Image: Farhad J Parsa

Director Steven Soderbergh got my attention back in 1989 with his Indy film, Sex, Lies and Videotape– so much so, I’ve been watching his stuff since with rapt attention. Unfortunately for us, he’ll soon be leaving the business of directing films. For good. Ugh. Meantime, the fine folks at Film School Rejects have had a chance to work up a list of filmmaking tips from Mr. Soderbergh, all of which make for a great read for filmmakers of any station. Here’s the rundown;

Branding

Don’t get branded, he says. Unless of course, you WANT to be ‘branded’, or be known for a definitive style, genre, storytelling technique, etc. (example; Scorsese and gangster films). In that case, just skip along to the next tip, below. If you’re still here, Steven’s message is this; Avoiding being branded shunts the possibility of being offered limited opportunities by way of a certain expectation of what you will deliver, opening up possibilities for many types of film projects during your career. To Be ( branded ) or Not To Be ( branded ), That is The Question. What works for you?

Let Your Actors Do the VooDoo They Do

Mr. Soderbergh shed some light on his tactic with thespians; “I try to make sure they’re OK, and when they’re in the zone, I leave them alone. I don’t get in their way.” It’s all about trust. Let your actors know they can trust you to give them your ear, let them know you’re really listening to them. Help them to know you understand they’re vulnerable as performers; they have to plumb their emotional depths in search of their characters. Create a safe place for the actors to perform, and treat their trust in you (as the director) as sacred. Let them do what they do best, with minimal guidance. Trust ’em, already.

Exhaust Your Interests. Move On.

For Soderbergh, filmmaking is a means of discovery; “Filmmaking is the best way to learn about something. When I come out the other side after making a film about a particular subject, I  have exhausted my interest in it.” It’s a learning process, versus the desired outcome. The journey, not so much the destination. For some, that’s a tough one. I see the entire process as being one big process, rife with discovery (good and bad), and most of the time, complete when it’s ready to go to the screen– but sometimes not. As an artist, some things are just never really ‘finished’, are they?

Don’t Fake It. Make It.

It appears Mr. Soderbergh hates cheating, either editorially or visually. He’d rather deliver the real thing. Whereas many films incorporate choppy cutting to hide, say, fight choreography (Bond to Bourne, we’ve all seen it), Soderbergh embraces the medium and long shot to show it all. He wants us to see the fight scenes, the choreography, the action. Unlike some stuff literally cut into shots and sequences milliseconds in length ( to hide the fight choreography, or lack thereof), Soderbergh frames his action scenes so we can see everything going on with minimal intervention. Again, that’s trust; in the source material, decisions made along the way, in the crew, cast and eventually in the film. Show the good stuff, don’t hide it. Allow your audience to see and feel what’s happening.

Interesting Characters = KEY

Soderbergh wants characters to be interesting. Soderbergh says; “They’re interesting or not interesting (characters) … and if they’re not interesting, then they either need to be removed from the film, or they need to be made interesting.” Nice/ bad, no matter. Interesting. Complex, Contradictory, ambiguous, morally opaque; that’s the character stuff to explore.

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-M

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