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Sundance preview: Oscar-winner Soderbergh finds happiness in TV

First Published      Last Updated Jan 24 2016 09:28 am

Sundance » First four episodes of “The Girlfriend Experience” will screen at the Utah film festival.

Oscar-winning director Steven Soderbergh has gotten more involved in television in recent years — a format he finds he prefers to films.

"I like the long form," he said. "It's just fun to play on a canvas that's that shape where you kind of have time to let things breathe a little bit and develop, and there isn't this sort of urgency to jam the narrative into a two-hour slot."

Which explains the project Soderbergh is bringing to the 2016 Sundance Film Festival — a 13-episode, 6½-hour version of "The Girlfriend Experience," based on his 2009 film of the same time, which ran 77 minutes.

Riley Keough stars as a law student who, in need of money, gets drawn into the world of "transactional relationships" — she becomes a high-priced prostitute catering to wealthy men who want "The Girlfriend Experience."

"It's not something you've really seen as a sort of lead character on a TV show," Keough said, "because I wouldn't say she's extremely likable or morally correct. She's very controlling and kind of manipulative and kind of selfish and likes sex. It's more of a character you'd see for a man, which is kind of what drew me to the show."

There's no direct connection between the film and the series — no characters from the former in the latter. The series was "inspired by" the film.

"The mandate was take the title and start over," said Soderbergh, who is an executive producer. The 13 episodes were written and directed by Amy Seimetz and Lodge Kerrigan.

The first four episodes of "The Girlfriend Experience" will screen Saturday, Jan. 23, at 5:30 p.m. at the Egyptian Theatre in Park City; Keough, Kerrigan and Seimatz are slated to do a follow-up Q&A. The series begins airing on Starz on April 10.

Soderbergh said he never thought of turning "GFE" into a TV series until his friend (and fellow executive producer) Philip Fleishman suggested it.

"And I thought this would work," he said. "I said I'd like to take a sort of independent auteur director-driven approach to this show, and that's when I reached out to Amy and Lodge."

Where better to debut a series with an independent auteur director-driven approach than Sundance?

And, according to Soderbergh, television is the place to be these days. "The Girlfriend Experience" is his third current series, joining Cinemax's "The Knick" and Amazon's "Red Oaks."

"Right now if you're just interested in telling stories, it's a really good space to be working in," he said. "So I'm just kind of following the fun, you know. This has just been more fun."


Twitter: @ScottDPierce