I love Steven Soderbergh. Love him. The guy is a true Hollywood iconoclast. He makes movies that interest him, oftentimes ones that no one else thought they wanted or needed. Once he does we all realize that he’s given us something new and special. Then we realize we did want and need them. Fresh, odd, and unique little pieces of art that bring a little of the fringe to the fore. And there’s his commerce films, the Danny Ocean movies and projects like Contagion. Even when not delivering on all levels those films offer a fresh take on the familiar. Add his auteur versatility behind the camera, in the editing room, and at the podium and you have the kind of person able to preserve a dying aesthetic. I’ve paid to see almost everything he’s done and even when the film doesn’t speak to me (Kafka, King of the Hill, Haywire) there’s a deep appreciation and respect for the man.
He’s often spoke of retirement and it’s always carried with it a melancholy glaze. We need a Soderbergh out there for the betterment of the industry. The more Soderbergh. The more Fincher. The more Sayles. The more Coen. The more of these people, the longer we’ll have that bond to the era where The Filmmaker really became a part of the machine. Soderbergh recently stated that the upcoming Side Effects will be his last film (http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2013/jan/30/steven-soderbergh-retires-from-film) and that’s fine. He’s welcome to retire. But to complain about how directors are treated at this stage is ludicrous. Directors have always been under the boot of studios and executives. To be at or near the top of the directing food chain as Soderbergh is, the air is much more rarified.
It’s a little late to get sand in his vagina.
Retire or don’t retire, Steven. You’ve earned the right to do whatever you want. But don’t be a whiny bitch about it. I firmly believe that if a director with Soderbergh’s filmography and pedigree wanted to keep making little movies like the fun The Girlfriend Experience off the grid and on his own terms he has all the tools in place to do so.
Picture a kid fresh out of film school. Talented. Hungry. His sensibilities in the right place. Maybe even a disciple of the School of Steven. What kind of message does it send to have an upper echelon talent and Hollywood success like Steven Soderbergh quitting because “they’re mean to me at the studio and at the financing company”. That’s bullshit. And it’s not a new development.
Wherever you reside on the totem pole there are assholes waiting to ruin the party. People who read scripts are afraid to fully endorse something they read because what good are they if they don’t have notes. Executives are out to protect their jobs so they do what they can to keep the property as safe as possible. The turnover in the industry is ridiculous so when a new executive or studio head arrives they treat whatever their predecessor championed like sour milk. It really is a miracle that anything makes it out of the system intact. I am a novice but I’ve had several legit projects in development and have seen ludicrous things happen. Entire careers and fortunes have been scuttled because a studio head would rather direct their little movie than make someone else’s. Or because a person with a business degree in charge of a creative process didn’t “get” a visionary project.
It’s a long odds business even if the deck is stacked in your favor. Bearded deity Stephen Spielberg has had films spiral into development hell or lose financing.
What kind of message does it send to the next wave of brilliant filmmakers to quit the business because the people in charge suck a big bloated dick? They have always been backseat drivers whose fear of losing their job (with exceptions) far outweighs their desire to contribute something special. Funnily enough, when something hits big it’s something that escapes through the process sans too much intervention. You may hate Avatar but it was kinda profitable and fiercely independent. Before his soul escaped through a hole in his wallet, George Lucas practically invented the wheel with Star Wars. Hollywood should give true filmmakers the slack to hang themselves. In a perfect world it’d be that way. Studio heads should care as much about legacy as they do shareholders. In a perfect world it’d be that way. Directors would retire on their own terms either quietly in the night or in a gasping convulsion on a film set. Not on the front page of the Hollywood Reporter complaining about how the system sucks.
The system has always sucked. It will always suck. And frankly, because of how public and widespread that suck is, it makes being able to exist in the industry that much more of a “fuck you” to all the people within the system doing their best to keep Red Rover from breaking through. It’s hard to get in. No agency wants to rep you until you’ve done something and no one wants to let you do something unless you have an agent. Managers only manage when you’ve done something and they don’t have much to say until you’ve done something, need their help, and then they decide to slow the process down with their “expertise”. There’s always someone better, cheaper, younger, smarter, or better looking out there so even if you play your cards just right there are people around every corner waiting to knock you down. I’ve seen it happen many times and I’m just a babe in the woods in Hollywood. Steven Soderbergh has seen it for decades and somehow still he’s made good movies, risky movies, and odd movies and whether he’s done it because of the system or in spite of it the result is the same. When discussing the major filmmakers of the past few decades in a conversation the omission of his name is blasphemy.
So Mr. Soderbergh, go ahead and quit. In fact please do. You’ve done an amazing job of excelling in a business that constantly is trying to wear you down. You’re in a place any of us would trade to be in. You have access to money, talent, distribution, and the skills to keep doing it forever. And you want out. And that’s fine, but the way you’re going out is not only ill-advised it sends a shitty message.
A lot of us want in. Feel we have what it takes to be in. If you want to go out on top thank you for twenty-plus years of amazing filmmaking but don’t slam the door so violently and annoyingly on the way out that it discourages the next wave. People who helped make you a success and people who look to you as an example of how the little guy can win. Every industry has its share of bullshit and red tape. Film is just on a much bigger scale but you’re not making vaccines or finding new planets. You’re making art. And being paid handsomely to do so and wherever you go you’re surrounded by the real people who matter. The people who pay to see your work and the ones who are enriched, inspired, and challenged by your “oh so difficult” job.
So don’t be such a bitch about it.