Every article I read about Steven Soderbergh’s current experiment refers to what “could” happen to Hollywood or what Steven “wants” to charge about Hollywood. But the truth is this:
It already has happened.
Steven Soderbergh has changed Hollywood.
There’s been a ton of press about it, but I believe Jake Coyle does the best job of summing it all up. Read on:
Steven Soderbergh wants to change Hollywood’s game plan. His latest film, ‘Logan Lucky,’ is his model.
By Jake Coyle
“Populist Pictures,” reads the buzzer ID at Steven Soderbergh’s Tribeca office. It’s a grand nameplate on an otherwise nondescript Manhattan building.
But Soderbergh means it.
Four years after dramatically quitting moviemaking, he has re-entered the fray with “Logan Lucky.” He didn’t spend his hiatus crafting a Major Artistic Statement. He long ago lost his taste for “prestige films.”
“Logan Lucky” is a heist movie so similar to his “Ocean’s Eleven” that the down-and-out West Virginia characters in the new film refer to their con as “Ocean’s 7-11.”
“I thought the first line of every review would be, ‘He came out of retirement for this?’ ” Soderbergh says in an interview at the modest office. “Of course my answer to that would have been: The only thing I would have come out of retirement for is to make something like this. I wasn’t going to come out of retirement and not make something fun. Why would I do that?”
And Soderbergh also wants to prove a point. When he said goodbye to the movie business four years ago (and went off, in a filmmaking marathon, to direct every episode of the acclaimed Showtime series “The Knick”), he was fed up with a risk-averse Hollywood, unwilling to innovate, problem-solve or shake up anything.
“Logan Lucky” isn’t just a comeback movie; it’s an experiment. Soderbergh independently financed the film, selling distribution rights for foreign territories to raise the budget, and then making ancillary deals (like Amazon) to pay for prints and ads. While ballooning marketing costs have made little beside franchise films appealing to major studios, Soderbergh believed it would be possible to put out “Logan Lucky” with a more modest marketing approach centered on the 10 days before release and the social-media followings of its stars — notably Channing Tatum.
It’s a way to prove that a broad-appeal movie can be made by a filmmaker with a plan, without the involvement of a committee or corporation.
“I’ve been very vocal about my issues, and it’s an opportunity to learn some stuff, and I’m prepared for any scenario. But at least we got to do it the way we wanted to do it,” says Soderbergh. “And that’s a win. We may learn a lot. I’m hoping it works so I can continue to put my work through this system and have other like-minded filmmakers put their work through this system.
“We don’t need another boutique distributor,” he adds. “This is designed for wide-release movies. This isn’t an art-house proposition.”
Movie financing arrangements are byzantine, but Soderbergh has set up an account that anyone who has put money into the movie can log into and check the movie’s expenses, grosses and their cut. The whole scheme is more than a little like the plot of “Logan Lucky,” in which an out-of-work miner (Tatum) rallies a team to rip off a NASCAR track. A tongue-in-cheek line at the end of the credits reads: “No one was robbed during the making of this film except you.”
Executive producer Dan Fellman, former distribution chief at Warner Bros., says “We don’t know whether it’s going to work or not. We certainly hope like hell it does. … One way or another, we’ll get to prove our point.” Fellman anticipates the film will screen in 2,800 theaters, with many in the industry keenly following the results.
Soderbergh plans other innovations, too. “Mosaic,” his interactive movie for HBO, is coming in November. And with a number of other projects he’s producing, Soderbergh sometimes seems like his own studio head.
He actually spent a year. researching how to put a subscription-based platform together. “I really got pretty granular with it,” he says, but he ultimately decided it would work only if he had a back catalog to give subscribers enough content.
Others appear to be lining up behind him.
“He found a way to do it where it’s on his terms, and he has the control that he wants,” says Adam Driver, who plays the Tatum character’s brother. “His setups move so fast that there’s no momentum lost. He’s very economical about how he shoots. It’s freeing for us as actors. There’s no bull …, no time wasted, so it almost feels like a protest.”
The first-timer credited with the script, Rebecca Blunt, is unknown and may be a pseudonym. Soderbergh will say only she’s a friend’s wife.
And then there’s the question of why anyone who loves moviemaking so much as Soderbergh wanted to quit. He shoots his own films (under the pseudonym Peter Andrews), and he considers editing a day’s shooting his nightly reward. A few years ago, as an editing exercise, he recut films such as “2001: A Space Odyssey” and “Blow-Up” for fun.
When he retired, Soderbergh thought he might dedicate himself to painting, but he acknowledges, “I didn’t get very far in my second career. … When I got back to the set of ‘The Knick,’ it definitely had the sense of: This is your job. This is what you should be doing.’ That was a good thing to feel.
“There are very few things you can do repeatedly that give you the same pleasure as they did the very first time,” he continues. “Figuring something out on set is always a great feeling. That never gets old, when it finally reveals itself to you. … That’s hard to walk away from. I don’t feel like that’s a bad addiction to have.”
(Photo Credit: Rick Diamond/GettyImages)
See? It happened already. A non-indie major movie with no studio backing opened in 2800 theaters. It wound up in 3031 theaters. As of this writing the box office is at $42.5 million. [UPDATE 10/14: $42,865,483] The articles that were written about the box office receipts in August, called it a “flop,” but the “flop” was in quotes. That’s because everyone knew Logan Lucky releases on digital download on November 14, 2017 and then releases on DVD, Blu-ray, and Ultra HD Blu-ray on November 28, 2017. The studios and the machine have obvious reason to pronounce Soderbergh’s experiment a failure. As of right now, it’s made $10 million profit in the clear. By the end of the year, however, it will have at least doubled that. Tens of millions of dollars in the black is nothing at which to scoff. Beholden to no one, Steven Soderbergh proved to the world it could be done.
“It almost feels like protest.” ~~Adam Driver, actor.
I love that quote from Driver. I defy anyone to explain to me how it’s not a protest.
Was Logan Lucky a blockbuster? No. And I contend it didn’t need to be. If you found $10 million dollars laying on the sidewalk, would you pick it up? Of course you would. Cudos to Soderbergh for having the brains to try to see if this could work. A $10 million, a $20 million, maybe even more, paycheck — without having to deal with the meddling studio execs — will be hard to ignore by his fellow creatives.