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This image released by Warner Bros. Entertainment shows director Steven Soderbergh, second from right, with actors, from left, David Harbour, Don Cheadle and Benicio Del Toro, on the set of No Sudden Move.

Claudette Barius/Warner Bros. Entertainment via AP

What did you do during the first, second and third waves of the pandemic? Probably just attempted to keep your home and mind intact, like a normal person. But Steven Soderbergh is not a normal person.

The ultra-prolific filmmaker, who flits between genres so often that the only way to peg his work is to not peg it at all, has been keeping his remarkable pace over the past 15 months. Not only did Soderbergh oversee a complete reworking of the Academy Awards this past spring, he also shot two full-length features – the first of which, a bouncy crime caper called No Sudden Move, comes out July 1 on HBO Max and Canadian streamer Crave.

But for those who know Soderbergh, who will work with him whenever the opportunity arises, none of this comes as a great surprise.

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“We’re all older and wise, but Steven’s game is even sharper. It’s very indicative of his ability to work fast and efficiently that this was one of the first movie productions to come back during the pandemic,” actor Don Cheadle says in an interview with The Globe and Mail. “Steven is also one of the authors of the Directors Guild of America protocol [for shooting during COVID-19], so we were in good hands.”

Cheadle, who headlines the jam-packed ensemble of No Sudden Move, is an old Soderbergh pro, having appeared in the director’s Ocean’s trilogy, Out of Sight and Traffic. That last film, which focused on the drug war, also featured Benicio Del Toro, who co-stars here with Cheadle, the pair playing low-level Detroit crooks who become embroiled in a messy Elmore Leonard-y scheme involving secret dossiers, gang lords and the giants of Motor City. (Cheadle calls No Sudden Move Soderbergh’s “Out of Sight 2.0,” given the themes and setting the two films share.)

“Steven has gotten quicker, faster. I think every day on this we finished very early – the shoot wrapped 10 days in advance,” says Del Toro, being interviewed alongside Cheadle. “Every movie is different. Traffic was much more complex, with three different stories coming together. What I mean by ‘faster’ here is that he’s sharper in knowing what he wants.”

Del Toro, who also worked with Soderbergh on the two-part Che biopic in 2008, goes on to recall an anecdote he once heard about the American photographer William Eggleston, who, now late in his career, goes out to take only a single shot before returning home. “He’s older, and knows what he wants more than ever before. Steven is like that in a way.”

It helps if you are also the cinematographer and editor, as Soderbergh is on his projects (albeit adopting aliases for those roles – No Sudden Move, for instance, is shot by “Peter Andrews” and edited by “Mary Ann Bernard”).

“Steven would shoot for a day, then wrap and cut the day’s footage on-set by the time the cast got back to the hotel,” recalls Jon Hamm, who is perfectly cast as an intimidating lawman in the film. “I came onboard a week after everyone started shooting and he showed me what he had so far and it was beautiful. It was only a rough assemblage, but it already looked amazing.”

Long in development, No Sudden Move was set to start shooting in Detroit in April of last year – before everything in the world fell apart. But Soderbergh was able to rewire the project’s production logistics and set a new start date of late September. While the film, written by Ed Solomon (who also worked with Soderbergh on the HBO miniseries Mosaic), bears no hallmarks of what audiences have come to recognize as pandemic-era filmmaking (small casts, single locations), it is an open question as to whether the end result would have been different had it been made back in early 2020.

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“I don’t think that his choices with regards to what he wanted to achieve would’ve changed dramatically. Maybe we would have had a little more space to breathe, especially with a lot of the interior shots, where we were mindful about how long we were in the scene because of air buildup and needing to clear out and clean sets,” Cheadle says. “And there was no returning to sets once we left, given dictates of the protocol. You had to make sure you got what you wanted, because you weren’t going to get another bite at the apple.”

While No Sudden Move’s streaming-only debut might seem like another result of pandemic realities, its release is not especially unusual for the platform-agnostic Soderbergh.

Claudette Barius/Warner Bros. Entertainment via AP

Del Toro concurs, adding, “I don’t think anything would have changed, though, [in] the way that Don or I approached our characters, or the way we went about acting on the set, either.”

While No Sudden Move’s streaming-only debut – there is no theatrical rollout planned, either here or in the United States – might seem like another result of pandemic realities, its release is not especially unusual for the platform-agnostic Soderbergh. The director has long experimented with distribution methods seen as innovative to some, unusual to others – including his 2005 film Bubble, one of the first to be released simultaneously in theatres and on premium cable TV.

“There’s always going to be a place for the communal experience of the cinema – that will never go away. But I think that Steven has proven time and again that he’s willing to push the boundaries of what exactly cinema [is],” Hamm says.

“We’ve seen those things break down over the past decade, of what is considered high-quality entertainment. But here we are. Streamers are the new thing, and they’re not going to go away. So we might as well embrace them.”

No Sudden Move is available to stream on Crave starting July 1.

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