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How Soderbergh Designed His Own Filmmaking Universe – The ‘High Flying Bird’ Interview

The iPhone and Netflix are just the next phase in the constant evolution of Steven Soderbergh as a filmmaker.

Steven Soderbergh'Unsane' - Press Conference - 68th Berlin Film Festival, Germany - 21 Feb 2018Director Steven Soderbergh attends a press conference for 'Unsane'' at the 68th annual Berlin International Film Festival (Berlinale), in Berlin, Germany,21 February 2018. The Berlinale runs from 15 to 25 February.

Steven Soderbergh

Sascha Steinbach/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock

Steven Soderbergh has spent a good portion of his career eliminating anything and anyone standing between the visuals and ideas in his head and his ability to translate them into moving images as quickly and as efficiently as possible. Last week, Soderbergh sat down with IndieWire to discuss his new Netflix film “High Flying Bird” — which explores the “what if” scenarios of basketball players starting their own league — and it was hard to not draw the parallel of, as he himself discusses, a director who has created his very own filmmaking universe. No matter the topic — shooting his next film “The Laundromat,” what’s next for his branching narrative “Mosaic” project, the iPhone, Netflix, his own viewing habits, or David Fincher — Soderbergh reveals a man who has designed his life to be constantly moving toward the next iteration and exploration of himself as a filmmaker.

IndieWire: “They built a game on top of a game.” It seems, on two levels, that idea at the core of “High Flying Bird” is pure Soderbergh-ian. There is always economic stress as it relates to your protagonists’ labor in your films, but then also a lot of your career has been about decoding the game that Hollywood has put on top of the game of filmmaking. I know this is a project that Tarell [Alvin McCraney] and André [Holland] were working on, but I imagine the concept really spoke to you personally, and on multiple levels?

Soderbergh: Well, you know, the good news for somebody like myself is that I have options. Like, I can create, essentially, the version of the business that I want to work in, for the most part, up to and including, you know, self-financing a movie and just not talking to anybody.

Athletes really don’t have those options. They’re kind of obligated to occupy a certain lane, and it’s not like if they’re unhappy with the lane, in this case, that the NBA is providing for them, it’s not like there’s another league that they can go play for. And they have such short lifespans. You know, I was 35 before I was really, I felt, figuring out what I was doing or how I should be doing it. You’re an outlier if you’re playing a professional sport at age 35.

So that sense of leverage isn’t there, because your career is so short.

Soderbergh: No, it’s really not. I mean, part of what was interesting about working on the project is the only way that you create leverage is through collectively making decisions on behalf of the players. And so, whereas I do work in a business in which there’s collective bargaining, like I said, artists have the possibility of designing their own universe.

Bill Duke, Andre Holland, Steven Soderbergh, and Caleb McLaughlin on the set of High Flying Bird, directed by Steven Soderbergh.Photo by Joseph Malloch

Steven Soderbergh on the set of “High Flying Bird”

Photo by Joseph Malloch

Somebody asked me the other day, well, what would you want the takeaway to be from somebody watching this movie? And I said, “That those players are humans. That you see them for two hours, and then they have 22 hours left in that day that they have to be people like the rest of us.” And so, I think I, like a lot of people, really didn’t think about that very much. Like, they kind of disappeared once the game was over, in my mind. I was guilty of that also.

And that’s not unlike after I made “Contagion,” I was washing my hands a lot more, and I still do, and I’m still hyper conscious of what I touch, and all that stuff. You know, I look at professional sports differently now than I did, and I’ve watched it my whole life.

Off that, there were two choices with “Bird” I found interesting. One, not showing any basketball. And then I remember, from your abandoned “Moneyball” script, that one thing that you had built into that script was interviews with the actual players, right?

Soderbergh: The interviews were a combination of people that knew Billy [Beane, played by Brad Pitt], and a small selection of the sort of Sabermetrics experts. But yeah, that was an idea that was really central to our version of that.

Is it fair to say you kind of revived that here?

Soderbergh: Oh, absolutely. I mean, it was … actually, it was Greg Jacobs [Soderbergh’s long-time First AD and Producer, director “Magic Mike XXL”] who suggested this. I’d sent him a copy of the film to look at, and he said, “You know, I think you should revive this idea of doing some interviews, because it will expand the universe of the movie in a … without any kind of real resource outlay.”

I mean, the guys [for “High Flying Bird” Soderbergh interviewed recent first round NBA draft picks] just came by my office and we talked for a half an hour, and he was absolutely right. There’s something really compelling, I think, about these real players describing their experiences. And it really hit home that these guys are under enormous pressure, you know, to perform, and to conform. And that their lives are not entirely their own, even when they’re off the clock, or, as Donovan Mitchell says in the movie, “You’re never off the clock,” because most of the players are posting things, or people are recording video of them when they run into them.

It’s a pretty strange world that professional athletes occupy. You can understand how, if you’re not careful, psychologically, you could find yourself in some very weird places.

Speaking of the world they occupy, it seemed like you intentionally created this glass world of New York’s westside for this film. I live here, but I always feel a little bit, I don’t know, distant over there. The Hudson Yards feels foreign to me. I have to imagine setting your film over there was an intentional choice?

Soderbergh: We were trying to find spaces that felt like money, whether it’s the office, or whether it’s him being at lunch, or having a drink with somebody. The trick was, on a low budget, can we create that sensation of moving from one really nice place to another really nice place. And I think that’s part of what I was talking about, this rarefied world that you end up being a part of, but that you’re also very aware can disappear, or be taken away from you at a moment’s notice due to forces that you probably don’t control.

Zachary Quinto as David Starr and André Holland as Ray Burke in High Flying Bird, directed by Steven Soderbergh.Photo by Peter Andrews

Zachary Quinto and André Holland in “High Flying Bird”

Photo by Peter Andrews

But also, I have always wondered, especially after I got involved more directly and intimately with the DGA, how collective bargaining works, and labor management issues, how does professional sports mirror the experience that I’ve had in the entertainment business, and in which ways does it not mirror it at all? And every time there would be a contract negotiation I would look at these sports and wonder why the athletes didn’t have more direct ownership in the game that they played.

Presumably, if you have LeBron, if you have the star players, you have the game’s primary assets.

Soderbergh: Yeah, look, it’s an interesting thing to think about. That was part of the pleasure of “High Flying Bird” was the ‘what if’ aspect of it. But I wonder to what extent any of those top tier players have ever considered, for more than a minute, what that might look like, and what it might entail, to build a player-owned league. The technology that exists now, I think, would make it easier than it would have been 10 or 15 years ago, or 20 years ago. It would seem to me you could very quickly, if you had the right players, finance a new league off of the rights to show these games.

But I know from being in the entertainment business that creating a business at that scale is very demanding, incredibly complicated, and not as easy as you might hope or think if… for somebody from the outside, I understand why the players don’t get together and own it. Like, it’s clearly there are significant issues.

But it would be fun to get a handful of players in a room, and maybe a couple of entrepreneur business type people, and just kind of dry erase board this out, you know what I mean? Like, spend a couple of hours just going what would it look like? What cities? How many teams? What’s the compensation structure? Is it front loaded? Is it back loaded? You know, it would be fun just to spitball for a little while, with people who know what they’re talking about, to see what it would look like.

You’ve gone down that road, to a certain degree, in terms of HDNet, Fingerprint, the unit you were going to put together with Spike and Fincher. You’ve toyed around with different ideas of owning your own game if you will. My sense is all the conversations you’ve had along those lines of starting your own a platform, the scale of everything would be too all-consuming for you.

Soderbergh: Well, there are always expected developments whenever you set out to either duplicate an existing system, or modify it. You’re never quite sure what’s going to come at you. But in my case there were a couple of motivations for me wanting to try and see if there’s a different way to do things. Sometimes it’s creative control, sometimes it’s a greater financial transparency, and potential ownership, and sometimes it’s pure restlessness, and wanting to ask … or wondering, yeah, I know this is the way it’s normally done, but is that the way we should keep doing it?

I think we go through life, both as individuals and as cultures, continually making judgments about what ideas should survive, and what ideas should be discarded, or altered to address the process of evolution that we’re all going through. And so, I guess that’s something that I’m always thinking about in the business that I’m in, which is are there, particularly when it comes to efficiency, so are there efficiencies that can be had that aren’t being had now because people are just sort of doing it the way it was always done.

You don’t always get the answer you want, but that’s part of the process. I wish Fingerprint had worked the way that I wanted it to work, but I learned a lot, and I really liked making those two movies, and there were aspects of doing that that were really fun.

You were very clear about this in the Deadline interview, about the fact that you had an assumption that studios were overspending with P&A and that your assumption was wrong. And it is such a daunting number of what has to be spent to put these things out into the theaters that I have to imagine that you’re very intrigued to now put a movie on Netflix and reach people in a different, very immediate way.

Soderbergh: Look, if I can pry any information out of Netflix, I would absolutely assume that there will be more eyeballs on this thing on that platform than ever would have been on it in a theatrical version of release. It would seem impossible that that’s not the case.

The other thing is, there are other issues, you know, that sometimes don’t come up as often, but are relevant to me, and I’m assuming relevant to some other people, and that is I don’t have to chase this thing around the world selling it. I do it once. I do it here. That’s it, and that’s a big relief. That’s not a part of the process that I, like, look forward to, and to have that become efficient, and sort of surgical, is huge for me, you know? Because typically, especially on a film of any scale, like, you got to put this thing in your suitcase, and travel all over the world, and talk about it. And I like the fact that tomorrow it will be everywhere.

So much of your career has been about eliminating the steps in between things. And the thing that’s most intriguing to me, and someone that writes about film, and tries to get people excited about film, is that with Netflix that marketing/awareness line between the audience and the film is not there in the same way anymore.

Soderbergh: No, and it’s… Well, you know, we should talk in a week, because-

What will you know in a week?

Soderbergh: Look, I think, based on, you know, stories that I’ve gotten from friends who have worked with Netflix, I will get some indication of how it did, in general terms. But, you know, this is a film that – even though there’s nothing obscure or inaccessible about it – it’s certainly, by most definitions, a specialty film. This would never be a movie that’s going to go into 2,500 theaters. And so, that being the case, you’d probably be very, very fortunate, let’s say, for a million people to buy tickets to it, very fortunate. That would be viewed as, on the arthouse circuit for this kind of movie – seven or eight million dollar gross would be very respectable. I would imagine we’re going to easily beat that number of viewers on the platform.

Someone told me the other day that you were arguing against a theatrical for this film?

Soderbergh: Yeah, I was. I just didn’t see the point, and it was explained to me that to create a sort of level playing field for their sort of feature acquisitions. Knowing that “The Laundromat” is coming this fall-

[Soderbergh next film, “The Laundromat,” starring Meryl Streep and about the Panama Papers, is also being produced by Netflix.]

Which they’re going to have to do theatrical–

Soderbergh: I would think there’s going to be some theatrical component to that. Netflix came to me and said it would be a really bad look if somebody decided to write a story about how your Meryl Streep movie went out in some theaters, and your little movie with an African American cast didn’t. And I thought, yeah, the optics of that would be bad.

Because one looks like an obvious awards grab, too.

Soderbergh: Yeah, look, I mean, I think my attitude was more focused on me, which is I don’t need you to do this in order for the film, or me, to be taken seriously. I don’t need it. I came to you for a reason with this movie, and it’s to be on your platform.

So, in having these discussions with them initially, I was doing that thing that I loathe in other people, which was the universe was extending about two feet in every direction, and I was just thinking about how I felt. So, I think they’re right. I think whether it’s just looking at these two films or looking at their larger slate of movies that they’re making or acquiring, I can understand how they want to create some, at least, minimum standard of parity, you know? That they can point to so that they’re not accused of preferential treatment. But we’ll see if it ends up having the intended effect.

Certainly, it would be really nice if, at the end of the year, months and months from now, Tarell’s screenplay was remembered by somebody. Like, I think it’s a terrific script, and screenplays tend to be one of the avenues where unusual movies kind of slip in, you know? Certainly, I was the beneficiary of that 30 years ago. So, screenplays are like a nice spot for recognition. So, I get it. I get it.

When I saw “Unsane,” I thought this is a example of the type of story, and the type of storytelling, that’s perfect for an iPhone.

Soderbergh: Yeah.

It’s inside, tight shots in these tight spaces, gritty claustrophobic, and so, to me that always felt like this model of when we talk about technology fitting story. Now, “High Flying Bird,” which works great, and looks good doesn’t strike me–

Soderbergh: As an obvious a choice for an iPhone. Yeah.

It’s not a knock, just wondering what motivated the choice to stick with the iPhone for this one.

Soderbergh: Right. It’s still, in my mind, in terms of the scale of it, the speed that was necessary to execute it, and the time we had allotted, it still seemed to me a pretty natural fit for that approach. But I also knew that I wanted a very different aesthetic, that I wanted to shoot anamorphic, and have a much cleaner sort of presentation, much slicker, much more of a kind of normal look.

A look to fit the wealth of the world that you just described.

Soderbergh: Yeah, just, you know, gritty didn’t seem to be the move here, whereas on “Unsane” I was very consciously trying to recreate this sort of 16 mm ’70s horror movie aesthetic, you know? “I Spit on Your Grave,” “Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” I wanted that kind of feeling. So, I was taking advantage of all these fantastic plugins to use different film stock overlays to give it some real texture.

I mean, I could point out, I won’t, because it’s boring, but I could point out many shots in “High Flying Bird” that using a more traditional approach with normal size cameras would have been extremely difficult, if not impossible, to do, to get the lens where I want, or to be moving in a way that I want to move and, you know, have the camera reach multiple destinations without either somebody getting hurt, or the shot being compromised because of the size of the equipment. So, it seemed like a natural fit to me.

Could you give one example from “Flying Bird” of what you just described?

Soderbergh: Oh, just that shot early on, pulling Zazie [Beetz] and André [Holland] down the corridor of the office interior after he’s gotten off the elevator, he meets her, and then we go to this shot where they’re walking really fast toward his office. We’re in a very narrow path, we’re moving very quickly, and then as they sort of peel off from us, we sort of move away from them, and he goes into his office, and the camera sort of retreats. With a normal size dolly, which weighs 350 pounds, that becomes dangerous, potentially. Like, somebody could get hurt. And being able to take the corner to start to separate from them the way that we did, where I’m in a wheelchair with a DJI Osmo stabilizer, the ability to quickly take this corner and back up, like, that. We could have been there for hours, maybe still wouldn’t have gotten the lens where I wanted.

Because you have to remember, unlike when I’m on a normal dolly, when I’m holding the Osmo, I also have the ability to move the lens left, right, up, down.

Soderbergh shooting "High Flying Bird"

Soderbergh shooting “High Flying Bird”


Your arm is like a mini Technocrane.

Soderbergh: Yeah, exactly and that was a shot in which I was doing that. Like, as we separated from them, you know, I’m starting to move the camera nto another position. So that’s just one example, of probably 20 or 25, where I was able to quickly execute exactly what I wanted in a way that, just, it would have been really, really hard. And there were a couple of those on “Unsane” too.

Well, “Unsane,” it feels like you’re sometimes crammed in a corner.

Soderbergh: Oh, yeah, like, literally we’d have the camera taped to the wall. But there was one shot in Unsane where we were chasing Claire [Foy] down the hallway, and at one point she does this, like, S jog to get to the door that’s going to lead her to the exterior, and that would have been impossible with a dolly or a Steadicam. That was, you know, my key grip running full speed with me in a wheelchair and able to navigate with inches around this jog. Like, that would have been dangerous, and probably impossible.

It also seems – starting all the way back to you taking over cinematography duties – like these decisions are often guided by how quickly you can get from your intuition as an artist to executing it.

Soderbergh: Well, it’s Welles who said, “I don’t want to wait on the tool, the tool should wait on me.” And so, yeah, I’m very frustrated when I’ve decided how something should be approached, I get very frustrated when it takes a long time to execute it. Like, as soon as I feel it, I want to shoot it. And so, that’s one of the biggest benefits of this method is the time from the idea to seeing an iteration of it is incredibly short, like, a minute, like, maybe less. For me, that’s … The energy that that creates on set, and I think on screen, is huge. I mean, really, really significant.

And I’m hoping this year we’re now going to see, as I’ve talked about before, a kind of combination of a capture device that’s, you know, if not as small as my phone, certainly not much bigger than your Zoom recorder [the Zoom H6] with a full sized sensor.

From who?

Soderbergh: Well, I know RED’s doing that with the Hydrogen and I’m sure they won’t be alone. But that, to me, is really going to be something, because now I can put the lens anywhere I want, and I have selective focus, and I can do all those things that I like to do. So, to me, it’s exciting as hell. Like, this is fantastic technology.

I know in “Unsane” you used the Moment lenses, was it the same thing with “High Flying Bird?”

Soderbergh: No, no, on “High Flying Bird” these were the Moondog anamorphics-

Oh, okay, the ones Sean had?

Soderbergh: That Sean Baker used [on “Tangerine”], yeah.

For the anamorphic, right?

Soderbergh: Yeah.

And then were you still using the Filmic Pro app?

Soderbergh: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

"High Flying Bird"

“High Flying Bird”

Photo By Peter Andrews

One last technical thing. My understanding was that there was something with “Unsane” that it went through a large post process in terms of its image, that was beyond normal color correction. What was that and did you do the same with “Bird?”

Soderbergh: No, the thing that became time and resource consuming, which I spoke to Apple about, and explained to them they have to address if they’re really serious about people using these things to make movies going forward, even when you have, through an app like Filmic Pro, the shutter and the ISO locked, the sensor reacts to changes in light. If somebody walks past a window, or you pan through a light, it, even though it’s supposed to be frozen, it responds. What makes it even worse is it’s not the entire frame that responds, it’s pieces of the frame.

To have to go back in frame by frame, in the DI suite, and even that stuff out, create power windows to deal with the sections of the frame that have changed density, that was fucking annoying and expensive. I didn’t test any other cameras, I don’t know if the Samsung does that. I know that more traditional non-phone cameras don’t do that. And I talked to the Filmic Pro people, and they were like yeah, I know, they will not engage with us to figure out if this can be fixed. It’s a problem. So, you know, that was – I have to say, that was the only time that I felt frustrated by that technology. And look, on the one hand-

It was after both films that you had to do that?

Soderbergh: Yeah.

You didn’t have a solve for “Unsane” that made “Bird” easier?

Soderbergh: Nope, and I was, in my, you know, darker, midnight, Singani–fueled, you know, kind of spinning mode, I thought about documenting how many hours it took in the DI, and what that cost, and sending Apple a bill, and going, “You guys should cover this. Like, you know, this isn’t my fault.” But I didn’t do that.

You’ve been very clear about composition and camera movement, how the iPhone impacted shooting the two films. Are the other aspects of production, especially from a cinematography standpoint largely the same. Do you light similarly for the iPhone? EDIT

Soderbergh: Yeah, we had a 12-inch by 12-inch LED panel, that was it.

That was it?

Soderbergh: Yeah.

And you’ve been stripping down your lighting that much when you weren’t shooting on an iPhone?

Soderbergh: Oh yeah, but yeah I’ve been doing that for a long time. Digital has, because of its sensitivity, has helped a lot, I think. You know, I guess my attitude has always been unless you’re trying to achieve a very specific effect, whether it’s theatrical, or necessary because of the demands of the story, my attitude has always been, so, “You think you can improve on real life? Like, the way things look in the real world, you think you can do better than that?” I’ve always been amused by people who take that approach.

Now, like I said, if you have a piece that, or a filmmaker, that wants a kind of hyper stylized look, that’s potentially based in reality, and is motivated by what real sources exist in that space, that’s fine. Like, have you ever seen Vittorio Storaro shoot something that didn’t look great? No. But that’s a very different approach, you know.

I tend to be very happy with reality, with the way things look in the real world, even to the point – and this is, for me, was a crucial moment in my development, or in Peter Andrews’ development as a cinematographer – letting things look bad when that’s the way they look. It took awhile for me to accept that, because there’s a natural tendency to want to make things look good, or pleasing. And it was a while before I really divested myself of that, and would walk into a space that was hideous, that no self respecting cinematographer would accept, and smile, and go, “This is what we’re going with.”

Melvin Gregg as Erick Scott and Zazie Beetz as Sam in High Flying Bird, directed by Steven Soderbergh.Photo by Peter Andrews

Melvin Gregg and Zazie Beetz “High Flying Bird”

Photo by Peter Andrews

I’m assuming “The Laundromat” – I, of course, haven’t read the script, but just knowing a little bit about the project – I have to assume that’s something that has a scope that required you to go back to the RED camera, or-

Soderbergh: Yeah, oh, yeah. Yeah, it’s going to be interesting, because it actually … it ended up, in my mind, requiring a multitude of looks in order to put its point across. And so, we’ve got a little bit of everything. There’s some anamorphic. There’s some 2:40 material, most of the film is 1:78 – is that right? Technically, 16 by 9 – there’s some handheld, then there’s stuff that’s not handheld, there’s stuff that’s desaturated, there’s stuff that takes place on a soundstage that’s designed to have a very sort of stylized, non-realistic look. It’s kind of a mélange of aesthetics that I hope are unified by this one element, that I won’t spoil for people, that’s supposed to tie all of this together.

It was a really fun project to work on, because I’d go from, one week, shooting in one format, to the following week shooting something that was, in my mind, supposed to look exactly like a Neil Simon comedy from the ’70s, you know what I mean? Like, heavy diffusion, very, you know, kind of bright, with elevated black levels. You know, like, there was a cinematographer who shot a lot of those, David M. Walsh, and worked with Herbert Ross. And I went back, if you look at my list from last year of what I watched [At the end of the year Soderbergh publishes a diary of everything he’s watched and read during the year], there are all this, like, “The Sunshine Boys,” “The Goodbye Girl,” “California Suite,” like, people were probably wondering, like, “Why is he looking at this shit?” And that’s why, is I was trying to figure out how do I really recreate that sort of “Goodbye Girl” aesthetic.

And I remember one night, when I was watching one of those movies, and I realized, “Oh, the Herbert Ross films that were directed during that period, the camera is always at eye level, always. So, the person that is on screen, their eye line goes straight across. The camera’s never above them, it’s never below them. If they are looking to another character off screen, the camera’s absolutely at eye level. And I thought, okay, I’m always looking for, like, what are the rules, and I was like, “Okay, that’s a rule, the camera always has to be at eye level.” And that’s typically not something that I would be thinking about – If you look at “Unsane” or “High Flying Bird,” you know, I’m looking the most dynamic composition that I can justify. And in this case, that’s a rule that, to me, is not a handcuff, it’s if I want it to feel like that, I have to follow those rules.

Those lists that you put out at the end of every year always astound me. I mean, I do this for a living, you know, so I caught up to you on movies per week, probably, because I just went to Sundance and killed, like, 25 movies.

Soderbergh: Yeah, right.

But on a day to day basis, and one thinks about how much you do, that’s a very steady viewing ritual that continues through production.

Soderbergh: Right.

The people I know in production, and people that I cover for IndieWire, are crazed, doing 18 hours-a-day while they are shooting and you’re settling in for a double feature. It speaks to how efficient you’ve become, but how important is watching movies to your own process?

Soderbergh: It’s important to me. It’s just, I need ideas and stimulus from other sources than just my work, or what I’m doing at the moment. So, it’s really … it’s a critical from both of education and, at the same time, a vacation from me, and what I’m doing. And I think that’s why I’ve set up a sort of structure – when I make a movie, we don’t shoot long days. And so, I would say we average probably 10 hour [production days]. Like, that’s probably what we average, if you did the math. So then it takes about hour, hour-and-a-half, for me to get the footage. So wrap, eat, early dinner, then I have the footage. Then, typically, minimum of an hour, maximum of two hours, to get an assembly of that day’s footage. So, now it’s, if we wrapped at 5:00, I got the footage at 6:30, so by 8 I’m pretty much done, and I have the rest of the evening to do whatever I want, watch something, read something, you know, all that stuff. So, I’m really happy with that kind of structure. I feel like I’m getting everything that I need from work and from play.

Part of it, too, is there are huge efficiencies that come along with having a crew that is common to most of the projects. And so, my comfort level in delegating is very high, you know, higher than it would have been for me working with a group of people for the first time. You know, these are all, from top to bottom, these are people that I know well, and know me well, so I can give them a lot of responsibility and trust that it’s going to turn out well. And that’s another key efficiency.

And the other thing, frankly, is that I’m not a perfectionist by any stretch, and I’m also not a termite. I’m a tagger. You know what I mean? Like, I’m going for the basic feeling of it, but I’m a – to me, it’s like I got a big brush, and a bucket of paint, and I’m a slash and stroke, you know. And I don’t like things to be too polished, or too sealed, hermetically sealed. I like things being a little bit rough. You know, there are times when I’ll be in the DI suite, let’s say, and there will be a camera move or something, and there will be, like, a little bump in it or something, and the question will come up, do you want us to stabilize that? Most of the time I don’t. It depends. Sometimes I do, but most of the time I like a little something, you know, to keep it from being too perfect, because life isn’t like that. So, when I hear the stories of-

David FincherNetflix Original Series "Mindhunter" ATAS Official Screening and Panel at The Crosby Street, New York, USA - 19 May 2018

David Fincher

Patrick Lewis/Starpix for Netflix/REX/Shutterstock

You’re friends with David Fincher, who would have stabilized the hell out of it.

Soderbergh: You cannot find two people with a more divergent approach, to land somewhere similar, which is, you know, trying to make something good. But no, we laugh about it, because it’s… Yeah, David is a termite. I was in a room with him once. I dropped by when he was doing the DI on “Panic Room,” and he had the laser pointer out. And after about five minutes I was like oh, man. It’s got to be hard to see all the things that he sees, you know what I mean? Because like I said, when I’m looking at it, I’m taking in sort of the gestalt of the thing, and I’m not really starting at the edges, wondering if I should do a power window to bring that down a quarter of a stop. Like, that’s just not how I work.

I remember, some magazine had a still from “Birdman,” and of all the power windows that Chivo had going, like, you almost couldn’t see the image. And I was like oh, my God. Like, to see that, and to not be able to not do something to address it, it’s got to be stressful, you know what I mean? Like, I’m not stressed, and I’m a pretty generally happy person, and I can’t imagine what it must be like for people like David, that they, like, they see everything that’s wrong, everything.

Year and a half ago or so, I went down to Staten Island and heard you talk about “Mosaic”-

Soderbergh: Oh, yeah.

And I’ve also followed how you’ve been wrestling with narrative your whole career and it seemed like you were really excited about what you built – beyond the actual series

Soderbergh: Yeah.

Moving forward, what’s next in terms of creating more branching narratives?

Soderbergh: Well, we have two more projects now that have been developed and written. I’m hoping to do one of them. We’re in the process, right now, of determining where those are going to live, but-


Soderbergh: Who’s going to pay for them, and where are they going to show up. But I’m excited to go back, because we learned a lot, and I think both of the projects are a little… What’s the word? They’re a little more energetic, and I think will… Well, I remember, somebody told me a story, it was terrifying, of showing portions of “Mosaic,” somebody I know who teaches a film course, and they were showing portions of “Mosaic” to the film class, these young film students. And one of the first things they said was, “Everybody in this thing is really old.” And I just went, “Wow. Okay.” Like, I’m not sure what … I don’t know where to put that, you know. And that isn’t to say that, like, the one that I want to do is populated by super young people, it’s not, but I think the general pace of “Mosaic” was, in retrospect, I think it worked for that.

"Black Mirror: Bandersnatch"

“Black Mirror: Bandersnatch”


What was really great about “Bandersnatch” dropping, and getting all this chatter, is that I viewed it as – even though it was very different than what we were doing – in my mind it proved the viability of the format. People are intrigued by it. And so, I’m excited about seeing if I can take all the lessons that I learned from “Mosaic” and put them into practice with a piece that’s just got a higher energy level, narratively.

One of the things that you had talked about was that HBO had been so supportive in building the tech and app – supplying the time and resources to figure out the structure of how this was going to work. Is that proprietary, or is that something where no matter where you land with this you can take that with you?

Soderbergh: Well, we, you know, all the IP that we created for “Mosaic,” we own. But each project is different, completely different designs, different aesthetics, different layers of interactivity. Like, so we have a kind of foundation, but at the same time, you’re kind of starting over each time, because each filmmaker it’s assumed that they will want to create a version of the app that they like, that looks the way they want it to look, sounds the way they want it to sound. So, it’s an interesting, you know, for people of a certain mindset, it’s a really fun exploration, because of all of these layers that you have to consider. But, as I probably said at that event, “Mosaic” was a cave painting, in my mind, like, early, early days. Like, I was very aware of that.

It felt like the early ’30s to some degree.

Soderbergh: Yeah, I did, and I was aware of that, and knew that, like, okay, there’s so much more to explore here. So, I’m hoping, you know, that these projects get set up, so I can do it again.

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