Interview: Director Steven Soderbergh, Pt. 2 of 3
Steven Soderbergh has no interest in a quick, five-minute "Who are you wearing/dating/exercising with" interview; when you request to talk to him, you're informed it's going to be 45 minutes. Which is, frankly, hardly enough time in many ways; in the second part of our interview, the director of "Side Effects" talks about his impending retirement, what he hopes to do with his time now, some upcoming projects, the nature of piracy and the internet, the fate of journalism and the need for filters and curation in an age of abundance ... as well as his karaoke-and-hooking-up plan for world peace, which is more reasonable than that precis makes it sound.
I was joking with somebody that, for this interview, it was going to be hard to just not have it be 45 minutes of, "But you're not really retiring, right?" or arguing about what the over-under is: Will it be two years or four years or five years before you go, "Goddamn it. I'm back."
But what are you most looking forward to doing? You've got the Liberace thing coming up.
Yeah, I mean there's a lot of stuff that's sort of been on hold that I'm now able to start working on. One of them is a book, another filmmaking book. There's some art projects that I can finally get going. I've got this website that'll go up sometime in March or April so that whatever I'm doing, if it's something that can be purchased or whatever, or just if you want to know what's going on you can go there, and you'll find out and see what's going on. I've got this play that I'm doing in the fall with Scott Z. Burns. And I've got the "Cleo" musical, which we're going to do on stage instead of as a movie. So there's stuff happening.
Is the music for that still by Robert Pollard?
Yeah, yeah. It's all done. We've just got to sometime probably around a year from now we're going to do like a full-on workshop, put it up on it's feet, and see if it works.
As a huge Guided by Voices fan, I'm trying to really wrap my head around the idea of a Cleopatra musical with songs like "Echoes Myron" or anything off of "Bee Thousand."
Did you approach Pollard?
Yeah, yeah. I went to him. I went to him. So it's a combination of stuff that he's done, stuff that he's doing that him and Jim Greer and I sat in a room and sort of worked on all the lyrics to make them all work. It's "Tommy." I mean, that's the vibe of it. It's not like serious. It's supposed to be like an Elvis musical.
I'm picturing Elton John's "Aida" just kind of suffocated...
No. It's going to be fun. I'm looking forward to that. I want to do stuff that you can't steal.
Is that the number one thing?
Well, it's a thing. It's annoying. You know? Like people steal your s**t.
Summing up all of digital piracy in one note, Steven Soderbergh, quote, "It's annoying."
Yeah. Yeah, it is. And there is an economic impact to that that results in less risks being taken.
I mean, you know, we certainly have the technological ability where we could all walk around fully armed to just shoot each other now; we don't do that just for cultural reasons. Is that what it's going to take to stop piracy? Like no bit filtering will do it. Just "Hey. Quit being goofballs. You're stealing from people who work"?
I think that there's a great, I could send it to you, there's a fantastic Steve Jobs quote about why this isn't cool. It's like three sentences and it's very succinct. And it's great. Any idea that is about like taking legal action and like fining people or putting them in jail, like I'm not interested in that. That's stupid. It's never going to work. I'd feel like it would be nice if we could make it a little harder, you know, than it is.
Well, I mean with DE/CSS, they've broken DVD encryption, but they haven't done it for Blu-ray right?
I don’t think so. You know, it's the kind of thing ... it's sort of thinking out of the box if you want to solve this problem. "Well, why don’t you get the 15-year-old Danish kid who's been hacking you and hire him to work for you to create the new encryption system?" You know what I mean? Like let's sit down and really think about how this could work instead of just using this kind of old model of law enforcement to solve this, 'cause that's not going to solve it. There are too many people.
And I mean, at the same time, you have a bunch of kids running around saying information wants to be free, but if, all of a sudden, I told my plumber that cleaning out my drain wants to be free, he would hit me with his wrench.
Yeah. Here's what's going to be interesting. When those kids grow up and they're creative and they want to make a living putting stuff on the internet and they can't because everybody's stealing it, then they're going to go, "Oh, I was that guy."
No, when you're 30 years old, and you want to have a family, and you want to be self-supporting, and you're making stuff, you're making it, and it can be stolen, and it is being stolen, there's going to be a lot of rude awakenings down the road.
No, I wasn’t laughing at your idea of the karmic wheel. I was laughing hoping the circle went a little bit faster.
Yeah, well, you know. What I think about more often than that, people stealing shit, is are we going to see a time when all this incredible connectivity is going to result in some real social change in places that really need it.
You know 'cause I look at it as the Internet as the Gutenberg printing press. I mean it's that big, and I think its impact is going to be that significant. That led eventually to the Enlightenment. I'm hoping something similar will happen here. I'm not sure. But I would love to see it used at some point as a tool to kind of promote the idea that there's some kind of minimum basic agreement we should all have about how we treat each other. You know that would be the, I would love, I would accept all the piracy and all the bulls**t if at some point I saw it -- you kind of, it was instructive that when Egypt started blowing up they just turned off the internet.
You know, that alone, I thought, "Okay, that's important 'cause they were scared, and they felt that was the thing that was putting them in hot water, was people connecting and talking about what the regime change." So that was interesting, but I wonder if a combination of that and -- here's my other theory -- karaoke. There's something about that activity that I think contains a kernel of something that can be used to solve some of these problems because I've been in rooms with people who under no other circumstance would ever want to be in proximity to each other. And they are all sort of connected by ... what happens when somebody stands up and does it, you know what I mean? Both seeing somebody do it and doing it themselves. I've watched this happen enough times that I've come away, and there's this guy, he's a marine biologist, very famous in Japan, who's doing all this work on the jellyfish that is immortal.
And he has the same theory, just out of the blue. I'm reading this thing. He goes (to karaoke) every night, and he said, he goes, "There's something that happens between the performer and the crowd and the fact that they are the same, that they rotate positions. You get the get up, and then they get up." He goes, "There's some sort of empathic neural firing that's totally unique."
And the celebration of individuality that's completely fair and flat depending on how you want to take part in it.
Yeah. So I have this whole crazy idea of you know what you should do. You should go to Davos and get like the head of the G8 countries and go, "Alright, at 10 o' clock tonight, you and ... I don’t know, two or three security people, but they have to participate also. We're all going to go to this place, and there's no press there. There's no nothing. And for four hours and whatever you want to drink, whatever you want to eat, for four hours everybody, you can sit and talk, and everybody at some point has to get up."
The better question is like who figures out the karaoke book, 'cause that can kill your evening.
Yeah it can. Well, you know, I would think with the resources available ...
(Laughs) ...at the Davos Summit.
Yeah, you'd be able to get everybody something, but the point being that... there's something about... I'm a big believer of like being in the room. There's something about being in the room that makes it harder, not impossible, but harder to abstract someone that you don’t agree with.
And then the other thing I think is this idea of a sort of leveling activity of some sort that reminds you more of the ways in which we're similar than the ways in which we are not. You know? And that I think would be cool. And nothing, in addition to that, and nothing trumps ...this is what "Romeo and Juliet" is built on and everything since, nothing will get somebody to change their mind or see somebody else's point of view faster than sexual attraction. I've said for years like, "You know what? Give me, send me to the Middle East. Let me airship in 250,000 hits of ecstasy, and I'll set up a dozen raves over the course of like three weeks. And you'll see some movement." (Laughs)
Yeah. And by the end of that week, "Gaza Strip" will have a whole different meaning.
Well, yeah, exactly. There's nothing like hooking up to get ... you know, "At the end of the day if I can hook up with this person, I'd rather have that. "
And you curiously enough have not yet heard from the Nobel committee?
The U.N. has not...
The State Department...
... responded to my request. I don’t know what the problem is. I don’t know if it’s they don’t think I can find the deejays or if it's the drugs. I don’t know.
I'm getting back to the Internet. I mean it does always seem like that question for me of having watched the Sunday New York Times get thinner and thinner and thinner from my youth reading it in Canada to being a U.S. subscriber ... Is a comprehensive intelligent news system worth trading for better, cuter cat videos? I mean, has that taken away more than it's given us at this point?
Well, it's something I've thought about, and the thing that scares me the most is as news sort of moves more into that form of dissemination, there's no amateur version of Seymour Hersh. Yeah, Seymour Hersh needs to be financed by a news organization and allowed to work on things for a long time and cultivate sources, and there's no like amateur blogger version of that.
There's nobody who's like the basement A.J. Liebling.
No, there isn't. Those require a certain structure, those kinds of journalists to exist. My fear is well, where's the next Seymour Hersh going to come from? What news organization is going to put in the time and the effort and the money to cultivate somebody who could turn into Seymour Hersh 'cause we need him, you know? We need people working on those kinds of stories who get the stories because they have the credibility that they've built up over decades. And that's what scares me is wow, 10, 20 years from now is it all just going to be like people on a beat? Basically just, you know, reporting what's happening right now?
This came over the wire, rewrite.
But even that, I mean, one of the great pleasures of a paper printed on paper is that it's full of all this random stuff that you weren't expecting, which is...
They collide sort of next to each other, these weird juxtapositions.
What a reasonably intelligent person who hopefully is more intelligent than you thinks a reasonably intelligent person should be interested in. On the Internet where you can just go click and follow this descending spiral of your interests, is that good for an educated democracy to have everybody able to go down their own blind pathways of self-interest?
Well, I don’t know. I mean, you know that begs the question of filters.
You know? Who gets to be the filter? Why should you be telling me what my filter should be? You know? Those are open questions that you have to consider in that situation because you think all right, well, I feel like there's so much. I want a filter because there's so much noise out there you just need a way to cut through it. You can't see everything.
In an age where so many things are accessible, doesn’t that filter of curation matter a little bit?
Well yeah. Let's say for the sake of argument, let's say I'm not making movies anymore. What could I possibly do with all the hours that I've spent doing that job? Well, I could be a filter if I wanted to. I could start as part of my psych, I could go, "Look, if you're interested in movies, particularly if you're interested in making movies, let me save you some time. Here's what you should be looking at, and here's how you should be looking at it." Just to somebody who wants to develop the craft of filmmaking. So on the one hand, who am I to say that? And on the other hand, well, I'm qualified to say that.
You're the m-fer who found his house, to quote Jessica Chastain. You're the person who's made several movies.
Yeah. So I mean that there, and I'm looking for the equivalent of those people when I start looking into subjects that I don’t know about about. I'm trying to find a filter that I think is at least somewhat aligned with mine, because I don’t want to waste my time going through stuff that I just feel is substandard.
(Part three of this three-part interview will be posted tomorrow.)