Sims: With Netflix, what does an opening weekend look like? Are they going to call you up and say, “We’re happy! Lots of people are watching it!”?
Soderbergh: I think it’s that. I know from working as a producer on [the Netflix show] Godless that they were really happy [with the viewership for that show]. I have enough moles around town who let me know that that performed really well. And I’m like, “Great, that’s all I want.”
Sims: When people talk about the theater experience dying, it feels facile—it’s more that it’s evolving in ways that nobody’s really prepared for.
Soderbergh: I don’t think it’s dying. They have to deal with the fact that there’s a lot of competition for eyeballs now. And the difference between your home experience and your theater experience isn’t as large as it was when I was growing up. It’s still vibrant, and it’s still the No. 1 date destination for people. I don’t think it’s going away. It’s hard for an organization of that size, NATO, to be nimble. When you’re talking about the major chains, everyone’s got veto power. That doesn’t help their situation, the fact that getting them to do something differently can be like turning around an aircraft carrier.
Sims: Whereas Netflix can be like, “Sure, release Roma in theaters three weeks early, let’s give it a shot.” They have that nimbleness.
Soderbergh: There’s a lot to be said for that. Both on that end, and on the creative end before the thing’s even made. Godless existed as a 175-page film script that wasn’t viable. So Scott [Frank, the director] and I thought, Instead of chopping one of its limbs off, why don’t we turn it into a series? We went to a couple places and the response was, “Sounds interesting, let’s do a development deal. Show us what the first episode is going to look like.” Netflix, in the room—with a number that we’d pulled out of our ass, and a start date that we pulled out of our other ass—said, “Go. You’re starting tomorrow.” The ability to move that quickly and that definitively, that’s a big advantage.
Sims: Most of the studio movies you made were in the the mid-budget tier that Hollywood doesn’t make anymore. What happened to it?
Soderbergh: Look, I have a lot of crackpot theories about how moviegoing has changed and why.
Sims: I would like to hear your crackpot theories.
Soderbergh: One of the most extreme is, I really feel that why people go to the movies has changed since 9/11. My feeling is that what people want when they go to a movie shifted more toward escapist fare. And as a result, most of the more “serious” adult fare, what I would pejoratively refer to as “Oscar bait,” all gets pushed into October, November, December.
Sims: And people have become conditioned, in the fall, to go and see a couple of serious movies.
Soderbergh: Put on a heavy coat and go see something serious. What that creates is what you see now, which is this weird dichotomy of fantasy spectacle; low-budget genre, whether it’s horror or comedy; and the year-end awards movies. I guess that’s a trichotomy.