Steven Soderbergh was the keynote speaker at the San Francisco International Film Festival last weekend, and the now-retired director spent roughly 36 minutes explaining what's wrong with Hollywood. For starters: everything.
Soderbergh, who started his chat by explaining that there is a difference between cinema and movies, noted that studios don't actually care about cinema -- which Soderbergh defined as art with a "specificity of vision."
"There are fewer and fewer executives who are in the business because they love movies," Soderbergh said. "There are fewer and fewer executives that know movies. So [meetings] 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."
Soderbergh's comments about the business-driven ethos of Hollywood studios echo what many executives themselves have said in the past.
"The bigger the budget, the cleaner the concept needs to be," Adam Fogelson, chairman of Universal Pictures, told The New Yorker last year. "Because you need to appeal not just to all four quadrants, but to people who speak every language under the sun. So ambiguity and darkness are tough."
That lack of ambiguity has been cited by Soderbergh as one of the reasons he's decided to retire from filmmaking. The director's last film, "Side Effects," was released in February; Soderbergh also directed "Behind the Candelabra," which HBO will air in May.
"American movie audiences now just don’t seem to be very interested in any kind of ambiguity or any kind of real complexity of character or narrative -- I'm talking in large numbers, there are always some, but enough to make hits out of movies that have those qualities," Soderbergh said last year. "I think those qualities are now being seen on television and that people who want to see stories that have those kinds of qualities are watching television."
Put another way: "A person may come across differently in each market," DreamWorks Studios CEO Stacey Snider told The New Yorker. "A robot is a robot around the world."