His use of sound as harbinger to action, his movie titles, Sex, Lies and Videotape, Traffic, the Oceans 11 series, Steven Soderbergh’s reputation and accolades precede him. Considered one of the founding pioneers of the independent cinema movement and among the most acclaimed and prolific filmmakers of his generation, Soderbergh is now distributing Singani 13 from the Mountains of Bolivia.
Olivia Daane: What is the purple potion you are sharing with the world, Singani 63? Why are you distributing a spirit from the mountains of Bolivia?
Steven Soderbergh: My job moment to moment is to separate ideas, things or approaches that are ordinary form things that are exceptional. That is what I am supposed to do every day.
I like to drink and go to bars, but this was first time I’ve put something across my lips (just before shooting the Che films) and gone “What’s the story with this?!” I had a mule train keep me supplied for the 6 months of shooting. Nobody in Bolivia can determine the derivation of the name Singani 63. It is a term only used to describe the taste.
OD: How do you feel about leaving things up to chance? Do you like to control exactly what the viewer will experience?
SS: It’s been a lifelong process of trying to optimize my approach to reduce inefficiencies. Learning when I should exert control and when I should let something evolve on its own. I am more fluid and faster at filtering out bad ideas than I was when I began
OD: In a project’s creation and curation, do you see things play out before you begin? Do you draw things out?
SS: It is very rare that I draw things out. Typically when I’m imagining a project, I see faces with a certain expression on them and a certain feeling that they are experiencing. I don’t typically storyboard. My imagination sort of stops at a certain point and I just need to see it in front of me on set to determine what kind of approach I want to employ. That is not always efficient, but once I’ve decided, the shots come to you quickly. It is a tradeoff. I try to take advantage of things like color and sound that can have a huge psychological impact on the audience but don’t really cost you anything.
OD: Who is someone you haven’t worked with, whom you might like to in the future?
SS: I just got to work with Meryl Streep and now I’m just angry I waited thirty years to do that. It was inspiring for me. She seems to understand it all so well and her affect is that of someone you would think (for whom) this is the first time they are getting paid to do this. Her enthusiasm and her way of approaching the work is so efficient. She is only interested in things that will help this be good and relevant when the camera is rolling. There’s no entourage. It’s just her. It’s stunning. She is just a savant, but she also works hard. She works smart.
OD: What are crutches and credos you throw away?
SS: People feel shooting on film legitimizes them. But on the list of things that matter to a viewer, that’s on the bottom. On the top of the list of what they care about are story and character. Music and closeups are very powerful things until you use them all the time and there’s no emphasis. Somebody gets insecure and just lathers something with music to get a response. Story plus character, plus a good cast member and a phone and you’re home.
OD: If you weren’t an incredible filmmaker, what would you be?
SS: I would like to make great work until the day I die like Luis Bunuel He said, “If I had been born before cinema was created, I would be a pauper.” I feel the same way. I have to say I’m lucky and the smartest thing I’ve ever done was being born to my two parents. They were intelligent, open-minded, supportive, encouraging people. I also inherited a certain doggedness from them. I inherited their obsessiveness. When you are interested, go all in!
Steven Soderbergh is on the hunt for excellence. He is always looking for unusual combinations of color and life. He mixes color temperatures. He is not trying to gel his visual universe. He is trying to let go. Collision and blending. Separating the wheat from the chaff. His daughter is heading up sales fo rSingani 63, so if she is anything like her dad, a new hit elixir is on the way! Steven never stops searching and sorting his “best ofs.” He just finished “The Laundromat” about the Panama Papers scandal with Meryl Streep. “As much as I’m content in the moment, I never assume anything.” As for what is next, he has three things on the table in front of him. Count on him making a great choice. Again and again. And making a lot of hard work look effortless.
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