This holiday season we have movies about slavery, the hunt for Osama Bin Laden, the travails of a mid-life crisis, the crumbling of small-town life in America and more, so you might think that, despite Hollywood’s turn toward the blockbuster, there’s still hope that compelling stories can get out into the marketplace no matter what the budget. Well, you would be wrong. Executives still want that magical four quadrant hit, something that can be branded, bring them prestige, make an attractive product for ancillary markets and/or all of the above. And as Steven Soderbergh shares, not even having two big names as stars could get him the money he needed for “Behind The Candelabra.”
Speaking at the Television Critics Association press gathering on Friday, the director revealed that he couldn’t even scrape together the meager budget he neeed for his Liberace movie starring Michael Douglas and Matt Damon. “Nobody would make it. We went to everybody in town,” he told The Wrap. “We needed $5 million. Nobody would do it.”
The movie tracks the ultimately tragic relationship between the peformer (played by Douglas) and his lover Scott Thorson (Damon), and yet even then, the movie is more lighthearted than you might think. “They said it was too gay. Everybody. This was after ‘Brokeback Mountain,’ by the way. Which is not as funny as this movie. I was stunned. It made no sense to any of us,” Soderbergh said about studio reaction to his movie. He added: “Studios were going, ‘We don’t know how to sell it.’ They were scared.”
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The project wound up at HBO and was shot last summer, and is now headed for a Cannes Film Festival premiere before airing on the network. And Soderbergh is pleased about where the movie ultimately found a home, as HBO will ensure it finds an audience.
Certainly thoughout his career, Soderbergh has stuck to his own vision, even if it means a project doesn’t get made or in the case of “Moneyball,” it moves on without him. And as he told IndieWire last year, he’s simply not inclined to change his approach to a project if he feels he’s moving in the right direction.
“I’m less prone to change things now that I would have been 10, 15 years ago. ‘Moneyball’ is the perfect example of that. At the end of the day, part of my problem with that was my refusal to do something that didn’t happen. I wanted the movie to be absolutely accurate in every particular,” he said, referring to his desire to include documentary footage in the movie. “That was a sort of slow-motion car wreck when it finally landed on everyone just how rigorous I was being about that. There was a bit of a, ‘Well, wait a minute.’ And I get it. That was the only way I knew how to do it and it was the only way I wanted to do it. If that’s not the way it’s going to get done, then you should get rid of me.”
Sadly, Soderbergh will be getting rid of himself as he steps away from directing this year for a hiatus. Hopefully it won’t be too long before he’s back behind the camera, but he’ll be leaving us with two movies: “Side Effects” arriving on February 8th, and “Behind The Candelabra” sometime this spring.