Steven Soderbergh’s one of my favourite film directors, but before I read Vulture’s interview with the guy I never really knew him. The catalyst for the interview is Soderbergh’s upcoming 50th birthday, the point at which he’s said he’ll give up directing feature films.
I’d always had this image of Soderbergh as this all-powerful auteur who wafted around the studio lots of Hollywood saying ‘this year, I fancy doing something different.’ But the way he tells it his career is one long sequence of happenstance, and he accounts his success not to talent or luck, but to being a decent person:
On the few occasions where I’ve talked to film students, one of the things I stress, in addition to learning your craft, is how you behave as a person. For the most part, our lives are about telling stories. So I ask them, “What are the stories you want people to tell about you?” Because at a certain point, your ability to get a job could turn on the stories people tell about you. The reason [then–Universal Pictures chief] Casey Silver put me up for [1998’s] Out of Sight after I’d had five flops in a row was because he liked me personally. He also knew I was a responsible filmmaker, and if I got that job, the next time he’d see me was when we screened the movie. If I’m an asshole, then I don’t get that job. Character counts. That’s a long way of saying, “If you can be known as someone who can attract talent, that’s a big plus.”
I’m sure there’s a lorryload of false modesty in that, but I do recognise the picture he paints of the chaotic nature of any creative undertaking, particularly one that’s as mixed up with commercial concerns as filmmaking. But ‘don’t be an asshole’ isn’t a bad way to choose to live the creative life, I think.