Exploring New Technologies

Steven Soderbergh is the prolific American filmmaker whose work includes sex, lies, and videotape, The Limey and Traffic, which won him an Academy Award for Best Director. His latest film Unsane is a psychological thriller starring Claire Foy as Sawyer Valentini, a woman who unwittingly becomes an inmate in a psych ward. He shot the film entirely on an iPhone 7 Plus.

ASFF: Unsane is a thriller but has its basis in reality, dealing with insurance companies and the US medical system. Is it all true?
SS: The premise of this is absolutely plausible. There is a legal obligation for a healthcare worker if you drop the “s” word [suicide] in discussion to report that and indicate that you might be a candidate for some kind of observation or involuntary commitment. They have to engage with you if you’re indicating any kind of suicidal ideation, as they call it. There are very strict protocols about what the conversation becomes.

ASFF: What drew you to casting Claire Foy?
SS: Well what happened was I saw her give an acceptance speech [at the Golden Globes], then I watched The Crown and then I offered her the part. So that was the first time that happened; I’d seen an actor not acting and I was compelled enough to pursue watching her day job.

ASFF: You shot this film entirely on an iPhone 7 Plus. How did that change things for you?
SS: It was really exciting. The positive aspects of it far outweighed for me the few things that you can’t do. Or that you probably could do if you took more time, but I didn’t have a lot of time. I got really excited when we started. We pretty much shot in order, and I can see the first couple of days of shooting, I can see me still dialling in how I wanted to do it.

ASFF: Is there an impact on the budget by shooting with an iPhone?
SS: It’s hard to say. There’s certainly an impact in the speed. You can do more work in a certain amount of time. Your crew is smaller. And there’s a trickle-down effect to having a smaller crew. For instance, if I have a dolly [to help glide the camera], then I need two people and I need a truck for that to go in, and I need somebody to drive that truck. So not having a dolly immediately…I’ve shrunk the crew size, I’ve shrunk the economics of paying people to operate that dolly.

ASFF: Do you think the theatrical cinema experience is endangered or is here to stay?
SS: I still that’s an experience, when it goes well, that people enjoy. I often go out and experience something at a theatre and think, “This is why people are staying at home! That was terrible.” It wasn’t a good presentation. I didn’t like being in this space. It wasn’t very clean. It wasn’t an inviting space. People are fucking rude, they won’t turn their phones off. They talk like they’re in their living room. That’s when I look at it and go, “That’s a problem, I’m not sure how to address it.”

Unsane opens in cinemas from 23 March. For more details, click here.

James Mottram

1. Still from Unsane.