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The title, Bubble, just popped into his head in one of those creative mysteries, but the making of the film was very down to earth - a direct descendant of his iconic debut, sex, lies and videotape, Steven Soderbergh tells Andrew L. Urban.

When Steven Soderbergh comes to the phone for our interview (him in Los Angeles, me in Sydney) I remind him that the first time we talked it was in the café of the Grand Hotel in Cannes, on the morning after the media screening of his Palme d’Or winning 1989 debut, sex, lies and videotape. The reason I mention that is because for me, there is a direct line that can be drawn from that iconic film to his new film, Bubble.

"a variation on a theme that I return to again and again"

“Oh yes, I think so,” he says with enthusiasm. “Let’s put it this way, if you had put me in a time machine during the making of sex, lies … and showed me Bubble and said ‘this is what you’ll be doing 17 years later’ I’d have been thrilled. Because it’s a variation on a theme that I return to again and again. But it’s using different tools and has a different aesthetic … it’s a progression, so it indicates that I haven’t stood still.”

In sex, lies and videotape, four characters (James Spader, Andie MacDowell, Peter Gallagher, Laura San Giacomo) reveal via frank confessions their erotic impulses. The raw reality and naturalism of the film, coupled with its themes of intense personal connections, resonates through Bubble, even though the latter is a very different film – and as Soderbergh points out, made differently.

In a small Ohio town fallen on hard times, Martha (Debbie Doebereiner) and Kyle (Dustin James Ashley) work at the local doll factory and have become unlikely friends. He is young, tall and single, she is middle aged, overweight and looking after an ageing dad. Their dynamic is disturbed with the arrival of a new worker: young, attractive single mother Rose (Misty Dawn Wilkins), whose ex-boyfriend turns up angry one night, demanding she hand back the money she stole from him. Then a murder is discovered, and an investigation launched – with surprising consequences.

The cast are not actors but locals, and Soderbergh says one of the pleasures of making Bubble was to be immersed and embedded in the small town for weeks beforehand, getting to know the cast. “Some people here in the US have attacked me for being condescending – but I’ve replied that it is in fact they who are being condescending by suggesting that. These people in the film were so much a part of the gestation of the movie …”

How do you direct non-professional actors, though. “Well, you don’t,” he says. “You set up situations in which they have no choice but to do what they would normally do. The other thing is to let them speak in their own voice. I don’t try to get them to memorise any lines; just tell them the gist of what’s happening and let them speak in their own voice.”

"an unrequited love triangle in the work environment"

Soderbergh’s brief to writer Coleman Hough was to come up with a story about “an unrequited love triangle in the work environment” and when she brought him the script set in a doll factory, Soderbergh jumped at it. In his notebook for the film (he has a separate notebook for every film he makes) he had written the simple title, Bubble. “No, I don’t know why or where it came from or what it means… I can ascribe some superficial symbolism to it now, of course, but I don’t really know…it just popped into my head.” Some people might call that inspiration …

As was the setting of the film in a doll factory: when I tell him that to me there is something strangely unsettling about the images of the limbs and torsos of pink fleshed dolls being mechanically pulled and twisted by the machinery, Soderbergh agrees. But neither of us can quite put our finger on what those images mean to us, or why they are disturbing.

This micro budget film is the first of six to be made by US indie production company HDNet with Soderbergh, testing the new digital distribution opportunities by releasing the film in the US in cinemas, on DVD and on the internet simultaneously. But that has little to do with the film’s content, except that at 75 minutes, it’s shorter than the average feature film. “When we made our first cut and it came to 75 minutes, we thought for a minute that maybe we should add another layer to the story,” he says, “but we figured it would alter the film from what it is.” In the context of the future of filmmaking, Soderbergh agrees that some films can be shorter – and he thinks too many of them are too long these days.

As for the success of the multi-platform release strategy, “it’s too early to tell,” he says. He already has ideas for the next three of the five left to make, and expects to begin work on the first after completing his new movie, Che, based on the (in)famous guerrilla fighter Che Guevara, starring Benicio del Toro.

Published March 29, 2007

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Steven Soderbergh


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