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An Interview With Steven Soderbergh (excerpted from <I>Post Magazine</I>)

19 Dec, 2001 By: Marc Loftus

Director Steven Soderbergh has been busy this fall, wrapping up production and post on the remake of the 1960 film Ocean's Eleven, which debuted in theaters Dec. 7 and has earned $72.3 million at the box office so far.

The Warner Bros. feature stars George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Brad Pitt and Matt Damon, and focuses on a group of World War II veterans who plan a heist at one of Las Vegas's biggest casinos.This project would be much different than style of Traffic, which garnered him an Academy Award earlier this year for his directing efforts, edging out his own work on Erin Brockovich. Again, Soderbergh teamed with film editor Stephen Mirrione, who received an Oscar for cutting Traffic. Editing on Avid Film Composers, Mirrione cut the feature almost as quickly as it was being shot. And just over a week after the film wrapped, Soderbergh was able to show a very close version of Ocean's to the studio for review.

Soderbergh was preparing to go to New Orleans for the final mix of the film when Post Magazine, a Video Store Magazine sister publication based in New York, caught up with him. He graciously detailed his experiences on the production of Ocean's Eleven. Here's what he had to say.

Post: What kind of look and pacing are you going for with Ocean's Eleven?
Soderbergh: It's a much more theatrical and stylized film. Almost 180 degrees from Traffic, which was part of the appeal for me. I didn't want to do another "run & gun" movie. I've had my fill of that for a while. So Ocean's is a much more designed piece. It's more overtly theatrical. There's more lighting, and you're more aware of the filmmaking than you are with something like Traffic.

Post: How long was the editing process?
Soderbergh: Eight days after we wrapped, I showed the studio a pretty polished version of the movie. Because of the way I wanted to make the movie--or the way I felt it should be made--there weren't a lot of options. I shot it to go together a certain way. And there's some flexibility within that, but basically it wasn't a situation like Traffic, where I was just hosing everything down and thinking we'll sort it out later. This was basically sorted out on the set and one shot leads to the next, leads to the next, leads to the next. Especially in the last hour of the film, there aren't many shots that are repeated. It's designed to go from here to there. That made it a difficult shoot because that's not how I think, normally. But, comparing it to Traffic, it made it a much easier edit. We shot it out of sequence, which is tougher for the actors than it is for me.

Post: What kind of effects can we expect from Ocean's Eleven?
Soderbergh: It's a combination. There are some traditional effects, where there is greenscreen or we are creating something that just didn't exist. And what's great about it is the ability to just go in and mop up stuff that is wrong. A shot that has a terrible sky in it? Just ask, "Can you mop that up for me?" We have this one screen where 300 people are supposed to turn simultaneously where George [Clooney] and Matt Damon don't. And they're in the middle of this huge crowd, so all of the people are supposed to turn. Last week I was looking at it and there was one guy, six feet away from George, who doesn't turn with everybody else. And it's been driving me nuts for six months. Finally I said, "That's it. Will you turn that guy for me?" I called Tom Smith and said this is really minor, sorry to be throwing it at you, but this is driving me crazy. He said, "No problem." We shot some greenscreen stuff of a SWAT team going down an elevator shaft. Shooting this kind of stuff is my worst nightmare. It has nothing to do with actors or performances. We shot the footage and my fear is always that it's just going to look like a bunch of guys in front of a greenscreen. The final result is so good, that I was shocked. I shouldn't be shocked, because those guys are very good. It's so seamless and transparent, right down to them adding a little bit of handheld movement that totally sold it.

Post: How much do the technology and the different [video] formats influence you?
Soderbergh: I'm actually getting ready to shoot an ultra low-budget movie mostly on video. Part of it will be on film, but the majority of it will be on video. To me it's all great--they are just tools. What we were able to do digitally with the Mexico stuff in Traffic, it was a combination of digital technology and film technology--we took what we did digitally and put it through an Ektochrome step to increase the contrast and the grain even more. There was a certain filmy quality to that step, which I think would have been very difficult to try to reproduce digitally. Whereas some of the things we did digitally, as far as draining the color away and making it exist in a very narrow range, is something that you can only do digitally.

Click here to read Steven Soderbergh's bio.

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