He continues on about how the Hollywood studios are harming cinema (which could also be described as auteur filmmaking):
The idea of cinema as I’m defining it is not on the radar in the
studios. This is not a conversation anybody’s having; it’s not a word
you would ever want to use in a meeting. Speaking of meetings, the
meetings have gotten pretty weird. There are fewer and fewer executives
who are in the business because they love movies. There are fewer and
fewer executives that know movies. So it can become a very strange
situation. I mean, I know how to drive a car, but I wouldn’t presume to
sit in a meeting with an engineer and tell him how to build one, and
that’s kind of what you feel like when you’re in these meetings. You’ve
got people who don’t know movies and don’t watch movies for pleasure
deciding what movie you’re going to be allowed to make. That’s one
reason studio movies aren’t better than they are, and that’s one reason
that cinema, as I’m defining it, is shrinking.
This is all true. It's a thought that always runs through my mind - do any of these executives really care for movies (other than the money they make), or really love them, and understand what they mean to people? Soderbergh touches on this regarding the power of great art: "the experience is transformative and in the minute you’re experiencing
that piece of art, you’re not alone. You’re connected to the arts."
Soderbergh goes on complain about test screenings ("we had a test screening of Contagion once and a guy in the focus group stood up and said, 'I really hate the Jude Law character. I don't know if he’s a hero or an asshole'") and also references the success of his film Magic Mike and the failure of Side Effects from earlier this year (released in February earning $32M). He makes a very poignant statement when referring to what the studios are learning through failures. Alas, it's nothing:
[Side Effects] is a movie that didn’t perform as well as any of us wanted it to.
So, why? What happened? It can’t be the campaign because all the
materials that we had, the trailers, the posters, the TV spots, all that
stuff tested well above average. February 8th, maybe it was the date,
was that a bad day? As it turns out that was the Friday after the Oscar
nominations are announced, and this year there was an atypically large
bump to all the films that got nominated, so that was a factor. Then
there was a storm in the Northeast, which is sort of our core audience.
Nemo came in, so God, obviously, is getting me back for my comments
about monotheism. Was it the concept? There was a very active decision
early on to sell the movie as kind of a pure thriller and kind of
disconnect it from this larger social issue of everybody taking pills.
Did that make the movie seem more commercial, or did it make it seem
more generic? We don’t know. What about the cast? Four attractive white
people… this is usually not an obstacle. The exit polls were very good,
the reviews were good. How do we figure out what went wrong? The answer
is: We don’t. Because everybody’s already moved on to the next movie
they have to release.
Where his speech gets really good is when he begins to almost pitch his version of a modern studio if he could run it, which in all honesty sounds perfect, and is something I've wished would happen as well. I see so many great filmmakers emerge from the indie / film festival world that could excel and take this idea to great heights if only someone would believe in it.
If I were going to run a studio I’d just be gathering the best filmmakers I could find and sort of let them do their thing within certain economic parameters. So I would call Shane Carruth, or Barry Jenkins or Amy Seimetz and I’d bring them in and go, ok, what do you want to do? What are the things you’re interested in doing? What do we have here that you might be interested in doing? If there was some sort of point of intersection I’d go: Ok, look, I’m going to let you make three movies over five years, I’m going to give you this much money in production costs, I’m going to dedicate this much money on marketing. You can sort of proportion it how you want, you can spend it all on one and none on the other two, but go make something.
Now, that only works if you are very, very good at identifying talent. Real talent, the kind of talent that sustains. And you can’t be judging strictly on commercial performance, or hype, or hipness, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect someone running a multi-billion dollar business to be able to identify talent. I get it, it’s the studio, you need all kinds of movies. You need comedies, you need horror films, you need action films, you need animated films, I get it. But the point is, can’t some of these be cinema also? This is kind of what we tried to do with Section 8 is we tried to bring interesting filmmakers into the studio system and protect them. But unfortunately the only way a studio is going to allow that kind of freedom to a young filmmaker is if the budgets are low. And unfortunately the most profitable movies for the studios are going to be the big movies, the home runs. They don’t look at the singles or the doubles as being worth the money or the man hours.
It's frustrating listening to him because he's so right and even admitted he's powerless to achieve change. ("I’ve tried to argue that the methodology of this testing doesn’t work. If you take a poster or a trailer and you show it to somebody in isolation, that’s not really an accurate reflection of whether it’s working because we don’t see them in isolation, we see them in groups. We see a trailer in the middle of five other trailers, we see a poster in the middle of eight other posters, and I’ve tried to argue that maybe the thing that’s making it distinctive and score poorly actually would stick out if you presented it to these people the way the real world presents it. And I’ve never won that argument.") This could not be a more accurate and honest, yet depressing look at the "State of Cinema" in 2013. Let's hope it rattles their cages in Hollywood. Worth watching/reading Soderbergh's entire speech in full on Vimeo via Awards Daily.