Steven Soderbergh Called the Warner Bros. Exec Who Disliked ‘Memento’ and Told Him to Consider Christopher Nolan for ‘Insomnia’: ‘Take the Meeting’

Steven Soderbergh Called the Warner Bros. Exec Who Disliked ‘Memento’ and Told Him to Consider Christopher Nolan for ‘Insomnia’: ‘Take the Meeting’

August 8, 2023

Steven Soderbergh recently spoke to Rolling Stone while promoting his new series “Command Z” about the origins of his friendship with fellow filmmaker Christopher Nolan. According to the “Traffic” and “Ocean’s Eleven” director, a Warner Bros. executive refused to meet with Nolan about a potential directing gig for the studio’s thriller “Insomnia.” The exec allegedly disliked Nolan’s “Memento,” which counted Soderbergh as one of its biggest fans.

“What happened was, I got a call from Chris’ agent, Dan Aloni, who I had known because he screened ‘Memento’ for me after Memento couldn’t find a distributor after being on the festival circuit for a year,” Soderbergh said. “Dan calls me up out of the blue and says, ‘Could you watch this movie? I have this client of mine who has this movie, and we think it’s really good, but nobody will pick it up and we don’t understand why. Maybe we’re all crazy.’ I see the movie, and I think it’s a fucking instant classic.”

“Cut to months later, Dan calls me and he goes, ‘Look, there’s this script over at Warner, “Insomnia.” Chris is really interested in it, but Warner won’t take the meeting,’” Soderbergh continued. “And I go, ‘What do you mean they won’t take the meeting?’ And he goes, ‘Well, the executive there didn’t like “Memento.”‘ And I said, ‘Well, so what? Why won’t they take the meeting?’”

Soderbergh’s love for “Memento” inspired him to personally get in contact with Warner Bros. to advocate on Nolan’s behalf.

“I called that executive and I said, ‘Take the meeting. You’ve got to take the meeting,’” Soderbergh said. “And he goes, ‘But I didn’t like the movie.’ And I go, ‘Well, did you like the movie-making?’ And he goes, ‘Well, yeah, it’s brilliantly made.’ And I go, ‘Take the meeting.’ That is all I did. I knew Chris well enough to know that if he gets in the room, he’s going to get that job.”

“Memento” earned Nolan an Academy Award nomination for original screenplay, while the movie also picked up a nomination for film editing. The director was jostling to break into the studio world with Warner Bros.’ “Insomnia,” but it took Soderbergh’s help to land the job.

Based on the 1997 Norwegian film of the same name, “Insomnia” stars Al Pacino as a detective thrust into a cat-and-mouse game with a killer (Robin Williams) in Nightmute, Alaska, where it’s always daylight. The film, which grossed $113 million worldwide, started a career-defining relationship between Nolan and Warner Bros, which ended up giving Nolan the keys to the Batman franchise based on the success of “Insomnia.”

“It started a very fruitful relationship [between Nolan and Warner Bros.],” Soderbergh said. “But let’s be clear: one way or another, Christopher Nolan is going to emerge. If he didn’t make Insomnia, he’d have made something else and still had the career he has. That was just a fortunate set of circumstances where I could get on the phone and advocate for him.”

Nolan’s latest directorial effort, Universal’s “Oppenheimer,” is now playing in theaters nationwide.

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