Tribeca Talks

“I don’t know of any great secret films, do you?”

That’s Steven Soderbergh speaking. He looks exactly as I suspected: bald, bespectacled, black t-shirt and jeans; a hip Freddy Krueger sans burn scars. And he’s speaks as I’d suspected: clever, dry, smart. I like him immediately. But I always have.

“Sex, Lies and Video Tape” had early buzz at Berwyn Video, even in 1988. Of course it did. I was fifteen-years-old, and it had sex in the title. Imagine my disappointment when I found the film to be all talk. Still, it was interesting talk: clever, dry, smart. And it got me thinking, ‘Hey, maybe it’s not all about cops and robbers.’

My first film was all about cops and robbers. Well, kind of. Chris and I wrestled dad’s 8mm camera from the closet, and shot a remake (can you remake a television show still on the air?) of “The Greatest American Hero.” I played the lead, not quite a cop, but certainly the hero. Chris played the bad guy.

Following Soderbergh’s been a bumpy road. “Swimming To Cambodia” hardly counted: it was a Spaulding Grey monologue with cool staging. “Schitzopolis” took me years to screen. I still haven’t found my way to “Kafka.” I fell asleep during “Solaris.” But “The Limey,” “Erin Brokovich,” “Traffic,” even “Oceans 11” — something was going on with this guy. Something was amiss. First, there was the film stock: all the saturated colors and textures. Then there was all the talk, the glorious — ok, I’ll say it — clever, dry, smart dialogue.

Even if its unwatchable, everything Soderbergh does is interesting. Like “Bubble,” the first film to be released in theaters, on DVD, and HDTV on the same day. Or “K Street,” the Beltway docudrama combining actors with actual politicians. He produced some of the last few year’s greatest films: “Syriana,” “Good Night, And Good Luck,” and the forthcoming “A Scanner Darkly.” And check this out: dude’s got eleven films in the hopper. Eleven!

That he looks like me (or I look like him), well, that was just icing on the cake.

So when I read that he was on a panel at Tribeca… well, sign me up.

The subject was the digital revolution in film. I’ve always paid attention to digital film, being a movie fan, and a dot com kinda guy. Heck, the whole digital thing brought Chris and I to New York in the first place. His company, Broadcast News Networks, was early adopters of the DV predator (producer/editor). I saw Ken Burns speak to it three years ago (he wasn’t a huge fan). I derive a significant amount of hope from the fact that I can get my hands on a DV camera and Final Cut pretty easily. And I have a fair amount of ideas. Then, as Soderbergh said, it’s all about talent, not the format.

“Cinema is a language,” Soderbergh said. “I’ve seen thirty second commercials that have it, and two hour movies that don’t.”

Chris and I ran the New Jersey Half Marathon yesterday. It was a beautiful morning. Neither of us had run all week, but we did ok, primarily, I presume, because we had each other. We talked and talked and talked. Primarily, we talked about our documentary “Mr. Rogers & Me.” I told him about The Pitch I’ve been circulating, the one that says we’re going to interview Michael Keaton (whose first job was in Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood), and Katie Couric (who counted Mr. Rogers as a friend), among others. We talked about tape stock (“16mm would really be nice,” Chris said. “Yeah, but DV is practically free,” I replied.), and shots (“No camera gymnastics,” I insisted). And generally passed the miles. Talking. In cinematic language.

Will our film be a secret? Not to you.

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