There are few directors who obsesses over every frame and every cut like Steven Soderbergh. Even at 54 years old, with multiple feature films and TV shows under his belt, the director is always eager to learn something new. He watches (and rewatches) films to understand how they were composed, and the latest movie to leave him flabbergasted is “Mad Max: Fury Road.”
George Miller‘s brilliant action movie is one for the ages, a virtuoso accomplishment that melds technique, staging, and white-knuckle thrills. And as Soderbergh tells THR, he’s simply blown away by Miller’s artistry, and his ability to precisely storyboard — something that Soderbergh himself doesn’t do.
The ability to stage well is a skill and a talent that I value above almost everything else. And I say that because there are people who do it better than I’ll ever be able to do it after 40 years of active study. I just watched Mad Max: Fury Road again last week, and I tell you I couldn’t direct 30 seconds of that. I’d put a gun in my mouth. I don’t understand how [George Miller] does that, I really don’t, and it’s my job to understand it. I don’t understand two things: I don’t understand how they’re not still shooting that film and I don’t understand how hundreds of people aren’t dead.
I could almost see that’s kind of possible until the polecat sequence, and then I give up. We are talking about the ability in three dimensions to break a sequence into a series of shots in which no matter how fast you’re cutting you know where you are geographically. And each one is a real shot where a lot of things had to go right. I’m going to keep trying; I’m not going to keep trying in the sense that I’m going to volunteer to direct the next Mad Max movie. I’m going to keep trying in the sense that when I have sequences that demand a certain level of sophistication in terms of their visual staging, I’m going to try and watch the people who do it really well and see if I can climb inside their heads enough to think like that.
But he’s off the chart. I guarantee that the handful of people who are even in range of that, when they saw Fury Road, had blood squirting out of their eyes. The thing with George Miller, it’s not just that, he does everything really well. The scripts are great, the performances are great, the ideas are great. He’s exceptional. I met him once for about 30 seconds at the Directors Guild Awards in Los Angeles the year of Fury Road. But you don’t want to say that stuff to somebody’s face; it’s embarrassing.
Soderbergh says that films like “Mad Max: Fury Road” inspire him, and he’s always loading up movies by other filmmakers to try and puzzle out what they do.
Watching [“Mad Max: Fury Road”] again last week, there are four little things that I suddenly picked up the math on. This shot went to that and to that and I picked up the math of what on a real visual level what connected those sequences of shots. With the understanding that this is figuring out four more decimals of pi, I’m never getting to the end of this. So I’ll watch that and I’ll watch some Fincher stuff, some Spielberg stuff, some Cameron stuff, and John McTiernan has shot some stuff that is very impressive. I’m just talking about physical staging of sequences, in which there are multiple elements moving very fast.
I wasn’t born with it, so I have to do these workout sessions. I envy it.
Soderbergh’s latest project, “Mosaic,” is now available on iOS and hits HBO as a limited series on January 22nd.