Even successful directors like Steven Soderbergh have difficulty getting their films made

By Rebecca Ascher-Walsh
Updated February 18, 2000 at 05:00 AM EST

RED LIGHT, GREEN LIGHT A note to aspiring directors: Don’t think that just because your first film won Cannes’ Palme d’Or, or you made Jennifer Lopez a movie star, or you recently directed Julia Roberts, you’re going to get any special treatment. Although Steven Soderbergh‘s upcoming Universal drama Erin Brockovich, starring Roberts as an eco-crusader, is already generating 2000 Oscar buzz, the director of sex, lies, and videotape and Out of Sight still can’t get his next project, Traffic, okayed.

Originally parked at Fox, the drug-war drama was put in turnaround, leaving Soderbergh free to shop it — unless, Fox stipulated, Harrison Ford agreed to star. The day Soderbergh was ready to settle elsewhere, Ford became interested, and the film made a U-turn back to Fox. But the studio still hasn’t greenlit Traffic, and Soderbergh, who begins shooting the Rat Pack remake Ocean’s Eleven this fall, is funding preproduction himself (he has already cast Catherine Zeta-Jones and plans to begin filming April 1). A Fox exec says Traffic‘s budget would be less than $30 million, and that Ford (who can fetch up to $20 mil per film) would have to sign a back-end deal; negotiations with the actor are stalled until Fox makes a decision. Says Soderbergh of the frustrating process, “I’m just trying to look at it as [a study in] social anthropology.”

Bryan Buckley can relate. First Universal brought in a new director for reshoots on his feature debut, the basketball mockumentary New Jersey Turnpikes, starring Kelsey Grammer. Now, two years after completion, the film is up for sale. “It’s a laughable story, which, legally, I can’t talk about,” says Buckley. As for the director’s current project, Finger Rocks: After preproduction began on the romantic comedy last year, Buckley says, MGM shut it down, citing money troubles. Now it appears the movie is back on track, if Buckley and the studio can agree on a cast.