In what must be one of the strangest announcements to come out of Hollywood in some time, it was revealed on Friday that Oscar-winning filmmaker Steven Soderbergh will be joining the production of ‘The Hunger Games’, the adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ best-selling young adult novel. While that in itself may not sound so unusual (the film is expected to be a studio tentpole with A-list talent behind it), Soderbergh will apparently only be working as a Second Unit director. That’s just… bizarre.
What is a Second Unit director, you ask? In a film production, the Second Unit typically shoots non-critical footage that doesn’t involve the main cast, such as establishing shots, close-ups or inserts. This gives the main director more time to work with the actors and worry about the important stuff. In some cases, the Second Unit may shoot stunts and action footage that would be too dangerous for the main cast and crew, and is better left in the hands of specialists. The Second Unit is generally considered a stepping-stone position for aspiring directors to gain experience. It’s virtually unheard of for a major-name director like Steven Soderbergh to do Second Unit work on someone else’s movie.
News of this development first surfaced on Twitter, when crew members started tweeting their excitement about working with Soderbergh. Entertainment Weekly later confirmed the story with the studio.
So why is he doing this? It seems that Soderbergh is a long-time friend of the film’s director, Gary Ross (‘Pleasantville‘, ‘Seabiscuit‘), who’s in a crunch to get the movie completed on schedule. That sounds awfully generous, doesn’t it? Still, it seems strange to me that a big-name director would need to step in for what will reportedly only be two days work on a movie that won’t be released until next year. Aren’t there enough Second Unit crews in Hollywood that could handle this? What would Soderbergh be able to accomplish in two days that they wouldn’t? Is the footage he’ll be shooting so sensitive that Ross doesn’t trust it in the hands of his regular crew?
Soderbergh has a reputation as an iconoclast who works on projects that he feels like, regardless of what anyone else may expect from him. It’s quite possible that he’s just doing this as a lark, and is happy to set his ego aside to help out a friend.
Is it too cynical to suggest that this may even be a publicity stunt to generate some good buzz for the two new movies of Soderbergh’s own that will open in the meantime (the all-star medical thriller ‘Contagion’ in September and the action flick ‘Haywire’ in January)?