A small piece of contemporary cinema history was written last night in St Andrews, Scotland when Steven Soderbergh sat down with Joe and Anthony Russo on stage at the Sands International Film Festival to discuss their 2002 collaboration Welcome to Collinwood

Produced by Soderbergh and George Clooney who also stars alongside William H. Macy, Isaiah Washington, Sam Rockwell, Luis Guzmán, and Patricia Clarkson, Welcome to Collinwood was the second feature from the Russos following their debut feature Pieces, which bombed out of Slamdance in 1997. 

“There was zero interest in the film from anybody but this man over here,” Anthony said of Pieces, pointing towards Soderbergh. The sex, lies and videotape filmmaker had been present at the doomed Pieces screening at Slamdance and reached out to the directing duo to impart some wisdom. 

“It was insanely ambitious and dense,” Soderbergh told Deadline’s Mike Fleming Jr, who moderated the talk, of Pieces. “There’s a lot of shots. Shots I stole. I was just very activated by how activated they were and it was clear they were grinders.” 

The subsequent friendship between the trio led to Welcome to Collinwood, which Soderbergh produced with Clooney through their now-defunct Section Eight production company for Warner Bros. Last night’s Q&A marked the first time all three have ever discussed their long friendship and collaboration for a public audience.

Collinwood was a hit with the audience at Sands, many of whom had never seen the film. The pic hasn’t been screened in the UK since 2003 and, at the time, did very little business on either side of the Atlantic. 

Collinwood ended up costing around $7 million and it made a grand total of $300,000 at the box office,” Joe said of the film. “It didn’t make a ton of money, but to Warner Bros’ testament, they encouraged us to make this personal, whacky movie influenced by 30’s serial comedies like The Bowery Boys.”

A raucous, comedic crime caper, the pic follows a group of small-time thieves and misfits from the Collinwood neighborhood of Cleveland, who attempt to carry out a major theft from a jeweler’s apartment. 

Around the same time the Russos were shaping Collinwood, Soderbergh was coming off a run of smaller experimental titles like Kafka, The Underneath, and Schizopolis following the blowout success of sex, lies and videotape, which won the Palme d’Or.

“This was early days and I felt I still wasn’t formed. That’s the danger as any young filmmaker who has an early success is that they get frozen in that moment and think they have to just do that. And that’s a trap. I wanted to try some stuff,” Soderbergh said of those titles. 

Soderbergh admitted that he perhaps took his experimentations “a little far,” which damaged his bankable reputation in Hollywood. As a result, he said he had to “fight” to get Universal to sign off on his 1998 feature Out of Sight, starring Clooney, Jennifer Lopez, and Don Cheadle.

Later during the Q&A, Fleming quizzed Soderbergh on what he thought about the jump the Russos made into the Marvel Cinematic University, first with Captain America: The Winter Soldier and lastly with the $2.7 billion Avengers: Endgame. 

Joe and Anthony revealed that they called Soderbergh for advice and a reference when they first applied for the Captain America job. 

“The question for me was why are they doing this?” Soderbergh said. “Because on paper I don’t see the move from here to here. I wanted to know what the intention was. And they said this is our dream job. We love comic books. And I said that’s all I wanna know.”  

Soderbergh added that he put in a call to Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige to advocate for the duo. Anthony joked that Soderbergh’s last message on their phone call was “If this works out you owe me a car.” 

The sold-out Q&A was a coup for Sands and was initiated by festival director Ania Trzebiatowska. The crowd was ram-packed with local cinema enthusiasts and St Andrews University students, whom the trio often addressed directly.

“As far as I’m concerned when you get on set, you have to act as if there’s no clock or money,” Soderbergh told the audience of his process. “You just wanna get what you have in mind, which is ultimately supposed to be something you’d stand in line to go and see.” 

Concluding the hour, Joe said he sees “tremendous hope in the future of the business.” 

“I see hope in what I feel a lot of people are afraid of and that’s technology and the advancements in technology,” he said. “The barrier to entry in filmmaking has always been how much it costs. The future holds a much cheaper way to translate your imagination to others, and I think AI is gonna be a critical part of that. The battle lines will be around humans maintaining control, which I think they will.”

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