Steven Soderbergh Breaks Rule to Create ‘Presence’ Ghost Story

Critically acclaimed director Steven Soderbergh brought something new to the table at the 40th Sundance Film Festival this year. Despite his previous doubts regarding the effectiveness of first-person point-of-view (POV) movies, Soderbergh premiered a unique ghost story, Presence, filmed entirely from the ghost’s perspective. Soderbergh shared his experience, explaining his reasoning behind adopting this unconventional POV style, much to the surprise of attendees and industry insiders.

Revamping the Narrative with a One-Person POV

Long having a skeptical stance towards one-person POV visuals, Soderbergh finally backtracked on his stance. He suggests that viewers are accustomed to seeing the protagonist’s expression and having a change of angle or perspective. According to him, the only way this unconventional method of filming can work is by ensuring that the camera doesn’t turn around, flouting the long-held narrative norms.

Exceptional Filming Techniques Makes for Unusual View

The movie Presence follows the story of a family who moves into a new house, only to discover a supernatural entity. Armed with a 14mm lens, Soderbergh himself took on the role of the ghost, floating silently around the house in martial arts slippers. The cast, including Lucy Liu, Chris Sullivan, Callina Liang, Eddy Maday, West Mulholland, and Julia Fox, gave impressive performances before the unique “ghost” camera.

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The Editing Magic of Soderbergh

During a post-premiere Q&A, Soderbergh shared his love for the editing process and how the power of changing the intention of the narrative through reordering shots still amazes him. He feels that the editing process is where everything merges into a complete visual story, making editing the most rewarding part of the filmmaking process.

Presence’s Sneak Lineup at Sundance

The Sundance screening was a first-time watch for the cast of Presence as well. Liu, overwhelmed by the ghost-centric movie, said that it felt as if she hadn’t been in the movie at all. Fox further mentioned that she hadn’t even read the script before shooting started but she trusted Soderbergh’s directorial capabilities. Sullivan commented on the uniqueness of the shoot, mentioning that no movie had been shot like this before.

A Soderbergh and Koepp Collaboration Once Again

Returning to Park City where both had had career-catapulting moments in 1989, the Presence project marks yet another collaboration between Soderbergh and screenwriter David Koepp. As anticipated, the festival sex, lies, and videotape; Apartment Zero showed a notable buyers’ presence, which included Neon’s Tom Quinn, Searchlight’s David Greenbaum and Roadside’s Howard Cohen, among others.

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The Origins of Presence

In the making of Presence, Koepp focuses on the fact that Soderbergh suggested defying all norms by presenting a narrative solely from the ghost’s perspective and that the family portrayed should have severe dysfunctional elements. Koepp found those recommendations exciting and started writing from there.

As the festival concluded, Soderbergh mentioned his gratitude being a part of this festival’s story, expressing great satisfaction at the reception of his unique take on ghost narratives.

Soderbergh’s approach serves to remind us that there are always new ways to explore storytelling, pushing the boundaries of narrative norms. For more award-winning films and shows, don’t forget to check out the curated collections at HITPLAY.