Out of Sight (1998) with director Steven Soderbergh and screenwriter Scott Frank
Comments on the film
On the Glades Correctional Institution sequence
Steven Soderbergh I think this was the hardest stuff for George [Clooney] to do, because George is a very, very good basketball player, and to be bad in front of 500 cons at Angola prison in Louisiana absolutely destroyed him. He was so mortified. These are all real cons we were amongst, and I have to say George made this a lot easier for us than a lot of people would have. He never left the yard, from the moment we showed up with our cameras he stayed on the yard, he was very gracious with all the inmates, posing for pictures and autographs. If George had been the kind of actor who blew out of his trailer to play the tough guy for two minutes and then blew back into his trailer, I guarantee you we would have had some problems. But he was out there all day every day, and it really took a toll on him, he was really tired, but it was worth it for me. There's Luis Guzmán, one of my favourite actors, with Paul Soileau, who was from New Orleans. Another local hire who was really terrific.
Scott Frank He was really popular. The cons liked him a lot.
SS When we were shooting that scene of Chino and Lulu jogging, a con came up and pushed Luis aside and got right in Paul's face and said, "I wanna ride you! I wanna ride you, man!" and there was a bit of a scene getting him away from Paul. It was pretty intense.
On the trunk scene
SS The infamous trunk scene, we should talk about this. On the deleted scenes we have the original single take that was in the first preview. It was my brilliant idea to do this all in one shot. I did 45 takes, I used take 44, and that was what we put in the movie initially. Then we previewed the film, and it's really hard to find the words to describe how derailed the audience became at that point. It was just deadly. I came out of the preview in Seattle and Casey Silver, who was the head of Universal and had basically put me up for this job, said, “I like the movie. It's about 15 minutes too long and you've got to re-shoot the trunk.” I said, “Yeah, I know.” We went back and re-shot it to make it the way you see it now, and I'm actually glad we did because we added just a couple of things in the dialogue that really helped. One is the discussion of the ex-wife...
SF And the other is more discussion of Three Days of the Condor. He's hoping they're playing out Three Days of the Condor and she's saying, "You know I never believed how they got together," giving him a hard time. I think that helped a lot. And we cut a lot of his background story that he told about the banks he robbed. Also that shot in one take was a little bit farther away, so you didn't get that intimate feel, and cutting out allowed us to have easier transitions.
SS Oh, no question. I think all of my theories of why a single take would work were correct in a literal sense and when you saw it in the movie they were completely wrong. The problem is – and I should have known this too – stylistically it's not like anything else in the movie. The whole movie is cutty and jagged, so to have this one long uninterrupted take, it just felt like a different film. It's a nice short, though.
On the Lompoc Federal Penitentiary sequence
SS This was shot in a prison out in Palmdale, I think. It's a working prison, it's like a holding area for immigration violaters. We were working in a section that wasn't being used at the time and all these extras are ex-cons. We found an 'Ex-cons for Christ' group and hired about 400 of them to come in, so they had a great look about them. I remember when we were budgeting the film Universal said, "You know, we'll save half a million dollars if you shoot the two prisons in one prison. Can't you shoot all the Lompoc stuff in Angola, in Louisiana?" And I really fought them on it. I wanted Lompoc to have this desert, parched, blown-out look, so I held the line and I said, "Look, you can save half a million dollars but the movie would look cheaper."
SF I also think what's great about the way you shot the prison sequences, and the fact that they look so different, it helps you keep everything straight. There are so many different prisons in the course of the movie and so many different timeframes, you need to help out in some way.
SS It would have been really hard. I also chose the yellow jumpsuits. We had many different colours and because we had the desert look I chose yellow. I think that really helps, whenever you see a yellow jumpsuit you know you're in a flashback.
On the bath fantasy scene
SF This is one of those things that was in, then it was out...
SS Oh right, I think this is on the deleted scenes.
SF But also it was out of the script for a while, the whole fantasy.
SS Well on the deleted scenes there's a long fantasy scene here of George and Ving coming in and having a conversation about baths and...oh, lots of stuff.
SF ...lavender oil, vanilla candles, rosé wine...
SS The idea behind it was that this was her fantasy of what Foley and Buddy were talking about, but it ended up feeling like two guys who were completely in love with each other. It didn't work so I cut that dialogue and just left it like this. Now you invented this, obviously. It's not in the book.
SF The problem in the book is that you're always reading about how they're thinking about each other and the challenge was making that work in a movie.
SS Of course we had to close the set during all these scenes. I don't even think I was present.
SF I was peeking over the top of that wall.
SS It's tough to gauge how long you can get away with this because you can feel when you watch the movie that people are thinking, "Wait a minute..."
SF In the script it cuts on "Hey," but I think this is so much better, because it is over-the-top and you do want people going, "Oh, come on!”
On Ray Nicolette
SS Here, of course, is Michael Keaton, reprising his role as Ray Nicolette from Jackie Brown, which I think was a Stacey [Sher] idea. He appears in both books, we should point out. We called up Tarantino and asked him what he thought of the idea and he thought it was a great idea, and he was nice enough to bring me into his editing room and show me all of Keaton's footage from Jackie Brown so I could get an idea of where Keaton was going with that part, to see if it really fit with what we were doing. We got hold of Keaton and he came down and did this just as a favour for nothing, which was really nice of him. To our knowledge this was a first, a character who appears in two completely unrelated movies played by the same actor. As far as all of us could determine nobody had ever done this before, which was part of its appeal.
On the sex scene
SF Again, this whole sequence was written straight in the screenplay.
SS Right, in the script they did half the dialogue here and then they went upstairs.
SF They did half the dialogue on the fly too, walking through the hotel, getting on the elevator, getting off the elevator, so they're kissing by the time they get to the door.
SS I remember calling you and saying I think we have to do something different.
SF All of this is you and Anne Coates, but mostly you.
SS Well. I stole it from Don't Look Now. I remember telling you guys about the scene in Don't Look Now with Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie, where Nic Roeg intercuts the two them making love with the two of them getting dressed afterwards. There was something about the juxtaposition of those two events that was so intimate and you'd never think it would be, so I decided to just rip it off. When I explained it to people I would get a lot of blank stares.
SF In fact, when everyone looked at the dailies they kept saying the scene isn't hot enough.
SS In dailies it was probably hard to watch because I was grinding a lot of film to get little things like this that are hard to stage. I was running two cameras all the time and just doing take after take, and it was really boring to watch in dailies. I was getting a lot of flak for this scene not being more explicit in dailies, I do remember that, even from Anne Coates. I remember Anne, after she saw the dailies, asking if there's any more footage. I said no, that's it, and she said, “I'm afraid they don't really go at it.” She was very concerned that it wasn't explicit enough, but that stuff bores me. Somebody much smarter than me once said that as soon as an actor takes their clothes off in a movie, you're watching a documentary, and I think that's true. I think I break with the film. When somebody takes their clothes off I'm not watching the character any more, I go, "Oh my God, I'm seeing X, Y and Z with their clothes off!”
On changing Elmore Leonard's story
SF In the book Ripley's not in the house, there are no diamonds, White Boy Bob gets arrested, Buddy gets killed.
SS There's a kid. Who's the kid?
SF There's a 19 year-old housesitter who's having an affair with the maid, who's 45.
SS Well I think this is better and I don't care who knows it. I guess it's what we've been talking about, the difference between a book and a movie. It's stuff that all works great in the book but in a movie you've got to funnel the conflict.
SF Actually, it's the only thing in the book that doesn't quite work because you don't know why Jack is there. There's no guarantee of any kind of money there, he sort of knows already that Maurice is a psychopath, and the reason he gives in the book for going to try this is he tells Buddy, 'Well, I've never tried okra before either.' That's the line he gives in the book and you sort of lose patience with him at the end of the story because you don't know why he would do this unless it's a sort of fatalistic move. Because he's not a home invader, he's a bank robber.
SS This makes much more sense because now it's personalised.
Bits and Pieces
SS Here we go, another episode of A Couple of White Guys Sitting Around Talking.
SS Here's a classic example of a stubborn filmmaker. For months, Michael Shamberg was telling me you have to have music at the front of the movie to set the mood, it's no good if it's quiet, because I just had the street sounds there. I kept saying, you're wrong, you're wrong. I got really steamed at him at a meeting at Universal once, and I think it's because I knew he was right and I was really resisting it.
SF Also for a while we had to have the Universal music over the logo
SS That's true. We did win that battle, if you can call it a battle.
SS Here's George and his funny walk.
SF This bit with the flowers, in the script he hits him with a cross and Danny DeVito was a little concerned that we might get in trouble over him hitting him on the head with the cross. I did often wonder what a vase full of flowers is doing in the prison chapel, though.
SS Well, the prop guy put it there.
SS Here's Steve Zahn, another terrific actor. I remember when we previewed the movie, when Steve Zahn came on screen, before he even spoke, people were laughing at him. Like he was a friend of theirs, it was really amazing. It's a tough role in a way because it could turn into a real cartoon cliché, but Steve is so genuine it never feels like that.
SS Because it was so cold, I couldn't shoot this scene in Louisiana because the actors' breath was showing so much we had to stop. We re-shot this after principal photography in California and again it was so cold we could see their breath. Below frame here on every shot I've got a wall of gas heaters going. If you listen to the track really closely you can hear the hiss of these heaters, which I've tried to cover up with crickets.
SS That's not a real person. That's a dummy that we stabbed.
SF Really? I thought that was the other writer.
SS Here we are on our way to Detroit. This footage is some of my favourite in the movie only because I flew to Detroit, me and John Hardy and two guys, and I shot all this stuff myself on January 14th 1998, my 35th birthday. On my 35th birthday I was on the front of an insert car with a movie camera on my shoulder shooting this stuff. It was cold as all get-out, I had frozen tears on the side of my face, but we had fun.
SS It was cold this night, I tell ya. You can see it in the close-ups, with their breath, and you can actually see the frozen condensation on the tops of the cars. You can't fake that. I was going to say you can't buy that but actually you can because in Titanic they digitally put the breath in everybody's mouth, so you can buy it. But I couldn't buy it.
SS Here's Viola [Davis] on a sound stage in beautiful Universal City in California, and Jennifer [Lopez] in Detroit months later. I hate doing stuff like this. There are two shots in Kafka in a morgue scene at the end of the film, Armin Mueller-Stahl and Jeremy Irons shot on different months in different continents, that I had to put together. It's so frightening because you're convinced it's not going to work.
SS This is an actual house in Bloomfield Hills, where the action takes place in the book and the script, but it was in the process of being built. The interior is not complete at all so we shot the exterior in Detroit and every centimetre of the interior of the Ripley mansion was built on a soundstage by Gary Frutkoff. A couple of these sets, the library and the dressing room upstairs, the owners of the house in Bloomfield Hills came to the set in LA and liked these designs so much they asked for the plans so they could recreate this room here and the library in their house, which I thought was a very unusual turn of events.
SS Of course, in the TV version Don [Cheadle] says 'monkey feather,' which is actually scarier.
SS We were going to have a scene where Ving [Rhames] actually goes to the airport and runs into Jack Lemmon and gives him the diamonds, but we didn't have time.
SS We could sit here and poke holes in this thing all day. If that's what you want to do, Scott, then that's what we'll do, but it's not what...or maybe it is what people pay for. I don't know. Do people actually listen to these? I'm not even sure.
SF I don't think so. Have we started yet? Is this the actual take?
SS This is the rehearsal.
SF Oh good.