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Soderbergh’s ‘Bubble’ will defy convention

The film is the first to try to close the theater and DVD release gap
/ Source: The Associated Press

It’s the fast-food equivalent of being discovered at Schwab’s — except unlike the legend of Lana Turner, this story is true.

Debbie Doebereiner was asked to star in Steven Soderbergh’s new movie, “Bubble,” after a casting director spotted her in the drive-through window at the Kentucky Fried Chicken in Parkersburg, W.Va., where Doebereiner had worked for 24 years.

To say that she would seem an unlikely choice would be an understatement. The 47-year-old mother of two grown children and grandmother of two acknowledges, “I’ve had a weight problem my whole life.” The day casting director Carmen Cuba saw her was the day KFC introduced its 99-cent Snacker sandwiches, and as the restaurant’s general manager, Doebereiner guesses she’d made about 500 of them.

“I was pretty frazzled,” the redhead said. “I looked in the mirror in the restroom — I had sauce all over me, my hat was on sideways, my hair was sticking out all over.”

And then there is the small fact that Doebereiner had never acted a day in her life. That’s only fitting, though, for a project that’s unorthodox on every level.

“Bubble,” about a murderous love triangle at a small-town doll factory, was shot on high-definition video and runs just 73 minutes. It had no script: Doebereiner and her co-stars, all non-actors from the southern Ohio-West Virginia border where the movie was set, improvised their dialogue based on an outline by screenwriter Coleman Hough, who also wrote Soderbergh’s similarly stripped-down “Full Frontal.”

Closing the gapThe most unusual part of all hasn’t even happened yet. When “Bubble” comes out on Jan. 27, it will appear simultaneously in theaters and on cable television, with a DVD release scheduled for just a few days later. Amid dwindling box-office numbers and rampant piracy, it’s an experimental alternative to the traditional movie-release method.

“The biggest thing is people having access to the movie who might not have access to it for a while,” Soderbergh told The Associated Press. “They might have read about it and they’re interested but they don’t live near an art cinema, or they don’t have a video store that carries this kind of stuff, and this way they can get it and get a hold of it as soon as they’ve heard about it.”

After high-profile, star-studded films like “Ocean’s Eleven” and “Traffic,” which earned him a best-director Oscar, Soderbergh returns to his low-budget, “sex, lies and videotape” roots with the $1.6 million movie. It’s the first of six he plans to shoot and release the same way with Todd Wagner and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, who co-own two production companies (2929 Productions and HDNet Films), two television channels (HDNet and HDNet Movies), Landmark Theatres, Magnolia Pictures and Magnolia Home Entertainment.

“I approached them because I’d read that they’d bought the Landmark Theatre chain,” Soderbergh said. “They control all the forms of distribution for their own product — now’s the time to try this idea of simultaneous release. You really need someone who’s into each of those pies to pull it off. And so I called Todd and said, ‘Let’s hook up and have lunch and talk about this. Don’t you feel — don’t we all feel — like this is where it’s going?”’

“Steven was like, ‘Well, I’ve got some movies that might make sense if you guys are willing to do this,”’ Wagner added. “’Well, yeah, let’s sit down and figure out how we can do this.’ If Todd and Mark say it, it’s one thing. If Steven says it, too, it adds a whole new credibility level.”

Releasing a film like “Bubble” this way isn’t terribly risky “because it’s small,” Soderbergh said — and the plan was to make it small from the beginning. Hough found the doll factory while searching online for a location. Actors were chosen from the area — co-star Misty Dawn Wilkins was getting her diploma from the beauty salon where a scene in “Bubble” was shot — and they sometimes incorporated elements from their own lives into the dialogue.

Using first-time actorsDustin James Ashley, whose character is caught between both women, really has the panic disorder he talks about in the movie which makes him anxious in crowds — so much so that he avoided the movie’s Parkersburg premiere on Thursday.

“The non-actor thing was an idea that was with me from the start, ’cause I was just really interested in that idea after coming out the other end of ‘K Street,”’ Soderbergh said, referring to the HBO series he created with producing partner George Clooney that featured Washington politicians playing themselves. “I’d had some really interesting experiences with people who weren’t actors and thought, well it’d be cool to do a whole movie with people who’d never been in front of the camera.”

Directing people with no experience isn’t a huge change from directing seasoned actors like Clooney and Julia Roberts because “you can have the same kind of conversation,” Soderbergh said.

“It’s just a different kind of activity. It’s like comparing two different sports: The bottom line is, you enjoy playing both of them but they’re very different sports. ‘Bubble’ has its own set of pleasures and problems and a film like ‘Ocean’s’ has its own set of pleasures and problems,” he said.

“And yet at the same time,” he added, “you show up every day and try to have an idea of how to make something better or how to make it come alive, and it doesn’t matter whether you have five people standing around or 105.”

As for Doebereiner, the whole experience has been “like a dream.”

“The first day of shooting we were all a little nervous but I kept thinking, what’s the worst that can happen? We can start this out and they say, ‘It’s not working out, we can find someone else,”’ she said. “That never happened. It was like magic — we each put the others at ease.”

Doebereiner has since retired from KFC and said she’d love to make another movie, but added, “Whatever happens, happens. I would not begin to know how to pursue it. If it’s meant to be, it would be.”