Risks are nonexistent, according to Slamdance Founders Award recipient Steven Soderbergh
Steven Soderbergh embodies the independent spirit.
The proof is in the filmmaker’s work, which reaches back to 1985 with his documentary of the prog rock band Yes to award-winning 1989 Sundance Film Festival drama, “Sex, Lies, and Videotape” up to his newest film, “High Flying Bird,” which made its premiere during a special screening at the Slamdance Film Festival Sunday afternoon.
“High Flying Bird,” starring Andre Holland, Zazie Beetz and Kyle MacLachlan, is a sports drama about an NBA rookie and his agent during the league lockout of 2001. The film was shot entirely on an iPhone 8.
Soderbergh used external lenses, stabilizers, software and “very little manipulation in post.”
Some might think filming a feature film on a smartphone would constitute as a risk, but Soderbergh thinks differently.
“Jumping out of an airplane’s a risk, (and) there is no known universe where I will jump out of an airplane,” he said onstage during a pre-screening Q and A with Slamdance co-founder Peter Baxter.
His only perceived risk as a filmmaker is that people may hate his films, the director of “Magic Mike” and “Ocean’s Eight” said.
“To me, it’s never been a risk to push something or try to do something in a way that’s not typical,” he said. “(If) the only risk is bad reviews, so what. Most of the time they’re wrong, anyway, even when their positive. Now, if you continue to do something that no one likes, then it becomes a problem.”
Soderbergh was also at Slamdance to receive the film festival’s annual Founders Award, which honors Slamdance alumni who have continued to support emerging filmmakers.
“I wish I could say it was altruistic, but ultimately I’m as drawn to and compelled by and excited about talent as anyone else,” he said. “I want to be around it, too. I have the same reaction that anyone of you see by an artist that you like. I want to be close to the person who made that.”
When Soderbergh approaches emerging filmmakers whom he admires, he asks them a series of questions about themselves.
“I want to know how they got here, and what are they trying to do going forward,” he said. “Depending on the answers, I would offer help… just to give some guidance based on the trial and error that I’ve been through.”
Over the years of producing films by then-up and coming filmmakers such as fellow Slamdance alums Christopher Nolan and Joe and Anthony Russo, Soderbergh has noticed that real talent doesn’t need a lot of help.
“Sometimes all they need is to get into a room (for a meeting), and sometimes you’re protecting them from themselves,” he said. “That’s what I rely on my producers for. You need someone to put their hands on the small of your back and say, ‘you’ve got to dial it down a bit.”
Soderbergh said his influences in his adolescence are the reason his films aren’t narrowly genredriven.
“I was (also) doing a deep dive with two artists whose careers I thought were constructive,” he said. “One was the Beatles and the other was Miles Davis.”
These artists’ restlessness intrigued him.
“With the Beatles, you look at ‘She Loves You’ in 1963, and then three years later, they are making ‘She Said, She Said,’ which is a seriously (expletive) up track,” Soderbergh said. “That’s a long distance to cover in pop music in three years.”
Davis had the same drive, according to Soderbergh.
“He just kept going deeper and deeper (in his music), pushing the form as much as he could,” he said. “And that’s what you should do. The only constant in our lives is change, and you need to embrace that.”
During his teenage years, Soderbergh hung out with a group of college filmmakers at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, where he grew up.
“Luckily, at that age, (they) adopted me as their mascot,” he said. “I was lucky that I was surrounded by a gang who felt the same way. We all supported each other and worked on each other’s project.”
That kind of support is why Soderbergh backs Slamdance.
“Slamdance is a love gig,” he said. “The reason why they’re doing it, is because they get super excited when they see new talent emerging. They get a real jolt of providing a platform for all of these voices.”
“Park City Follies” ticket sales will help buy a new expansion to the Egyptian Theatre that will house YouTheatre and serve as a black box.