, like I said, I cut the entire back 2/3 off or I cut the entire front 2/3 off.  There was a lot of hacking, just like, literally I don’t need the first 2/3 of that scene, I can just come in on that line.  There was a lot of that in the last edit I did.  I really got a lot aggressive about that kind of stuff, as did Scott.  Scott would send me notes going, “We don’t need that.  You can get out here and go right from there to there.” So that’s the fun part.

With all of your movies, what is the one or two that have the most deleted scenes?

SODERBERGH: Proportionally, Contagion had the most material that was shot and cut and never made the movie.  There’s 45 minutes of cut material that’s gone.

I apologize for not knowing, is that material available on the Blu-ray?  Will it ever see the light of day?

SODERBERGH: No, I’ve sort of gone the other way.  I feel like all the people who went back and fucked around with their movies from the 70’s made them worse.  So I kind of feel like that’s the movie, that’s it.

steven-soderbergh-contagionI’ll get specific and say George Lucas, I think the reason most fans are angry at him is that he never offered the original version, and that is ultimately the problem.  If you want to fuck with your movie, if you want go ahead and edit, more power to you, but give me the original version.  So, for example, on Contagion, as a fan of yours I would love to see this alternate version just to see it, but as long as the other version is there then I’m fine.

SODERBERGH: Part of me is like, I don’t really know if it’s fair to the actors, the stuff that didn’t make it.  I used to be fine with it and then I just suddenly wasn’t.  [Laughs]

You’re like Guillermo del Toro, in terms of you both edit as you’re shooting.  When did you first start editing as you were shooting?

SODERBERGH: As soon as I started working with an editor, they would be editing while we were shooting.  It’s horrifying now to think that the first three films that I made, that I cut myself, I didn’t start editing until we wrapped.  That’s unbelievable.  What’s changed is the ability to start editing two hours after you’ve wrapped the set.  That’s what’s really been the huge difference for me.  The ability, that night, to cut that days stuff and make decisions about whether or not we got it and adjust accordingly if necessary, that’s been gigantic.

side-effects-posterI did a set visit on Dark Knight Rises and I watched Christopher Nolan work, not super close, but close and he’s one of the few filmmakers that will watch over his DP’s shoulder and not look at playback, which I find fascinating because every other film set I’ve been on people are watching playback.

SODERBERGH: Yeah, on Out of Sight I started getting rid of that stuff because I felt it was pulling the energy away from where it needs to be.

But you’re shooting a lot of your stuff.

SODERBERGH: Yeah, but even when I wasn’t I was doing the same thing because the actor needs to feel like I’m there and this is where things are happening, not at video village, this is where were making the movie, here.  So what ends up happening now is there’s a single monitor and the focus puller works from, because now with digital, you need to be shooting wide open all the time, that’s how it looks the best, so your depth of field is like this, and so your focus-puller has the 27 inch with his face two inches from the screen with the remote thing making sure, you can imagine on a Fincher set the pressure that guy’s under.

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