The definition of retirement or a sabbatical means something entirely different to you and me compared to what it means for director Steven Soderbergh. The filmmaker had meant to bow out, at least for a while, following the release of “Behind The Candelabra” in the spring of 2013, but on his way to Cannes to premiere the movie, the teleplay for the early 20th-century medical drama “The Knick” landed in his lap. He just couldn’t say no, knowing fully well if he passed on it, the next filmmaker who read the script would say yes.
It has led to a creative rejuvenation, Soderbergh’s best work in several years, and two seasons of a very unique show that never romanticizes the era the way period pieces often do. Instead, it’s an extremely propulsive and modernistic show — with an anachronistic electronic score by Cliff Martinez to boot — that attempts to capture the zeitgeist of early 1900s New York with surgeons and doctors blazing trails to the forefront of medical discovery and invention — and in the case of its protagonist Dr. John Thackery (Clive Owen), bringing him to the edge of mad genius. Season two of “The Knick” ends next Friday. It’s a pretty crazy conclusion, and believe us when we say you must tune in.
The Playlist recently sat down with Steven Soderbergh for a lengthy conversation about “The Knick,” his one-man-band process as a director/editor/cinematographer/cameraman/producer on the show and much more. But we’ll get to that conversation once the finale has aired. But over the course of an hour-long interview, we touched upon many other subjects, as the always-productive filmmaker has several pots boiling or simmering at once.
For example, once the second season of “The Knick” was completely in the can in late August, the director jumped immediately to a new project: the HBO movie “Mosaic.” But there’s been confusion around the project, which was erroneously described upon its announcement as a choose-your-own-adventure-style movie in which web apps and new technology would be part of the viewing experience.
When I asked if “Mosaic” is a movie, the director responded with, “well, sort of,” and remained a little distant with details. And perhaps this is because the idea is abstract. “It’s going to be very confusing for people until they see it,” Soderbergh said. “It’s something I’ve been working on in the background for three-and-a-half years and that I’m really excited about.”
The director added the project will probably drop early 2017 and that it’s apparently half-shot. On top of the already announced Sharon Stone and Garrett Hedlund, we learned that “Mosaic” also stars Devin Ratray, Jennifer Ferrin, Maya Kazan and Jeremy Bobb from “The Knick,” plus Paul Reubens and Beau Bridges, among others.
“If it works, if it works for the audience, it’s a way of doing things that I think has enormous potential for people who think a certain way. In a way, I’m very conscious of the fact that this is the first iteration of it,” he said, noting that if it catches on, other filmmakers can push the technology forward. “I can already see its potential and I know I’m making a cave painting but it’s exciting at the same time because it’s like, ‘Oh, man, some friends of mine that I know when they get their hands on this are going to do some crazy shit.’’’
Soderbergh wouldn’t talk plot details, but conceded the notion that it’s trying to push narrative forward. “That’s the idea,” he said. “It’s not a technical idea that we’re now trying to put a story on top of. It grew out of an interest in trying to push storytelling in a different direction and coming up with technology that allows us to do it. It all originated from people who were thinking about story — the hope is the experience of it will be very organic and not technical.”
There are several other projects bubbling, too. Soderbergh quipped that the re-edit of his 1991 film “Kafka” is “in year 12 now.” He also confirmed that he’s shot new footage for the film and he’s working on it, but it’s still unclear when this new version will see a release. Meanwhile, the rights of films like “Full Frontal” and “Bubble” have reverted back to the filmmaker, with “The Girlfriend Experience” to follow in 2016, but he still hasn’t formulated a plan of what to do with them yet.
“I don’t know if it’s a re-edit or remastering them in 4K and sort of coming up with some fun box set with some extra shit in it. I don’t know what to do with all of that yet,” he said.
Then there’s an adaptation of John Barth‘s “The Sot-Weed Factor,” a satirical epic/historical spoof set in the 1680s about the chaotic odyssey of a hapless Londoner sent to the New World to look after his father’s tobacco business. It’s been several years since that project has been even mentioned, but the director confirmed it’s still in the works.
“I have scripts for that,” he said. “We’re getting ready to do another draft and so that’s something that I really, really want to do. I’ve been working on it for a long time. That’s a TV mini-series thing. That’s like 10, 12 hours long.”
If that wasn’t enough, in addition to all this there’s “The Girlfriend Experience” show on Starz that Soderbergh is executive producing. It will air in the spring of 2016, and Soderbergh handpicked filmmakers Lodge Kerrigan and Amy Seimetz to be the writer/directors and co-creators of the show, which stars “Magic Mike” actress Riley Keough. That basically wraps up mostly every Soderbergh housekeeping item there is, though fans should note the director admitted there are “a couple of other TV things that I’m working on the background,” so there could be even more to come. But more from this interview next week.