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It’s been almost four years since Behind the Candelabra, Steven Soderbergh’s Liberace biopic and — according to him at the time — his final feature film before retiring from the medium. Since then, he’s been busy, but in a format that has become home to more and more filmmakers like Soderbergh: television.
After directing all 20 episodes of Cinemax’s The Knick and serving as executive producer on The Girlfriend Experience on Starz and Amazon’s Red Oaks, Soderbergh is making a return to feature films, and he has an interesting reason why.
Logan Lucky is exactly the kind of movie you’d expect from Soderbergh, a fact that makes his return especially exciting for fans. Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, and Riley Keough star as Jimmy, Clyde, and Mellie Logan, three siblings planning on robbing the Charlotte Motor Speedway just before the biggest race of the year, the Coca-Cola 600. They even have an accomplice, Joe Bang (Daniel Craig), who is an expert at blowing vaults opens, but there’s one small problem: He’s in prison.
What makes Logan Lucky different from Soderbergh’s previous star-studded heist movies is how it’s being released. On Aug. 18, the film will open in theaters across the country via Bleecker Street and the director’s Fingerprint Releasing with an experimental model of distribution that could offer a unique option to filmmakers like Soderbergh. Ahead of the release, EW spoke with the filmmaker about how this plan is different and what drew him back into the features game.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What is your origin with the project? How does it end up in front of you?
STEVEN SODERBERGH: I was given the script through a friend and asked if I would recommend some possible directors. Not unlike Bud Selig when he was charged with finding a commissioner for Major League Baseball, I thought that I was the right person to direct this film, and the search was stopping. I really couldn’t bear the thought of somebody else getting to do it. Now, that happened to coincide with some ideas that I’d had regarding distribution, and the timing seemed right. It was a movie that I very much wanted to make and also the opportunity to experiment with this new model was becoming possible, so I decided to pull the trigger.
I do want to dig in and talk about the model, because you’ve said that you’re “testing out personal theories” with this release. What’s the plan, and what are those theories?
By all standards, this is a studio movie. It’s a very commercial movie with movie stars in it that’s going to go out to 2,500 to 3,000 screens. The question is, “Can you do what the studios normally do from a distribution standpoint with a lot less resources and with a much better economic structure for the people who made the film?”
So this is your critique of studio distribution and an attempt to simplify it.
My feeling is that it’s gotten way too expensive to release a film wide, and the way that the economic structure of a studio is set up, if you’ve done what we’ve done on this movie — which is everybody’s worked for scale — you’re too far away from your money. That’s why there is no middle man. There is no one taking a cut. The money is coming directly back to the creative pool.
This sounds like a much larger version of what Shane Carruth did on Upstream Color, which he released entirely by himself.
If it works, it’s a lane for people like myself to drive in. We formed Fingerprint Releasing to do this and to be able to export this to other filmmakers. So if someone like Alejandro Iñárritu, Alexander Payne, or Sofia Coppola wants to use this model that we’ve set up, it’s sitting there ready to be used.
Is there any kind of short explanation for what the plan is?
There’s no one component that hasn’t been done before, but I think it’s a combination of components. There have been advancements in technology that make it a lot easier to get a movie out in 3,000 screens than it was even two years ago. The economic model is pretty simple. You sell the foreign to cover the cost of the [film] negative. We sell the non-theatrical rights to cover the cost of the [prints and advertising], and that’s it. It’s really simple. People have done this before. The distribution part is only a little different because we control it in a way that you normally don’t get to control distribution.
And Logan Lucky is the movie to test that with?
It was just one of those moments where the planets aligned. All of the indicators are there, that I should be doing this. I’m excited about it creatively because it’s the kind of movie that I like to make. It’s the kind of movie that I like to see. Some of these issues that I’ve had in the past with the way movies are released can be mitigated. It seemed like all green lights to me.
What was in Rebecca Blunt’s script specifically that sparked with you?
On the most obvious level, it’s the complete inversion of an Ocean’s movie. It’s an anti-glam version of an Ocean’s movie. Nobody dresses nice. Nobody has nice stuff. They have no money. They have no technology. It’s all rubber band technology, and that’s what I thought was fun about it. It seemed familiar to me, but different enough. The landscape, the characters, and the canvass were the complete opposite of an Ocean’s film. What was weird is that I was working as a producer on Ocean’s Eight while we were shooting Logan, and it was kind of head-spinning. That’s like a proper Ocean’s film. This is a version of an Ocean’s movie that’s up on cement blocks in your front yard.
How did the Coca-Cola 600 come into the picture? Was it the original intent to incorporate that specific race?
We worked very hard to get NASCAR on board as a partner because we really felt that it was critical, because if you couldn’t shoot at the real race and put your people there, then it just wouldn’t be compelling. Luckily, we started conversations with them very early. This script came to me while we were shooting Magic Mike XXL, so that would have been fall of 2014. And we immediately started conversations with NASCAR to get their assistance. If we weren’t able to do what we did, I don’t think we would have made the movie. It’s such a unique event that I don’t know what solve we would have come up with.
How did the day go?
It was great. We had no problems. It was all really well organized. NASCAR took really great care of us. I think we got everything we needed, and we didn’t get in anybody’s way. It couldn’t have gone any better. It was exciting. That event’s pretty crazy. The scale of it is massive, and on that day, we had five cameras running around. But we had it all plotted out. Everybody knew where they had to move at what point in the race and what they should be shooting. We got all of the stuff we needed.
You’ve come out of your retirement from feature films to make this. Was it always your plan to end the hiatus?
First, I was not going to be directing at all and just really take a sabbatical. Right as we were going to Cannes with Behind the Candelabra, which was in my mind going to be the official start of my enforced vacation, I got the script for The Knick. So I went from not doing anything and exploring my future as a painter to starting to shoot a ten-hour television show in four months. The Knick scared me. We had to shoot 600 pages in 73 days. I’ve worked on some films with pretty aggressive schedules. This was on another order of magnitude, and I was terrified. This was something that was keeping me up at nights, wondering if this was really too big a reach. About a week in, I realized that there was a rhythm that was actually really exhilarating to be had and we were going to make it. I was sitting there on set, realizing that this is the job that I should be doing. This is my job. I should be directing stuff. Nobody’s waiting around for my paintings. So I kind of flipped a switch. I got reconnected with what I like about the job. For a while, I was just very, very happy to be working in that form. I loved working with a ten-hour canvass. It was really fun, and I wasn’t really thinking about movies… until this script came in over the transom. If it hadn’t, I think everything would be TV oriented.
When you sat down to do Logan Lucky, did you feel like a different director from the one who made Behind the Candelabra?
Yeah, I came out of the other end of The Knick different, and Logan benefited from that. It was a pretty short shoot, and obviously, you’re trying to make the best film you can for a number. I wouldn’t have been as aggressive with the schedule on Logan prior to The Knick. The Knick was like CrossFit for directing. That was a full-on workout, and I felt like I was in really good shape when I came out the other end of it. In many ways, Logan was — not to say that it was easy — but it wasn’t as challenging from a schedule standpoint as The Knick was. Logan was 36 days. That’s leisurely compared to what we had on The Knick.