Steven Soderbergh has been around the industry long enough to know the signs of a project that isn't firing on all cylinders. And he knows that once you go down the road of making too many compromises, the chances of turning out a movie you can be proud of are pretty slim. Better, he told me Friday night at an Academy-invited screening and cocktail promo party for "Contagion," his best-received movie in a while, to let "The Man from U.N.C.L.E." go before it really was too late. He doesn't regret losing out on "Moneyball" either, he says. If he hadn't been fired from the baseball picture, he says he wouldn't have gotten to make "Haywire" (January) with Channing Tatum, which led to stripper movie "Magic Mike." But not to "The Man from U.N.C.L.E."
You could blame George Clooney's back troubles on "U.N.C.L.E." not going forward with Soderbergh. (More details at The Playlist.) That started the series of delays and rumors of possible casting (I never bought Bradley Cooper and Soderbergh together). "Contagion" writer Scott Z. Burns, who has a chance at an original screenplay nomination in a weak year–for degree of difficulty alone–is bummed that "U.N.C.L.E." won't proceed. But when one door closes another opens. Warners may make it with another director. And it looks like Burns has several directing opportunities ahead.
And while Soderbergh had planned to lead his team into production at Warners, that doesn't mean they won't coalesce on something else. This weekend they are all sitting down at Soderbergh's house for a pow wow to look over their available options–about three possible scenarios going forward–to fit into the open March start date before shooting Matt Damon and Michael Douglas as Liberace in "Behind the Candelabra." Soderbergh does NOT want to do another foreign sales venture like "Che," though. Even if it's an indie, he wants North American distribution in place.