sex, lies, and videotape (1989)

R | 100 mins | Drama | 4 August 1989

Director:

Steven Soderbergh

Cinematographer:

Walt Lloyd

Production Designer:

Joanne Schmidt

Production Company:

Outlaw Productions
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HISTORY

       According to production notes in AMPAS library files, Steven Soderbergh drafted the first version of the script in the fall of 1987, over the course of eight days while driving cross-country from Baton Rouge, LA, to Los Angeles, CA. Although he had previously directed 9012Live, a feature-length concert film featuring the band Yes, sex, lies, and videotape marked his first theatrically released dramatic film.
       A 19 Oct 1989 HR article cited the budget as $1.2 million, although the picture was originally planned as a $200,000 black-and-white film, as noted in the 31 May 1989 Var. Executive producer Morgan Mason received a tentative offer from Musifilm Productions, where Mason was a member of the board, to co-finance the film with Universal Pictures, in early 1988, according to a 27 May 1989 LAT article. However, Universal passed on the script. Musifilm provided “seed money” for pre-production costs, but “pulled out as solo underwriter” two months later. Around the same time, producer Robert Newmyer approached RCA/Columbia Home Video, which showed interest in co-financing but rejected Soderbergh’s demand to shoot the film in black-and-white and present it in letterbox format. Virgin Vision, the film division of Richard Branson’s Virgin Group, was then approached by Mason and fellow executive producer Nancy Tenenbaum, and the company agreed to provide forty-five percent of the budget. When Soderbergh dropped his demand to shoot in black-and-white, RCA/Columbia signed on to provide the rest of the funds.
       Casting began in New York City, where Soderbergh cast Laura San Giacomo and Andie MacDowell, and continued in Los Angeles. There, James Spader lobbied for the role ... More Less

       According to production notes in AMPAS library files, Steven Soderbergh drafted the first version of the script in the fall of 1987, over the course of eight days while driving cross-country from Baton Rouge, LA, to Los Angeles, CA. Although he had previously directed 9012Live, a feature-length concert film featuring the band Yes, sex, lies, and videotape marked his first theatrically released dramatic film.
       A 19 Oct 1989 HR article cited the budget as $1.2 million, although the picture was originally planned as a $200,000 black-and-white film, as noted in the 31 May 1989 Var. Executive producer Morgan Mason received a tentative offer from Musifilm Productions, where Mason was a member of the board, to co-finance the film with Universal Pictures, in early 1988, according to a 27 May 1989 LAT article. However, Universal passed on the script. Musifilm provided “seed money” for pre-production costs, but “pulled out as solo underwriter” two months later. Around the same time, producer Robert Newmyer approached RCA/Columbia Home Video, which showed interest in co-financing but rejected Soderbergh’s demand to shoot the film in black-and-white and present it in letterbox format. Virgin Vision, the film division of Richard Branson’s Virgin Group, was then approached by Mason and fellow executive producer Nancy Tenenbaum, and the company agreed to provide forty-five percent of the budget. When Soderbergh dropped his demand to shoot in black-and-white, RCA/Columbia signed on to provide the rest of the funds.
       Casting began in New York City, where Soderbergh cast Laura San Giacomo and Andie MacDowell, and continued in Los Angeles. There, James Spader lobbied for the role of “Graham,” and was cast “on the spot” during his audition. Spader suggested Peter Gallagher for the role of “John,” and Gallagher got the part.
       A week of rehearsals preceded principal photography, which began 1 Aug 1988 in Baton Rouge. The shooting schedule entailed five six-day weeks. In addition to temperatures that reached 110 degrees Fahrenheit, cinematographer Walt Lloyd noted in a 29 Aug 1989 DV news brief that filmmakers had to contend with “biblical rains.” Lloyd also mentioned that there were no prearranged locations and “no assistant director,” although Michael Dempsey is credited onscreen as first assistant director, and Alexandra Root receives second assistant director credit. Natural sunlight was used as much as possible to light daytime interiors.
       Following principal photography, Soderbergh began editing on videotape in fall 1988 before making the final edit on film. An unfinished version of the picture with a temporary sound mix was shown on 25 Jan 1989 at the U.S. Film Festival in Park City, UT. There, sex, lies, and videotape won “Most Popular Film” and incited a bidding war between nine distributors. An 8 Mar 1989 HR news item announced that Miramax Films won domestic theatrical rights with an offer of $1.1 million and a thirty-percent distribution fee, and a guarantee of $1 million for prints and advertising. Island Pictures reportedly offered $1 million, and similarly, a thirty- percent fee and million-dollar advertising guarantee.
       Critical reception was largely positive, with consistent praise going to Soderbergh’s direction and the performances of the four lead actors. The 30 Jan 1989 DV review deemed the picture “one of the best American independent films in quite a long while,” and the 4 Aug 1989 LAT review described it as “the funniest and saddest American movie since Jim Jarmusch landed straight in the middle of our consciousness.” The film won the Palme D’Or at the 1989 Cannes Film Festival, which also awarded James Spader its Best Actor prize. The Independent Spirit Awards named it Best Feature, and awarded Soderbergh with Best Director, Andie MacDowell with Best Female Lead, and Laura San Giacomo with Best Supporting Female. sex, lies, and videotape was nominated for an Academy Award for Writing (Original Screenplay), and the following Golden Globe Awards: Best Screenplay – Motion Picture; Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama (Andie MacDowell); and Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture (Laura San Giacomo). Cinematographer Walt Lloyd won Agfa Corp’s Diamond Award for the picture, as noted in the 29 Aug 1989 DV.
       According to the 19 Oct 1989 HR, principal cast members and above-the-line crew agreed to low upfront fees in exchange for profit participation, and RCA/Columbia negotiated a fifty-fifty split of profits with profit participants once the film recouped its costs. The first profit-participation payments were reportedly made on 17 Oct 1989, after the film’s domestic gross had reached $20 million.
       Items in the 13 Oct 1989 Publishers Weekly and 16 Oct 1989 New York reported that Harper & Row paid $75,000 for publishing rights to an annotated version of the screenplay, to include production notes and an essay by Soderbergh. Charlotte Sheedy, who represented the writer-director in the deal, speculated that the $75,000 fee marked a record price for a screenplay publication deal.
       French actress Vera Feyder sued the film’s producers and distributors for unspecified damages after seeing a photograph of her face that appears on a bulletin board on Graham’s living room wall in the film, according to a 17 May 1991 HR item. The lawsuit claimed the picture could be seen five different times and its association with Graham’s lifestyle “humiliated her.” The outcome of the lawsuit could not be determined as of the writing of this Note. In another lawsuit related to the film, Virgin Vision sued the Samuel Goldwyn Company for “breach of contract and violation of the Lanham Act,” as noted in a 12 Sep 1994 Var brief. Goldwyn was found guilty of removing Virgin Vision’s credit from foreign prints of sex, lies, and videotape, and placing its own credit on the film as the distributor, despite an agreement that stipulated Goldwyn’s involvement as a foreign sales agent only. Virgin was awarded $3.3 million, and a second trial regarding Goldwyn’s failure to pay fees under a multi-picture pact with Virgin was scheduled to take place in early Nov 1994.
      End credits include the following statements: “Special thanks: Roger Savage, Chris Jenkins, John Dunn, Mark Cohen, Scott Sakamoto, Kevin Shingleton, Steve Mathis, Richard Anderson, Mark Mangini, Stephen Flick, Bill Lemoine, Julianne Nachtrab, Sonny and Andrea, Anne Humphreys, Roger Guissinger, Laura Guissinger, Tom Kobayashi, Frank Duvic, Shades of the Past Antiques, Le Garage, Sadie Mae’s”; and, “This film is dedicated to Ann Dollard, 1956-1988.” As noted in several contemporary sources, including the 31 May 1989 Var, Ann Dollard was writer-director Steven Soderbergh’s agent at Leading Artists. She was killed in a horseback riding accident before the film was completed.
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GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
30 Jan 1989
p. 8.
Daily Variety
18 Aug 1989.
---
Daily Variety
29 Aug 1989.
---
Daily Variety
6 Sep 1989.
---
Hollywood Reporter
7 Feb 1989
p. 4, 15.
Hollywood Reporter
8 Mar 1989
p. 1, 36.
Hollywood Reporter
29 Jun 1989.
---
Hollywood Reporter
6 Sep 1989
p. 1, 17.
Hollywood Reporter
19 Oct 1989
p. 3, 20.
Hollywood Reporter
17 May 1991.
---
Los Angeles Times
27 May 1989
Calendar, p. 1.
Los Angeles Times
4 Aug 1989
p. 1.
Los Angeles Times
7 Aug 1989
Section 5, p. 2.
New York
16 Oct 1989.
---
New York Times
4 Aug 1989
p. 12.
Publishers Weekly
13 Oct 1989.
---
Variety
1 Feb 1989
p. 20, 119.
Variety
31 May 1989
p. 9.
Variety
30 Sep 1992.
---
Variety
12 Sep 1994.
---
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
an Outlaw production
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Unit prod mgr
1st asst dir
2d asst dir
PRODUCERS
Prod
Exec prod
Exec prod
Exec prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Photog
Key grip
Gaffer
1st asst cam
2d asst cam
Best boy
Elec
Generator op
Film stock
ART DIRECTOR
Art dir
FILM EDITORS
Picture ed
Negative cutting
Precision Film Cutting
Negative cutting
Precision Film Cutting
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Prop master
Artwork
Artwork
Swing crew chief
COSTUMES
MUSIC
Mus rec
Acoustic guitar mus
SOUND
Prod sd mixer
Boom op
Sd asst
Foley ed
Foley rec
Sprocket Systems
Dolby stereo consultant
Sd ed and re-rec
Post-prod sd services
MAKEUP
Make-up
Hairstylist
Hairstylist
PRODUCTION MISC
Casting
Prod exec
Prod coord - L.A.
Prod coord - L.A.
Casting asst
Prod accountant
Driver
Driver
Prod asst
Prod asst
Catering
Ten/Twenty Caterers
Catering
Ten/Twenty Caterers
Film-to-tape transfers
Prod consultant
Prod insurance
Completion guarantee
The Completion Bond Co.
Legal services
Wyman Bautzer Kuchel & Silbert
Legal services
Wyman Bautzer Kuchel & Silbert
COLOR PERSONNEL
Negative processing
DETAILS
Alternate Title:
sex, lies, and videotape
Release Date:
4 August 1989
Premiere Information:
U.S. Film Festival screening: 25 January 1989
Los Angeles and New York openings: 4 August 1989
Production Date:
1 August--early September 1988
Physical Properties:
Sound
Dolby Stereo ® in Selected Theatres
Color
Lenses
Panaflex® camera and lenses by Panavision®
Prints
CFI
Duration(in mins):
100
MPAA Rating:
R
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
29715
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

In Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Ann Bishop Mullaney discusses her obsession with garbage with her therapist, who points out that Ann worries about negative things over which she has no control. She remarks that happiness is overrated and recalls gaining twenty-five pounds the last time she felt happy. Ann admits that recently she has not wanted her husband, John, to touch her, and is upset that he invited an old friend to stay at their house without asking her. Meanwhile, John, who has just been promoted to junior partner at his law firm, cancels a meeting with his client, Mr. Kirkland, and sneaks away for a rendezvous with his wife’s sister, Cynthia Bishop. After they have sex, Cynthia says she would like to consummate the affair in John and Ann’s bed at home. She is jealous of her sister’s beauty and wishes she could tell the world that Ann is bad in bed. Graham Dalton, John's college friend, arrives at the Mullaney home before John returns from work. Dressed in all black and soft-spoken, Graham asks Ann probing questions about her feelings on marriage, which she says she likes because it gives her a sense of security. Graham tells Ann it has been nine years since he saw John, and although they used to be alike, they are very different now. Later, John, Ann, and Graham have dinner. John teases Graham about his gloomy attire and recalls their fraternity days. Graham continues to question Ann, asking about her family, and Ann describes her younger sister Cynthia as “extroverted” and “loud.” John asks Graham if he plans to see his ex-girlfriend, Elizabeth, who lives in Baton Rouge, but Graham evades ... +


In Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Ann Bishop Mullaney discusses her obsession with garbage with her therapist, who points out that Ann worries about negative things over which she has no control. She remarks that happiness is overrated and recalls gaining twenty-five pounds the last time she felt happy. Ann admits that recently she has not wanted her husband, John, to touch her, and is upset that he invited an old friend to stay at their house without asking her. Meanwhile, John, who has just been promoted to junior partner at his law firm, cancels a meeting with his client, Mr. Kirkland, and sneaks away for a rendezvous with his wife’s sister, Cynthia Bishop. After they have sex, Cynthia says she would like to consummate the affair in John and Ann’s bed at home. She is jealous of her sister’s beauty and wishes she could tell the world that Ann is bad in bed. Graham Dalton, John's college friend, arrives at the Mullaney home before John returns from work. Dressed in all black and soft-spoken, Graham asks Ann probing questions about her feelings on marriage, which she says she likes because it gives her a sense of security. Graham tells Ann it has been nine years since he saw John, and although they used to be alike, they are very different now. Later, John, Ann, and Graham have dinner. John teases Graham about his gloomy attire and recalls their fraternity days. Graham continues to question Ann, asking about her family, and Ann describes her younger sister Cynthia as “extroverted” and “loud.” John asks Graham if he plans to see his ex-girlfriend, Elizabeth, who lives in Baton Rouge, but Graham evades the question. The next day, Ann joins Graham as he searches for a temporary place to live. He agrees to a month-to-month lease on an apartment, and they go to lunch. John takes the opportunity to have Cynthia over for a romp in his bedroom, as she requested. Meanwhile, Ann reveals to Graham that she thinks sex is overrated, and he confesses he is impotent. In her next therapy session, Ann relates that Graham turned out to be more interesting than she expected, and later, she tells her sister about him. Intrigued, Cynthia asks for his address so she can meet him. Ann discourages her from going to his apartment and insists Graham is not Cynthia’s “type.” As Cynthia searches in vain for one of her pearl earrings, Ann reminds her their mother’s birthday is coming up and Cynthia grudgingly agrees to split the cost of a present. At his new apartment, Graham watches a videotaped interview he conducted with a girl discussing her sex life. When Ann comes over for a visit, Graham stops the tape and hurries to his bedroom to get dressed. Ann sees the large collection of videotapes by Graham’s television and notices they are labeled with different women’s names. Although he tries to avoid the topic, Ann questions Graham about the tapes until he admits they contain interviews with women, some of whom masturbate while talking about sex. Ann becomes flustered and leaves. She calls Cynthia and forbids her going to see Graham. Cynthia ignores her sister’s wishes and offers herself to Graham as an interview subject. As Graham tapes her, Cynthia talks about her first sexual experience at eight years old, the first time she saw a penis as a teenager, and reveals her affair with John. Afterward, she shocks Ann with news about the interview and admits that she masturbated on camera. One day, Ann arrives at the bar where Cynthia works to show her the sundress she bought as their mother’s birthday gift. A phone call from John interrupts, and Cynthia tells him that Ann is also at the bar. That night, Ann wakes John up to ask if he is having an affair, and names her sister as his possible mistress. John denies the allegations and convinces her of his innocence. However, he panics when he later learns that Cynthia told Graham about their affair, worried that Graham could show the videotape to anyone. Cynthia tells him that she trusts Graham more than she does John. While cleaning her house, Ann discovers Cynthia’s pearl earring on the floor of her bedroom and her suspicions are confirmed. She goes to Graham’s apartment, bemoans her life, and insists on filming an interview, despite his reluctance to do so. Ann tells John she wants a divorce. He discovers that she filmed an interview with Graham and goes to his apartment. John punches Graham and throws him onto the front porch. He finds Ann’s videotape and watches it. In the interview, she says she has thought about having sex with Graham, and he admits he has thought about her as well. Ann turns the camera on Graham, asking about his impotence. He confesses he is a pathological liar and used to scare his loved ones by expressing his feelings “nonverbally.” Ann intuits that Graham came to Baton Rouge to show his ex-girlfriend, Elizabeth, he has changed into a better person. She criticizes him for not accomplishing more in the past nine years. Ann tells Graham she is leaving John and says he is partly responsible. Graham responds that he has been trying to avoid a situation like this for the past nine years. She approaches him and they kiss. The tape stops and John watches the television screen in shock. Outside, John tells Graham he slept with Elizabeth when she was dating Graham in college. John leaves, and Graham destroys his videotape collection. Sometime later, John discusses his divorce with a colleague, saying work has always been a priority for him, and Ann could not handle it. He receives word that his client, Mr. Kirkland, has found another lawyer, just as his boss, Mr. DeForest, demands John see him in his office. Ann delivers Cynthia a birthday present at the bar. Although Ann must go, Cynthia asks if she can call her, and Ann leaves the phone number at her new job. Later, Ann joins Graham on his porch and they hold hands as a light rain descends. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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