Steven Soderbergh, director of this month’s movie, Behind the Candelabra (2013), can boast an impressive resume. He has spun out movie-making magic with Sex, Lies and Videotape (1989), Traffic (2000), the Ocean’s Eleven series (2001), and Magic Mike (2012). His movie Erin Brockovich (2000) won him a much-deserved Oscar. Yet, he is not the best-known Steven in the movie-making business.
Steven Soderbergh Inspired by Spielberg
Soderbergh’s inspiration came through his serious exposure to movies from his movie-buff father, coupled with an awe-inspired viewing of Jaws (1975) — directed by Steven Spielberg, of course.
Spielberg is possibly the most recognizable name in Hollywood. He has entertained and educated America for decades with his films — E.T. The Extra Terrestrial (1982), Indiana Jones (1984), Jurassic Park (1993), Schindler’s List (1993), and Saving Private Ryan (1998) — to name a very few.
Spielberg’s resume lists one big-grossing blockbuster after another; and, no other director, producer, or writer comes close to duplicating this record. He stands alone on top of the “Ivory Tower of Hollywood,” 1 where he could rest comfortably on his laurels with a career that surely goes beyond his wildest dreams.
Soderbergh’s calling – a film on Liberace
Born in 1963, Soderbergh was among a generation familiar with America’s infatuation with the flamboyant Liberace — an outrageous and very talented pianist, singer, and actor. Soderbergh felt called to do a film about Liberace, but struggled with a framework to base it upon.
When he came across the book written by Liberace’s alleged lover, Scott Thorson — Behind the Candelabra: My life with Liberace (Thorson & Thorleifson, 1990), he knew how he was going to preserve Liberace on film. However, finding a studio willing to finance a project is the necessary evil for every director with good ideas in Hollywood.
Some directors can easily round up the best among available screenwriters, costume designers, actors, prop designers, etc., but coming up with the money to pay them all is the first order of business. Even in this age of enlightenment for LGBTQ causes, studios are still skittish about financing gay-themed movies. It’s all about return on investment.
The concern about the Liberace film was whether mainstream America would open their wallets to watch unsettling scenes of an older man romancing a teenage boy. Producer Jerry Weintraub,2 another movie-making legend, said this about his attraction to the project (HBO, 2013):
What excites me is story and character. . . . The other thing that excites me is working with people like Steven Soderbergh. He and I have a great relationship. That excited me. Working with Michael Douglas and Matt Damon excited me. Working with Richard LaGravenese’s script excited me. Working with Marvin Hamlisch excited me. The people involved are so creative and compelling; I’d be out of my mind not to do it.
Thus, Weintraub managed to interest HBO executives with Soderbergh’s idea and eventually seal the deal. For their perceived risky investment in Behind the Candelabra, these executives were subsequently rewarded with two Golden Globes and a number of other awards.
Soderbergh Attracts Top Actors to HBO
That Soderbergh attracted two big-name actors (Michael Douglas and Matt Damon) for a movie that was not destined for the big screen must be testament to his reputation.
These actors’ skills contributing enormously to the success of Behind the Candelabra, I now wonder if we are entering an age influenced so heavily by Netflix, Amazon Streaming, and home theater technologies that actors no longer think of the big-screen as the ultimate determining factor of success. The same must go for directors.
Speaking of the future, according to IMDb (“Steven Spielberg,” 2016), Spielberg has a slew of movie projects in the works, so he is not resting on his laurels anytime soon. Yet, Soderbergh says the time has come to fold up his movie-making chair. He has moved on to other ventures such as releasing a novella on Twitter (@Bitchuation).
In my view, it will not be surprising when he feels called to make another movie.
1 A term originating in the Bible, an ivory tower is now used to describe a place where people pursue intellectual and esoteric activities, disconnected from practical concerns of everyday life.
2 Jerry Weintraub died of a heart attack on July 6, 2015 in Santa Barbara, CA.
HBO. (2013). Behind the candelabra: Interview: Jerry Weintraub. Retrieved from https://www.hbo.com/movies/behind-the-candelabra/interview-with-jerry-weintraub.html
Soderbergh, S. (Director). (2013). Behind the candelabra (Motion picture). USA: HBO.
Spielberg , S. (Director). (1975). Jaws (Motion picture). USA: Universal Pictures.
Steven Spielberg (2016). In IMDb.com. Retrieved from https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000229/
Thorson, S., & Thorleifson, A. (1990). Behind the candelabra: My life with Liberace. New York: Knightsbridge Pub Co Mass.