Steven Soderbergh commentaries

If you want to have a great weekend, listening to a bunch of Steven Soderbergh commentaries isn’t a wrong way to go. His tracks are as varied and as entertaining as his movies. While some filmmakers try to retain some mystery about their process or films, Soderbergh goes in the opposite direction. He is an open book.

Soderbergh has recorded so many great commentary tracks throughout his career and I’ve maybe listened to a third of them. My hope is to have heard all of them by some point – tou can learn more than a thing or two listening to him talk over his movies. I’d recommend all the Steven Soderbergh commentary tracks I’ve heard, but here’s four that might not be a bad place to start.

the limey

The Limey (Featuring Steven Soderbergh and Screenwriter Lem Dobbs)

Why Listen: This is one commentary I’ve heard about many times, but I only listened to it recently. It’s unlike most commentary tracks. While creative differences are rarely talked about in these discussions, much of this track is dedicated to disagreements over the film. Dobbs takes issue with more than a few of the departures Soderbergh made from his script. After the screenwriter mentions “the motherfucker in Variety” more than once, he concedes if he was a disinterested, objective viewer, he’d probably like the movie more – which Soderbergh believes is the more important reaction. The commentary is not all about the creative disagreements, it’s just what stands out the most.

What’s Said: Long before Soderbergh made The Limey, he stopped chasing perfection:

I’ve gotten less and less interested in perfection or the idea of polishing things. As I make each film, I become more interested in mistakes, or at least imperfections I think are more lifelike. I’ve stopped rehearsing scenes as much, so that even the operators, whether myself or another operator, isn’t exactly sure what’s going on. I rarely give actors marks anymore. We’ll do general markings in the room, but I won’t tell actors they have to hit anything precisely. We’ll just follow them.

A Day on the Job: Soderbergh sometimes gives actors a lot of freedom. Peter Fonda‘s character’s story about hitting a deer was a true story from the actor’s book. Soderbergh just told him to tell it on-camera before a take. The director wants to give his actors flexibility, which is why he’s not precious about marks:

This scene is a good example of what I was talking about, in terms of giving Peter and Barry [Newman] total freedom. I started rehearsing with them, saying, “You can go anywhere in the room and do anything.” As we rehearsed the scene, they started to fall in this pattern, where Peter would sit at a certain point and standup again. I started to see what he wanted to do, instinctually. Again, the assistant cameraman would go over and put marks on the floor, but we would never say to Peter, “Please go here, please go there.” I would just run again and again the whole scene, from beginning to finish, take after take of shifting the focal length of the lenses, so I’d have some options. You’ll notice, the scene is shot all from one side of the room, and this is just to give them maximum flexibility in the room.

Trivia: Point Blank – for which Soderbergh recorded a commentary – was never discussed as a reference. The Shootist, however, was a reference point.

Ocean's 12

Ocean’s 12 (Steven Soderbergh and Screenwriter George Nolfi)

Why Listen: It’s wonderful to be reminded of what great fun this sequel is. Soderbergh rarely ever praises his own work and never pats himself on the back, but if there’s one movie on this list he shows the most fondness for, it’s probably Ocean’s 12. To Soderbergh, Ocean’s 12 is like the most expensive episode of a 1960s television show and “…David Holmes’ score is worth the price of a ticket, even if you ignore everything else about it.” There’s plenty of great nuts and bolts info as well from Nolfi and Soderbergh, which will fascinate and delight any fan. It’s a must-listen for the true Ocean’s 12 believers.

What’s Said: When Soderbergh was on the press tour for Bubble, people shared their honest thoughts of Ocean’s 12 with him. What they didn’t like about it is probably what Soderbergh likes about it most:

In the third film, we go back to Vegas. We have a new antagonist. I think that’s working well, but it wouldn’t have worked well if we hadn’t gone somewhere else for the second one. This is, you know, the Empire Strikes Back of the series [his and Nolfi’s favorite of the series]. The things about this movie that people had issues with end up being, for me, the things I liked about it. First of all, visually, I think it’s the best of the three. The weirdness of it, the oddness of it, is the very thing I like about it. It doesn’t work the way movies like this usually work, if it works. I think if you watch it over and over again, which I encourage you to do…They should keep watching it until they like it. If you didn’t like it when you saw it, you just didn’t watch it enough.

A Day on the Job: When Rusty tells the crew about Isabel Lahiri (Catherine Zeta-Jones), Soderbergh says it was a scene where he wasn’t initially sure how to shoot it:

This is one of those days I wasn’t quite sure how I wanted to do it, and I ended up sending people away. I ended up shooting in a way that I don’t think is that interesting, but I couldn’t find another way. I don’t feel I ever got it properly. I felt, like, if the guys themselves are okay, it’s a nice set, and Jim did a great job of coming up with a practical lighting situation that looks nice and works. I decided I had to shoot this thing and kept going. I can’t just sit here and stall forever. We had two days to shoot this scene [the scene with Pitt and Jones in the apartment] and the next scene. We shot this, I started staging the next scene, and told everyone to go home because I needed to think about this more. As you can see, it’s not a profoundly interesting series of shots. I don’t know, I was kind of stuck. You have those days.

Soderbergh also didn’t want to over do it with the camera because there’s so much information in the scene.

Trivia: Soderbergh saw Paris Hilton wearing a shirt with “Your boyfriend wants me” printed on it. Soderbergh knew Topher Grace had to wear it in the movie.

Extra Bit of Trivia: The final shot was an accident. Zeta-Jones actually fell out of her chair while shooting, and Soderbergh thought a freeze-frame of her laugh was the right note to end the movie on.

One Last Thing: I can’t recommend Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, and Andy Garcia‘s commentary for Ocean’s 11 enough. It’s hysterical. A lot of time is spent poking fun at George Clooney.

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