James Spader

Sex, Lies and a Videotape (Featuring Steven Soderbergh and Filmmaker/Playwright Neil LaBute)

Why Listen: It’s always great when Soderbergh chats with another filmmaker. His tracks with Mike Nichols are fantastic, and his track with Tony Gilroy for The Third Man is on my to-do list. Here, Soderbergh and LaBute sound like they’re having a ball discussing Soderbergh’s directorial debut. During the recording of the commentary, Soderbergh had just finished shooting a $49 million movie, Out of Sight. Compared to that film and others, Sex, Lies and a Videotape was the only movie Soderbergh felt he had enough time on. His memory of making his first movie is vivid and, per usual, candid and fequently hilarious. This is probably the funniest track on the list.

What’s Said: It’s always a nice moment in a commentary track iswhen you get a sense of a filmmaker’s taste or hear about the movies they went nuts for as a young movie fan. The one movie Soderbergh saw six times in the theater was directed by Terry Gilliam:

I remember when Brazil came out in 1985. I saw it six times in 12 days. I miss that combination of having no life and being so movie nutty that you would do that without hesitation. Now, I can’t imagine doing that. A part of it is time, a part of it is you don’t have that same naive enthusiasm when you started. It’s sad when you lose it; it gets taken over by something else. I miss that.

LaBute adds:

Yeah, finding something you love. I remember when Reds came out. I saw Reds a total of 13 or 14 times in a theater. It’s so many hours of your life. There was always something exciting for me in it.

A Day on the Job: There’s a continuity error when James Spader and Andie McDowell‘s characters have drinks together. In some shots, her hand is on her wine glass, and in other shots, it’s not. It doesn’t bother Soderbergh in the slightest:

You learn by trial and error that an actor is doing something you like and that you didn’t tell them to do, you can never call attention to it or they’ll ruin it. She just started after a couple of takes to focus on this wine glass, although clearly not consciously. I could’ve said, “Hey, you did it differently in this take and did it at this line.” I decided not to mention it at all, because I thought she really wasn’t aware of it. I’ve had that happen before where I’ve said, “Hey, I really liked where you did this little thing.” In the next take, it’s dead. You have to be careful. Encouraging, but vague.

LaBute believes a continuity error can add “that little flaw to the masterpiece that makes it human.” They both point out obvious continuity errors in A Clockwork Orange and The Shining and how inconsequential they are. “Who cares?” asks Soderbergh.

Trivia: Soderbergh loves William Friedkin’s use of sound. His use of sound in To Live and Die in LA influenced a scene in King of the Hill.

Solaris

Solaris (Featuring Steven Soderbergh and Producer James Cameron) 

Why Listen: Who doesn’t want to hear Soderbergh and Cameron talk about the nature of love and relationships? My first thought after hearing Cameron discuss the film is he’d make for a great critic, if he decides to ever trade up professions, and he could probably make a pretty good comedy. “A wildly passionate film told in dispassionate terms” is how Cameron views Soderbergh’s beautiful sci-fi film, whose was only 75 pages long. There’s not a second of dead air between Soderbergh and Cameron. It’s non-stop, thoughtful discussion. These two sitting down for a 90-minute chat is as fantastic as it sounds.

What’s Said: Soderbergh says his first cut is “like the film, but it’s not.” The movie changed a lot. Soderbergh, who’s explained before he’d replace an arm with a leg in the editing room, says:

I did an 85-minute cut of this. I think you came in and said, “You’ve gutted it.” I like doing that. What’s too far? Sometimes you pull stuff out you’ve just gotta have, and then you look at it and go, “Well, maybe I do gotta have it, but maybe I need of a third of it.”

Cameron adds:

So much of what I see in cutting rooms when I sit over the shoulders of friends of mine who are directors or producers and reactive to what they’ve done is very self-congratulatory. It’s like, “See what we did? Isn’t it cool? I want to hear the good stuff. Tell me a couple of bad things, but not too much.” Whereas you are an absolute mercenary on your own stuff. You’ll take a scene you absolutely loved in the writing process or shooting and just throw it away, just to see how it works without it. It’s completely experimental in you’re willing to experiment almost endlessly. That’s really cool. It’s not an endless process; it’s a widdling process. You eventually start to focus in, tighter and tighter, on what’s important to you.

Cameron calls the first cut more challenging, but if you’re into the movie, you’d like it more. Soderbergh believes the final cut is more emotional. He wouldn’t mind releasing his first cut on DVD sometime in the future, though.

A Day on the Job: Soderbergh isn’t one to rehearse. He’d rather use that time to talk to actors, get to know them, and see if they have a problem with a scene. One scene the director had a problem with was when Kris Kelvin (George Clooney) wakes up and first sees his dead wife, Rheya (Natascha McElhone), in bed next to him. Soderbergh believes he gave the wrong direction the first time, so he had to reshoot it:

We shot this scene twice. This took a while. On the set, we ran through many times until George felt he found the right rhythm of it. I ended up reshooting it. I realized in the first version I had given her the wrong direction. He was much more aggressive in the first version of the scene, which made her fearful. I realized I didn’t want her fearful; I wanted her blank.

Trivia: Soderbergh tried out Pink Floyd, Beck, and Velvet Underground for the docking sequence near the beginning.

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