Steven Soderbergh found a way to improve his cinematography while cementing his auteur filmmaking status.
For many outside of Hollywood (which, as we can see, most of us are in this industry) the concepts of aliases and guild rules don't make very much sense. If you've written, directed, or edited a movie, you should receive credit for it. If you shot the film yourself, you should be recognized as a cameraman. Seems pretty easy.
However, as a young Steven Soderbergh found out when he got into the industry – first with the indie hit Sex, Lies, and Videotape, and later with the critically and advertised traffic – you don't always get the recognition you have could want or deserve.
Due to problems with the Writer & # 39; s Guild early in his career, Soderbergh was forced to find a pseudonym in order to gain recognition for his filmmaking work on his films. He chose the name "Peter Andrews" as an homage to his father's first and last name. (And interestingly, he also had to bring in a pseudonym credit for his editorial work, for which he chose "Mary Ann Bernard" to honor his mother.)
Since that early decision, "Peter Andrews" has made almost all of Soderbergh's films, making him one of the most prolific DPs around, with blockbuster titles like Ocean's Eleven, Erin Brockovich, Magic Mike, Logan Lucky and many others .
But what goes on behind the lens of this acclaimed cameraman / director and how do these two personalities work together to create such a fully trained auteur filmmaker who has so visually entertained audiences over the years? Let's take a closer look.
I have to admit it was an absolute joy to study Steven Soderbergh's filmography. Not only does it create entertaining and memorable films, it is also a classic example of how tightly, quickly and in a controlled manner a story can be presented when you have a real auteur behind the camera.
With Soderbergh both staging and filming (and often editing) his own projects, you really get the feeling of seeing a fully realized vision that takes every moment and image into account. Soderbergh leaned on his writing skills early and often throughout his career as he relied on intelligent, concise footage rather than extensive coverage of the scene. For example, one of his first big hits, Out of Sight, features an opening scene that takes place entirely between two characters in the trunk of a car. Try to be a director and put lights on your cameraman and shoot this scene and see how they react!
Unlike typical cinematography, where the goal is to get as much footage as possible for the next step in filmmaking, Soderbergh works fast, making use of close-ups and quick shots. He also often favors non-traditional recordings in favor of more experimental methods of introducing the audience to a scene that allows for faster work on set without the need for the biggest and biggest setups.
The hyperlink cinema style
While we dig deeper into how Soderbergh uses color in his cinematography below, this supercut video of his work behind the lens of the Ocean & # 39; s Trilogy is a great way to talk about his hyperlinked cinematic style and how he did a wide variety of Shooting angles and used tries to connect scattered perspectives. For many of his films, Soderbergh uses what is known as a "multi-narrative" or "hyperlink cinema" style.
This cinematic style creates complex narratives full of different perspectives, complicated plot changes, and intertwined storylines that jump both forwards and backwards in time. And for a lot of cinematographers, shooting scenes in this style can be very confusing and difficult to navigate unless you have a very close relationship with your director.
However, since Soderbergh is his own DP, he can take full advantage of the chaotic nature of hyperlinked cinema when he constructs these elaborate – and often extremely creative and unorthodox – recording structures that are out of the box, visually stunning, and very well rich in color . You can see it for yourself in the clip above exploring the rich tapestry of colors, angles, and experimental techniques of the Ocean franchise.
Washed color palettes
Soderbergh really shines at the way he uses color to bring audiences further into his cinematic world, providing visual cues as to where the narrative could lead and how audiences should feel about certain characters and events.
Soderbergh has perfected his own washed-out color profile that feels real yet is sensational enough to entice audiences with some of the more edgy elements of the many underworlds his films often live in. Examples like the Movies of the Ocean come to mind, as do the gritty textures of Traffic and the whitewashed stage lights of Magic Mike.
As you can see in the video above (compiled by Fandor), Soderbergh likes to create color casts by saturating characters in scenes to a recognizable hue that he creates extensively through lighting on set, settings in the camera, and often his own coloring after the Production. These cues will help the audience better connect with scenes, characters, and emotions to play with later when the colors are in more direct contrast with each other.
The Soderbergh Montage
For those familiar with the term "montage" of filmmaking, I would argue that Soderbergh has become one of the most influential figures in transforming the technique from its early French New Wave roots into a much more practical modern tool for filmmaking . In contrast to the extremely irritating montage styles of the 1960s and 1970s, Soderbergh's clear and smooth use of this technique has revolutionized the way filmmakers can quickly switch in, out and between scenes without the audience losing a little understanding.
As a cameraman, Soderbergh demonstrates this perfectly in his more recent films – like The Laundromat – where he can jump between scenes that span time, space and place around the world to tie the complex, structured narratives together. You can see this controlled chaos in overdrive in the trailer above.
This "Soderbergh montage" requires a keen eye for cinematography, where the frame must be perfectly put together for each shot to align and facilitate the viewer for the next shot, whether on the same set or the same Actors used. And Soderbergh has to do this in his quick shooting style – often for almost every scene in the film.
A smartphone cinematography future
While Soderbergh has gained recognition for both his early work and his Oscar-winning big-budget endeavors, the director / cameraman has recently become aware of his return to his roots and working as a DIY indie filmmaker, who is one of the first to embrace has the possibilities of smartphone cinematography.
In fact, with two new iPhone shot features, Soderbergh seems determined to turn smartphone filmmaking into an affordable indie alternative and a real option for big-name directors and stars.
His work behind the camera phone (so to speak) on Unsane (which you can read more about here) and High Flying Bird have been recognized for their creative and stylized cinematography that takes into account the limits and possibilities of the smartphone camera.
If you are interested in a future-oriented film career, you should follow Soderbergh's lead. Its static, wide-angle approach to smartphone functionality is perhaps the best example of where the industry could be headed over the next few years and decades.
For more cameramen profiles and filmmaking breakdowns, see the articles below.
Cover photo of Steven Soderbergh on the set of Magic Mike via Warner Bros.