The Partners!

Steven Soderbergh and Scott Z. Burns talk 'Side Effects'—and collaboration

So, what becomes of this great collaboration now that Steven is retiring from movies?

Soderbergh: Theater. We're going to do a play.

And maybe something for TV?

Soderbergh on the set
Soderbergh on the set

Soderbergh: There's always that possibility.

Burns: I'd love to do that.

Do you see any signs of hope in the fact that the studios seem to be re-embracing the mid-budget drama not based on a comic book or YA novel, as evidenced by movies such as Argo, Lincoln and Flight?

Soderbergh: Contagion was that. Contagion was, in theory, in that dead zone where you don't want to be in terms of its cost and its lack of awareness. I think Warner Brs. is pretty good about dedicating a slot or two to things like that, and then they're very good at selling them.

Burns: There's a project I'm working on right now at Fox, and the executives who I met were saying they were all really excited that there was an actual story, as if there was a new genre called "the story," and how they want to make more movies that are stories as opposed to comic books or sequels.

Soderbergh: Part of this is probably driven by the state of flux that the movie-star world is in. In the past few years, there have been some indications that certain people or combinations of people aren't the box-office slam dunks they used to be. And what people are beginning to realize, which used to be the case in the golden age of the American New Wave of the 1970s, is that stories and subjects can be as compelling as casts. So it would be great if there were a little bit of a shift to people going back to that thing of, like, "The story is the star of this." There is a way to sell that.

The reason I've been thinking more about TV is that the narrow-and-deep approach that seems to be paying off in long-form TV is something that really interests me. Scott and I are both people who like digressions, and TV is built for that. You can do whole episodes about some little thing that's tangential to the larger story, but absolutely is relevant if you're doing eight or 10 hours. But if you're doing a two-hour movie, that doesn't make the cut. I mean, Contagion . . . Boy, that would have been a great eight hours.

Burns: And if you look at Breaking Bad or Homeland or Mad Men, you see that TV audiences actually want characters who are conflicted and contradictory and complicated, which doesn't always work with studio movies.

Soderbergh: I think there are a lot of factors—it could be a post-9/11 thing—but I think what people go to the movies for has shifted in the past 10 years. I have a real sense, having gone through the preview process and gotten very direct feedback, that when it comes to movies people are looking for an experience that is generally more positive and more sewn-up than they used to. I think there are probably a couple of different factors, but if my theory is correct that, as a country, we are still experiencing a form of PTSD over 9/11, that it has still not been entirely processed because of the activities that have gone on since, which haven't really provided us with any sense of closure or any real answers, then getting up and leaving the house and going somewhere and putting your money down has resulted in a feeling of "I get enough of this shit at home. I want to see something that's not going to make me feel bad when I leave the theater." Not that we ever set out to make people feel bad, but if the role of art is to alter you in some small way and have you feel different when you come out the other end of the experience, certainly provoking people or suggesting an idea that's unsettling should be within your toolkit. The good news is, with all this great television, that distinction people used to make in terms of quality or respect between those two mediums is completely gone. For people like us, this is great because it means we can just go back and forth. It's another opportunity.

Burns: I can imagine at some point there's going to be a Girls movie, and I'll be there.

Soderbergh: Oh, yeah, I think there's a whole synergy going the other way that hasn't been exploited yet. Let's take a Mad Men or a Breaking Bad or a Homeland, and the show's been designed to run X number of seasons, and you know when it's going to end. I think it'd be super-cool to shoot the last two hours to be released theatrically the week after the penultimate episode. It doesn't have to be on 3,000 screens, but you'd be setting that up all year with these ads: The two-hour finale is going to be in theaters! You could run it for two weeks as an exclusive, and then pull it.

Burns: You'd have the community experience of going to a movie. It's like you've been watching Girls for two years alone with one other person, and then you go to a theater with 500 other people for the conclusion. I think the energy in that room would be amazing.

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