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Soderbergh's 'Bubble' Changes the Rules

The new low-budget film from director Steven Soderbergh promises to shake things up in the movie industry. Bubble opens in theaters on Friday, Jan. 27, the same day it is broadcast in HDTV. Four days later, it comes out on DVD.

37:05

Other segments from the episode on January 24, 2006

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, January 24, 2006: Interview with Steven Soderbergh; Interview with Jonathan Bing.

Transcript

DATE January 24, 2006 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
NETWORK NPR
PROGRAM Fresh Air

Interview: Director/producer Steven Soderbergh discusses his
new movie "Bubble" and his new way of distributing it
TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. My guest, Steven Soderbergh, is best
known for directing the films "Sex, Lies and Videotape," "Eric Brockovich,"
"Traffic," and "Ocean's Eleven." In 2000, he co-founded a production company
with George Clooney called Section Eight. Their productions include "Far From
Heaven," "Good Night and Good Luck" and "Syriana." Soderbergh directed the new
movie "Bubble." It's a low budget movie with a small cast. But the big money
powers in Hollywood are paying careful attention to it. Here's why: it's the
first movie to be released more or less simultaneously in theaters, on DVD and
on cable. But more about that later. Let's start with the film itself.

"Bubble" was written by Coleman Hough. It's about two lonely people--Kyle, a
young man, and Martha, an older woman--who become friends working together in
an old doll factory in a run-down Midwestern town. Martha feels her
friendship with Kyle being threatened when a young, attractive woman named
Rose is hired. On her first day, Rose asks Martha to pick her up from her
second job as a house cleaner. Martha is surprised by what she finds there.
The next day, Martha tells Kyle about it.

(Excerpt from "Bubble")

MARTHA: Oh my gosh. I mean, every room was the size of my whole living room.
The bedroom, you could fit my whole house. There's 10 rooms in that house. I
could not believe it. Gorgeous. Chandeliers down out of the ceiling. It was
unreal.

KYLE: Hmm.

MARTHA: I mean, it's fabulous, fabulous, fabulous. And then, you are not
going to believe this, she tells me how particular this lady is. And then she
invites me inside to this house that she's cleaning. Guess what? She was in
the Jacuzzi bathtub. I am not kidding, taking a bath.

KYLE: She was suppose to be cleaning it?

MARTHA: Yes.

KYLE: Hmm. That's not good.

MARTHA: I'm not kidding. I couldn't believe it. I thought I was going to
die. All I could think about was that lady coming home.

KYLE: Mm-hmm.

MARTHA: And catching, you know.

KYLE: Yes.

MARTHA: Here I am, I'm not supposed to be there, in there checking her house
out. There's Rose in the tub. I mean, you know, I guess, wow.

KYLE: Yeah. I'd be afraid of her just coming home too early.

MARTHA: I'm not too sure about her.

KYLE: Yeah?

MARTHA: What do you think?

KYLE: I don't know. She seems fine to me, I mean.

MARTHA: Do you think so?

KYLE: Yeah.

MARTHA: She scares me a little.

KYLE: Hmm.

(End of excerpt)

GROSS: That's a scene from Steven Soderbergh's new movie, "Bubble."

Steven Soderbergh, welcome back to FRESH AIR. You're working with non-actors
in this movie. And the lead, in fact, who we just heard in this clip, she has
worked for 24 years as a general manager of a Kentucky Fried Chicken in
Parkersburg, West Virginia. Why did you want to work with non-actors?

Mr. STEVEN SODERBERGH: Well, I had a couple of experiences working with
people who aren't professional actors and I was really intrigued. They had a
quality that I thought was unique and very, very different from how we
normally experience performances, especially in movies. And so I just had in
the back of my mind an idea that at some point I would want to make a film
that was entirely populated by people who had never been in front of a camera
before. And that was, I think, the most exciting part about making the movie.

GROSS: Could you define those qualities that non-actors bring in a
performance that are different from what professional actors bring?

Mr. SODERBERGH: Well, it's just a lack of self-consciousness which is sort
of strange when you consider they must be self-conscious never having acted in
front of a camera before. But I found that the trick was not to put them in a
position where they had to memorize lines. What we would do in the case of
"Bubble" was talk about the scene in specific terms. I would describe to them
what I wanted them to discuss, the sort of bullet points of the scene, but
they were free to cover those issues however they wanted to. And these bullet
points came out of conversations that the writer, Coleman Hough, and I would
have had with the actors over the previous weeks. So I might ask them in a
certain scene to say, `Hey, tell that story about when you worked in the
nursing home. That's where I want to use this.' So I tried to make them as
comfortable as possible. We weren't using any lights. They were all wireless
microphones. So there weren't many crew people around. There weren't many
distractions. I was running multiple cameras. Anything I could do to reduce
the sensation for them that they were performing, I tried to do.

GROSS: Would you compare the process of auditioning these non-actors for the
film with the process that you use to audition professional actors?

Mr. SODERBERGH: Well, you know, auditions are a very strange thing. It's a
very unnatural process. And in the case of "Bubble," what we tried to do was
have them talk about themselves, since we knew we were going to be writing
them into the film. We wanted to hear some of their stories and wanted to get
as detailed a sense of their lives as we could. So our casting director,
Carmen Cuba, would sit them down and basically interview them for about a
half-an-hour. And I would make my judgement sort of based on what came across
on the tape.

GROSS: And how did you get the word out that you were looking for actors?

Mr. SODERBERGH: Well, we didn't really advertise. We sent Carmen into town
well ahead of us, and she had a sense of what we were looking for, and she
just sort of approached people on her own. And Debbie Doebereiner, who plays
Martha, she overheard at a KFC when she was in the drive-thru lane. And she
pulled her car over into a parking space and went inside and said, `Would you
come in and interview for this film?' Thank God she went to KFC.

GROSS: So as the casting director in the drive-in lane heard Debbie speaking
and asked her to audition?

Mr. SODERBERGH: She heard Debbie giving some teenagers a hard time about not
doing something the right way and she just decided, `I've got to meet this
woman."

GROSS: So it's not like Debbie DeBryner had acting aspiration.

Mr. SODERBERGH: I don't think so. If she did, she was not pursuing it very
well.

GROSS: There's a police detective who's played in your movie by a real police
detective.

Mr. SODERBERGH: Yes.

GROSS: And, I'm sorry, is he name Decker Moody?

Mr. SODERBERGH: Decker Moody.

GROSS: Yes.

Mr. SODERBERGH: He's got the best name of all time, I think.

GROSS: It is a great name. He sounds like a movie name.

Mr. SODERBERGH: Yes, it's fantastic.

GROSS: But it's a real name, huh?

Mr. SODERBERGH: Yeah.

GROSS: OK. So you have this police detective named Decker Moody playing a
police detective in the movie. How did you find him?

Mr. SODERBERGH: Well, Decker Moody is a detective working not far from the
town where we shot the film, and was one of the people that we had come in and
interview. And I just took to him immediately. He just seemed, again, to be
able to remain himself in front of a camera, and that's all I really wanted.
So we would set the scenes up. I would describe to him what the circumstances
were and really I'd let him dictate how the scene should flow: what the line
of questioning should be, who should be around. And in the interrogation
scene that he has with the Martha character, I just find him riveting. I
mean, there's just something, again, you have a sense when you're watching it
that if this guy is an actor, he's the best actor I've ever seen. There's
just a sort of intensity and a ratcheting up that he implores in the film that
just really fascinating, I think.

GROSS: One of the things I like about this detective playing a detective is
that it has that undramatic quality that so much of real life has. In the way
he does his lines, it's just like really matter of fact and straight forward.
I love detective dramas, I love hard boiled movies and books. I love the
charisma of the actors who play those kinds of roles in movies and on TV. But
there's something so disarming about this character who's just doing it in
that straight forward, real life kind of way. Without that kind of magical
charisma of great actors.

Mr. SODERBERGH: Well, I certainly when I watch that interrogation scene, or
when I saw it happening, felt that must be what it's like when you're a
regular person and you get sort of caught and they've got you.

GROSS: Right, right.

Mr. SODERBERGH: This must be what it feels like. And in fact, that scene we
did in a single take with two cameras running and in which we didn't, you
know, Debbie knew that she was going to be interrogated, but she didn't know
much more than that. And we had armed Decker with all the information that he
needed. You could feel it in the room. Debbie said after the take, she
started getting really upset because the take's much longer than what ended up
in the film. And she says it was really--she had a sort of--she described it
as sort of an out-of-body experience while she was doing it. She says she got
very, very emotional.

That scene, we took a lot of care to create an environment that would make it
easy for her to respond in the moment. We put her in this room. It was just
myself and the producer on the other camera. Nobody else in the room. We sat
here in there for three or four minutes. I gave a silent cue to someone
outside the room and then Decker entered and the scene started. So she sat in
there for four minutes without anybody talking to her, not knowing what was
coming. And then Decker entered and started this whole process. And she said
later, `I just, I felt really really trapped. I really felt trapped and I
forgot that I was in a movie.'

GROSS: What did you learn from this experience directing non-actors that you
might apply when directing well known actors in the future?

Mr. SODERBERGH: Well, basically, it was just a confirmation that the more
you can recreate or create an environment for an actor that's as close to real
life as possible, the better the result you're going to get. And even on some
of the larger films, I've tried to work at stripping away all the distractions
or many of the distractions that you have potentially and just make it easier
for them to stop performing. In essence, I mean, that's what you want. You
don't want them to act. You want them to behave. And it's tricky on a film
that's much less--this has a sort of observant style, "Bubble." It's much less
theatrical, overtly theatrical than some other films I've made. So it was
easier to create this environment for the actors.

GROSS: My guest is film director and producer Steven Soderbergh. Here's
another scene from his new film "Bubble" featuring real life detective Decker
Moody as the police detective and Debbie DeBryner as Martha. The detective
has come to Martha's house to question her about a murder.

(Excerpt from "Bubble")

MARTHA: Hi, how are you doing?

Detective TAYLOR: Hello, Martha? I'm Detective Taylor from the police
department.

MARTHA: Uh-huh.

Det. TAYLOR: We need to talk to you about Rose Hilliard. Can I come in?

MARTHA: Oh, sure. Come on in.

Det. TAYLOR: Thank you.

MARTHA: I heard from Kyle today and he was telling me that something horrible
had happened to Rose, that she'd been murdered?

Det. TAYLOR: OK. Can we come in and have a seat?

MARTHA: Sure you can. This is my father.

Det. TAYLOR: Sir, I'm from the police department and I'm just here to talk
to you daughter.

Unidentified Man #1: Pleased to meet you.

Det. TAYLOR: Pleased to meet you, sir.

MARTHA: I mean, at first I thought she was a really sweet girl. And then the
longer you get to know her, the pushier she gets and the more favors she asks
for. I mean, it was just one favor right after the other one.

Det. TAYLOR: Did you feel like she took advantage of you?

MARTHA: A little bit, yeah.

Det. TAYLOR: Did she do that to other people?

MARTHA: You know, I'm not really sure. It seems like she picked on me a lot.
She didn't really, you know, buddy up with the other employees. She'd only
been there a week.

Det. TAYLOR: Well, in talking with the witnesses in the area, they indicate
that you were the last one that was seen leaving the residence.

MARTHA: Well, I know that--well, I don't know. I probably was. I left after
he did.

Det. TAYLOR: And the fact that as far as the investigation is concerned, you
were the last one that we know that saw her alive.

MARTHA: OK.

Det. TAYLOR: At some point I would like to get fingerprints from you to be
able to compare to evidence that we collected at the scene.

MARTHA: Well, you know my fingerprints are going to be there. I was there.

Det. TAYLOR: Right. But there's other evidence that we have that would only
be the killer's.

MARTHA: OK. OK.

Det. TAYLOR: And would you be willing to come down to the police department
tonight and give me a set of fingerprints?

MARTHA: OK. I would have to get someone to take care of my dad.

Det. TAYLOR: OK.

MARTHA: And about how long will that take?

Det. TAYLOR: Shouldn't take more than 15, 20 minutes to get the
fingerprints.

MARTHA: OK.

Det. TAYLOR: If you'd be able to do it tonight, it would really help with
the investigation.

MARTHA: I'll do anything I can to help.

(End of excerpt)

GROSS: A scene from "Bubble." More with Steven Soderbergh after a break.
This is FRESH AIR.

(Announcements)

GROSS: My guest is Steven Soderbergh. His new film "Bubble" is a short film
that is about to open in theaters and be shown on television and be released
on DVD. And we'll talk about that part of the film, that kind of strategy, in
a couple of minutes.

The characters in your movie work in a doll factory and there's something so
surreal about this factory because you show like one of the characters popping
these doll heads out of these, you know, molds in the factory, metal molds in
the factory. And it's just, it's almost creepy. Was this shot in a real
factory?

Mr. SODERBERGH: Yes. That's a working doll factory. They were actually
working while we were shooting.

GROSS: What attracted you to this factory?

Mr. SODERBERGH: Well, when Coleman Hough and I were talking about this
script early on, I said I'm interested in, you know, a three character piece.
This sort of triangle, and I want them to perform some sort of manual,
repetitive labor. So we started talking about those kinds of jobs. And I
said, you know, a factory would be great. Factories are very visual. And
about a week later, she sent me an e-mail saying, `What about a doll factory?
I was surfing online and I've found a couple of doll factories.' And I said,
`God, that sounds amazing.' There used to be lots of these factories, but this
is one of those types of jobs that has moved overseas. And to my knowledge,
there are only three, you know, reasonably sized doll factories left in the
US. Strangely enough, two of the larger doll factories in the US are in the
same town of Belpre, Ohio. And so we went and visited these factories and
as soon I walked in I thought, `Well, this is going to work. This will be
interesting.'

GROSS: My guest is Steven Soderbergh and his new movie, "Bubble," is a short
film. And "Bubble" is being released more or less simultaneously on DVD, in
theaters and on television. As a producer as well as director, what's your
interest in exploring this concept of simultaneous release? I mean, what the
theory's always been is it opens in theaters first. After everybody who wants
to see it in the theater has gotten a chance to do it, then they can, just
like, stay home and rent it on DVD. But the idea was for DVD sales not to
detract from ticket sales.

Mr. SODERBERGH: Yeah, I guess that's the theory. I don't know. I guess I
just feel like this is where things are going. And I don't have a problem
with it. I really don't care what form somebody sees one of my films in as
long as they get to see it or express a desire to see it. In this case, you
know, it's sort of a test and I think it really works well for a film like
"Bubble" because even though we're going out in all of the Landmark Theatres,
which have art house cinemas throughout the country, that's about 200 screens.
There may be a lot of people who have read about the film or have read a
review or heard this program and don't have access to the kind of theater that
might be showing "Bubble," but they might be intrigued and they want to see
it. Well, they can watch it on HDNet through their cable system or they can
order it online or rent it at the store and not have to wait months and months
for it to turn up. I just feel like that's a good thing.

GROSS: Now this is a small, cheap, independent, short film.

Mr. SODERBERGH: Well, short, yes, 75 minutes.

GROSS: Right. So if this were say "Ocean's Eleven," a big expensive film
with lots of famous stars, could you imagine this kind of simultaneous
releasing being effective? Or do you think that would be a nonstarter?

Mr. SODERBERGH: Oh, I think that will happen. I mean my--you have to
remember, when you're talking about high profile movies like "Ocean's" or
"King Kong" or "Lord of the Rings," in essence, those movies were available on
DVD the day they opened--on Canal Street.

GROSS: Oh. The pirated version, the bootlegs. Yeah.

Mr. SODERBERGH: I just feel like this is, you know, this is a genie that's
not going to be put back in a bottle. You've just got to accept it and
embrace it and figure out how to make it work for you. And so I'm up for
that. There's some people who really hate this idea.

GROSS: Now "Bubble" is shot in high definition.

Mr. SODERBERGH: High definition. Doesn't that sound great?

GROSS: Yeah. What is it?

Mr. SODERBERGH: I don't know. These are the digital cameras, in this case
we used the Sony 950 that we like to call the "Star Wars" camera. You know,
they're these really terrific high end digital cameras. And the images they
generate, I think, are fantastic. I enjoyed shooting with them.

GROSS: Are there advantages to using these small digital cameras compared to,
you know, larger film camera?

Mr. SODERBERGH: Well, the--actually, there's a very, very small high def
camera that just came out that I just got my sweaty little hands on, that I
think is really going to help somebody like me a lot. Because the Sony
cameras we used on "Bubble" are terrific and they're smaller than film
cameras, but they're not as small as I would like. I want something that
basically fits in my hand. And there is one now that shoots in high def. So
it just means, I think, more flexibility, more mobility, and the ability to
sort of chase a story and not have to be tethered to so much equipment and so
many people. That's a good thing.

GROSS: Steven Soderbergh's new movie is called "Bubble." He'll be back in the
second half of the show.

I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.

(Announcements)

GROSS: Coming up, Steven Soderbergh talks about the production company he
co-founded with George Clooney. And we talk with Jonathan Bing of Variety
about the new approach to film distribution that Soderbergh is trying with his
new movie and how it may affect where and when we see new films in the future.

(Announcements)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR, I'm Terry Gross. Back with Steven Soderbergh. He
directed the films "Ocean's Eleven," "Traffic," "Erin Brockovich" and "Sex,
Lies and Videotape." He co-founded the production company Section Eight with
George Clooney. Soderbergh directed the new movie "Bubble." It opens in
select theaters on Friday and will be shown simultaneously on the cable
network HDNet Movies. Tuesday, it will be out on DVD. The companies
involved with this strategy are co-owned by Mark Cuban.

You've been working with the executive producer Mark Cuban, who's a
billionaire who also owns the Dallas Mavericks. How did you team up with him?
Did you convince him to get into movie production?

Mr. SODERBERGH: Well, I met Mark Cuban through his partner, Todd Wagner, who
was sort of the point person for their company in the film business. And they
had initially put some money into a couple of Section Eight films, quote
unquote "normal films." And when they bought the Landmark Theatre chain, I
called Todd and said, `You know, the three of us should sit down and talk
because now that you guys have a theater chain, and you have a high def
channel, and I know it's not that difficult to start up a DVD distribution
company, I'd like to talk to you about making some films that would come out
day and date in all formats. And you could help brand your theater chain and
your channel, and I can go off and, you know, make some movies that aren't
normal, I guess, is how I described them.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. SODERBERGH: And they said, `Yes.' We had lunch and the deal was sort of
done by the time we finished lunch.

GROSS: Yeah. Well, that's a kind of handy thing for everybody since they own
outlets for all the formats. They're not competing. They don't have to worry
about their theater being outdone by somebody else's DVD sales since they're
profiting from all of those sales, so.

Mr. SODERBERGH: No, and what I think you're going to see happening because
obviously a lot of theater owners are not happy about the idea of day and date
and I can understand why. And Mark and Todd have talked about coming up with
a scenario in which the theaters will share in the overall revenue pool so
that they don't feel that they're getting stiffed. And I think that's a
really good idea. The bottom line is I feel like the economic model of the
entire entertainment industry needs to be rethought.

GROSS: Now, you've teamed up with George Clooney for a lot of movies. You
know, he was one of the stars of the film "Ocean's Eleven." You produced the
film that he directed, "Good Night and Good Luck." You produced the film that
he's starring in "Syriana." How did you first get together with Clooney?

Mr. SODERBERGH: Well, we met on "Out of Sight" and...

GROSS: Of course, right.

Mr. SODERBERGH: It was, you know, timing is everything. We met each other
at the right time and I feel like we delivered for each other at a moment when
people had questions about both of us.

GROSS: What were the questions?

Mr. SODERBERGH: Well, I think in my case, `What happened to him?'

GROSS: What do you mean? What do you mean?

Mr. SODERBERGH: Well, I'd made "Sex, Lies" and then a series of films that
nobody wanted to see. And I seem to be getting just increasingly
idiosyncratic in my choices and it was just...

GROSS: Films like "Kafka"?

Mr. SODERBERGH: Yeah and "Schizopolis," and I, you know, I was, you know,
in sort of commercial terms, totally off the map. And George was somebody who
people felt should, you know, I certainly saw him as a movie star. I thought,
`That guy's a movie star.' No question in my mind when I saw him on "E.R." And
yet at that point, it hadn't happened in the way that people thought it
should've happened, and we just met at the right time and it worked. I mean,
that film, of all the films I've made, I would argue is the least flawed. And
so, we both sort of went into it and came out of it alive. And I, you know, I
think we became friends because there's a bond that forms when you go through
an experience and you deliver for each other. And then a little over a year
later, he said, `Look, I'm'--he had a company, but he said, `I'm sort of, you
know, restructuring my company. Do you want to be a partner? I said sure.'

GROSS: What do you think you have in common sensibility-wise?

Mr. SODERBERGH: I guess we assume the audience is us. I think that's really
what it comes down to. And we feel like anything we're capable of
appreciating or understanding that an audience is. I don't know how to second
guess. I don't know how to make a movie and say, `Well, I don't like this,
but I bet they will.' I just don't know how to do that and neither does he.
And we both like to work. We're both workaholics. So it was a good match.

GROSS: My guest is Steven Soderbergh. I read that you're doing a documentary
on Spalding Gray. And Spalding Gray was the great monologist who made a
career doing on stage biographical stories, just being on stage by himself
telling these stories. You cast him in one of your early movies, "King of the
Hill." And you did the movie adaptation of his monologue "Gray's Anatomy." He
committed suicide, I guess it was, what, a couple of years ago now?

Mr. SODERBERGH: Yes.

GROSS: So can you tell me a little bit about the movie about him that you're
working on?

Mr. SODERBERGH: Well, my hope is to create, in essence, a new monologue.
I've been given access to an extraordinary amount or material. Most of it
private material that nobody's even seen before: journals, audio, both
written and spoken journals, home movie footage, footage of performances that
nobody's ever seen before. And what I'm hoping to do is to create a new
monologue out of this material. Some of it obviously spoken by Spalding, and
in the case of there being written journals, through text and images. So I'm
trying to find some form that's appropriate to this subject, but that isn't
sort of traditional. I don't think it will be a traditional documentary. I'm
really excited about it. It's something that I've never tried before.

GROSS: He used to talk about how he was dyslexic and it was hard for him to
memorize lines and to remember lines and get them right. And he's also said
that he didn't have that kind of Zen blank face that you need for a lot of
television work. That he always looked like he was thinking and thinking
really hard. And that didn't work in a lot of roles. What was he like to
direct? Because most of his work was not in--he did Broadway and he did some
movies.

Mr. SODERBERGH: Right.

GROSS: But most of his work was his own monologues. So what was it like to
direct him in a film?

Mr. SODERBERGH: Well, I guess Spalding, he had a very unique presence, which
is different from having a sort of acting style or being an actor. He just
had a very unique presence and the roles in films that sort of played to that
presence or enabled that presence to come forward, I think, are the more
successful examples of his screen acting work. And then, of course, in the
monologues, it's all out there. And that's why I think they're so strong. I
remember when we were making "Gray's Anatomy," which in order to do it for the
amount of money that we had needed to be shot completely out of sequence. I
edited a version of the monologue that I felt, you know, would work in feature
length. And to watch Spalding be able to dip in and out of it without any
problem or any missed cues, and then put the film together in chronological
order and see how perfectly he had modulated his emotions and the cadence of
his performance was amazing.

GROSS: When do you think the film will be coming out?

Mr. SODERBERGH: I'm hoping to have a cut of it together by this summer and
fall, so I would think next year.

GROSS: Oh, great.

I stumbled into "The Daytrippers" which was being shown on TV recently.

Mr. SODERBERGH: Oh, yeah.

GROSS: And it's a film that you produced. It's a terrific film. Does that
happen to you that you're surfing around television and there's one of your
movies.

Mr. SODERBERGH: I'm constantly looking for my movies on television. No,
it's funny you mentioned "The Daytrippers" because that, strangely enough, is
a movie that I land on occasionally or at least see showing on cable. And
that was, you know, that was an example of a kind of producing that I think
I'm going to get back into. George and I are going to try to wrap Section
Eight up at the end of the year. And "Daytrippers" came about sort of through
a very serendipitous conversation I had with a friend of mine, Nancy
Tanenbaum, who was one of the producers on "Sex, Lies." And she said, `I saw a
short film that I thought was really funny. I think we should meet this guy.'
So we went and met this young filmmaker Greg Mottola, and asked him what he
wanted to do. And he said, `Oh, I have a script and I'm trying to, you know,
make a feature.' And we just sort of tried to help him out. And that was a
lot of fun because of its informality. And I think that's, once Section Eight
is done, I'll go back to that sort of informal conciliarly kind of producing.

GROSS: Why are you ending the production company that you co-founded with
George Clooney?

Mr. SODERBERGH: Too much work. Just the work load is too heavy.

GROSS: Too much work and too much responsibility?

Mr. SODERBERGH: It's really just the hours.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. SODERBERGH: It's really just a matter of hours. I mean, I want to be
busy as a director and I've tried to stay busy as a director and that's my day
job. And if you're going to produce and produce well, there are a lot of
things that you just can't delegate. Something has to be read or watched or
discussed, or, you know, notes have to be done. And you can't hand those over
to other people. And we were very ambitious in the number of things that we
were trying to get made. And it just, for both of us, reached a point where
we thought, `Ah, this is too much.'

GROSS: Does that mean you'll be ending your partnership with Clooney?

Mr. SODERBERGH: Yeah. I mean, Section Eight will stop. I'm sure George and
I will still work together. But, yeah, I'm going to drift off into, you know,
something a little less pressurized.

GROSS: Mm-hmm. And just one more question. So the non-actors that star in
your new movie, "Bubble," have they gone on to do more acting?

Mr. SODERBERGH: So far as I know, the people we used in "Bubble" have not
gone out and gotten other acting jobs. I don't know that they've tried. And
I guess when the film opens, we'll find out if people start calling.
Certainly, I mean, it's a crazy life trying to be an actor. But, you know, in
the case of, you know, Misty who plays Rose in the film, who just got her
diploma from a beauty salon. If somebody said, `Hey. I want to put you in a
movie. Would you come here for eight weeks and we'll pay you really good
money?' You know, there's nothing wrong with that.

GROSS: Well, I want to thank you so much for talking with us.

Mr. SODERBERGH: Oh, thank you, Terry.

GROSS: Steven Soderbergh directed the new movie "Bubble." Coming up, we talk
with Jonathan Bing of Variety about how the distribution of "Bubble" may
affect when and where we see new movies in the future. This is FRESH AIR.

(Announcements)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Interview: Variety's Jonathan Bing speaks about the new method of
movie distribution to be used by Steven Soderbergh's new movie
"Bubble"
TERRY GROSS, host:

Steven Soderbergh's new film "Bubble" may change where and when we see new
movies in the future. The film is being released simultaneously in theaters
and on DVD and shown on cable. Usually films open first in theaters, come out
on DVD several months later and only after that appear on cable. The movie
industry is closely watching this experiment in simultaneous releasing. To
find out more about it, we called Jonathan Bing, deputy editor of Variety, and
reached him at his hotel in Park City where the Sundance Film Festival is
underway. I asked him about who stands to profit from this new releasing
strategy.

Mr. JONATHAN BING: One of the problems that the film industry has confronted
recently is the problem of their shrinking audience. The attendance at movie
theaters has shrunk by about 14 percent between 2002 and 2005. In that same
period, ticket prices have been going up. There have been widespread
complaints about the movie going experience. That there's too many ads in
theaters. And at the same time, the home entertainment experience has
improved so dramatically, that there's greater incentive to stay home and wait
for the DVD, for even a big much anticipated Hollywood film. And so the hope
is that if films are available everywhere, simultaneously, that the audience
will actually expand. More people will see the film on DVD and they'll be a
large audience in the movie theater and also on whatever television outlet is
used to broadcast the film, if indeed it's broadcast simultaneously with these
other release strategies.

GROSS: OK, so if this system catches on, who stands to benefit most and who
stands to lose the most?

Mr. BING: It's hard to say who stands to benefit the most. JP Morgan
recently conducted a study of simultaneous release strategies for films. And
they concluded that in fact if films are released simultaneously in theaters
and on DVD, the theatrical audience will shrink by something like 50 percent.
But the DVD audience will increase by about 78 percent, which will
dramatically increase the profits for the studios. So if they're right, the
studios stand to benefit immensely from this new strategy.

That said, there all sorts of reasons not to do it. One of which is among the
losers are the big theater chains. And they see these initiatives as a death
threat and they--it could be quite traumatic to the theater chains if films
are released simultaneously on DVD. And even this JP Morgan study
substantiates that point. So they are doing everything they can to protest.
And in the case of the Soderbergh film, certain chains including Regal, which
is the biggest theater chain in America, has said that they won't screen the
film because it's being released simultaneously on DVD.

GROSS: Well, would they have screened it anyway? It's a little low budget
independent film.

Mr. BING: They might have. They control thousands of theaters around the
country. And certainly some of those theaters might have shown the film,
especially because Steven Soderbergh is such a prominent director and
potentially an interesting film. It's gotten a lot of attention thus far.

GROSS: You're speaking to us from Park City, Utah, now, where the Sundance
Film Festival is underway. And at Sundance, the Independent Film Channel held
a press conference announcing a new initiative that's part of this new type of
releasing format. So what is the Independent Film Channel up to?

Mr. BING: Well, IFC held a press conference here in which they unveiled the
new initiative which they're calling First Take. And under this new
initiative, IFC is going to release something like 24 films simultaneously in
theaters and on IFC's cable channel. It's a surprising revelation for them.
IFC has a cable network and they release films to theaters. They have a
robust film production division, but it's a new distribution plan and it's
very much in keeping with the trend that Soderbergh is pioneering in which
films are being released on multiple platforms simultaneously.

GROSS: Now, you now, I have to point out that the Independent Film Channel
stands to profit from this because they own both a film channel and the
theaters that they're going to be screening the films in. And likewise with
the company that's distributing Soderbergh's movie, you know, like they own
the movie theaters they're going to show the film in. They own the TV network
it's going to be shown on. So, you know, it's kind of hard for them to lose.

Mr. BING: Yes, but there are significant risks. And those risks might not
be immediately evident. But just consider these problems. IFC releases
several films a year to the biggest theater chains in America. Theater chains
such as Regal, which controls thousands of screens across America, are
desperate to avoid a situation which films are being released simultaneously
on DVD and in theaters. And they have vowed that they won't show films that
are being released simultaneously on DVD. IFC needs Regal and it needs to
maintain some kind of good relationship with Regal so that Regal will screen
its other films. And so that when Regal does screen its other films, IFC can
actually get the rental fees on its prints back quickly and doesn't need to
haggle with them. And IFC doesn't have the leverage with the theater chains
that a big studio does. So there could be some damage to the relationship
that IFC has with the theater chains. And that could have repercussions for
IFC.

That's just one of the risks that they're confronting. Another risk is that
there's not that much evidence yet that audiences will gravitate to a TV
network, to the video store and to movie theaters to see a film that's
available everywhere simultaneously. It's an interesting idea. It seems to
be very much in keeping with the trend, the deeper cultural trend in which
entertainment is being made available everywhere at once. And yet, it's still
an experiment.

GROSS: Steven Soderbergh pointed out that in some way movies are already
being simultaneously released in theaters and on DVD because there are so many
pirated DVDs. And if you have the right contact, you can get an underground
copy of the DVD the same week that the movie opens in theaters. How much is
that affecting this decision to legitimately simultaneously release on DVD and
in theaters?

Mr. BING: I don't think that's going to have that much of an impact on these
early experiments, and particularly Soderbergh's. The people who are most
concerned with the wide spread availability of pirated DVDs are the studios.
And they're especially concerned about their big blockbusters, the "King
Kong"s and "Batman"s and "Superman"s. And those films are pirated immediately
upon their release. And this is particularly a problem in international
markets. And so one of the things that studios are doing to confront the
piracy problem is that they are collapsing the domestic and international
window so that films are being released simultaneously in as many countries as
possible. But still, theatrically, and not simultaneously in theaters and on
DVD. But IFC and 2929 and the other small distribution companies that are
releasing these films, that are engaged in this early experiment toward
simultaneous release in theaters and in the home video market, don't stand to
lose as much as the studios do to piracy.

GROSS: My guest is Jonathan Bing, deputy managing editor of Variety. We'll
talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Announcements)

GROSS: My guest is Jonathan Bing, deputy managing editor of Variety. We're
talking about a new strategy that's about to be tested of releasing movies
simultaneously in theaters, on DVD and cable.

Now I'm someone who really enjoys seeing a movie in a theater on a big screen.
I like going to a theater where the rest of the world can't intrude on my
relationship with the movie. You know, the phone's not going to ring. I
can't kind of get up and wash the dishes or anything. You know what I mean?
It's just like you and the movie. And it allows you to pay attention in the
way that I often can't if I'm at home. So, I really value the movie going
experience. At the same time, I'm one of those movie goers who's constantly
feeling frustrated by either bad projection or bad sound or uncomfortable
seats or the fact that some theaters aren't particularly well cleaned. So
what is this new experiment mean for me?

Mr. BING: Well, there's a local filmmaker in Pennsylvania who would be glad
to have this conversation with you, M. Night Shyamalian, who's taken a stand
against the simultaneous release of films in theaters and on DVD. He flew
down to a big exhibition conference that was held this fall in Orlando,
Florida, to talk to exhibitors and to say, basically, this plan that
Soderbergh is spearheading is the worst idea he's ever heard. And it's
vitally important to him and to other filmmakers that their films be seen in
pristine circumstances, in a theater, the best prints, the best projection
conditions. And it's something that I think a lot of people can relate to.
There's nothing quite like the experience of seeing a great film in a state of
the art movie theater surrounded by people. It's something that is very
poignantly true at the Sundance Film Festival, where a lot of directors are
screening their first films before an audience that consists of their peers in
the profession, the press, studio executives. And it's just vital to have the
reaction that you can have in a movie theater. And it's a completely
different experience from watching a film at home. Even if you have the state
of the art flat screen television that's, you know, 40 inches across.

GROSS: Decades ago, movie studios were forced to divest themselves of
theaters. I mean, there was a time when Paramount owned Paramount theaters
and 20th Century Fox owned Fox theaters. And that was considered to be
violating certain, you know, monopoly or trust laws. Now, if a company like
Mark Cuban's company owns a film production company, a TV network and film
theaters, might they be eventually considered to be violating antitrust laws?

Mr. BING: As of this fall, 2929's theatrical division, which is called
Landmark Theatres, owned about 200 theaters. Regal, the largest theater chain
in America, owns about 6,000. So yes, there are potential antitrust issues
that arise when one company controls multiple distribution outlets. But the
level at which 2929 is involved in the exhibition business is so small, so
infinitesimal compared to the major theater chains in this country that the
antitrust issue has not reared its head in a significant way as of yet.

GROSS: Well, Jonathan Bing, thank you very much for talking with us.

Mr. BING: Thanks so much.

GROSS: Jonathan Bing is deputy managing editor of Variety. He spoke to us
from Park City, Utah, where the Sundance Film Festival is underway. He
co-wrote the book "Open Wide: How Hollywood Box Office Became a National
Obsession." It will be published in paperback this spring.

Earlier, we heard from Steven Soderbergh. You can hear music from the
soundtrack of his new movie "Bubble" on our Web site. It's composed and
performed by Robert Pollard, formerly of the band Guided By the Voices.

(Credits)

GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.

Unidentified Man #2: (Singing) For all you've done, I'll miss you anyway.
Anyway you crawl through blackest tears for you and glass. I'll miss you for
no good reason. The longer hours I can't get up I will kiss you in my hand.
In storming death threats...
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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