Memento | How Steven Soderbergh helped Christopher Nolan find a distributor

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Memento started life as a gritty, independent underdog of a film – but it would take one of Hollywood’s biggest directors, Steven Soderbergh, to get anyone to see it. More below…

Christopher Nolan’s Memento was a bit of an indie phenomenon on its release, earning rave reviews at the Venice Film Festival and quickly developing a cult following.

Telling the timey-wimey story of an anterograde amnesiac (Guy Pearce) attempting to track down his wife’s killer, the film’s reputation has only grown as its director has grown in stature.

In a new interview with the Happy Sad Confused podcast, however, the film’s screenwriter Jonathan Nolan has reiterated how instrumental Steven Soderbergh was in getting interest from distributors behind the scenes. As the Nolan brothers found, the hardest part of the film’s journey wasn’t getting it made – it was getting anyone to see it.

“We showed up, we had a good idea for a movie, we made the movie. I thought, ‘why is everyone complaining about Hollywood? This is easy!’ And then we tried to sell it.”

It seems that none of Hollywood’s executive-types were interested, assuming audiences wouldn’t understand the film’s rather cerebral structure.

But, after seeing a preview screening of the film, Soderbergh apparently did the rounds, telling off some of the biggest executives in Hollywood.

“He started going to parties and ridiculing movie executives, saying: ‘if we can’t put this movie into the world then we’ve failed as a business,'” the younger Nolan said.

“Steven was an incredible evangelist on behalf of that film. And so we went to Venice, and it validated our instinct that there’s an audience out there that really wanted to watch things that are a little more lean-in, a little more complicated.”

Post-Venice, production company Newmarket, which had provided financial backing for the film, decided to take a risk and hop on the distribution train itself.

After all that, some of the producers Christopher Nolan and Soderbergh had pitched realised they might have missed out on something special. According to James Mottro’s 2002 book, The Making Of Memento, Harvey Weinstein tried to buy the film off Newmarket after its reception in Venice, without success.

Newmarket’s first film as a distributor turned out pretty well for all involved, earning $40m from a $4.5m budget, and launching the Nolan brothers into mainstream studio circles.

Soderbergh proved himself pretty invaluable there, too, apparently getting Christopher in the room for a shot at directing his first studio picture: Warner Bros’ criminally underrated Insomnia.

There you have it kids – want to make a film in Hollywood? Best make friends with Steven Soderbergh.

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