Soderbergh beats split

Fifth time in 54 years that DGA winner failed to get Oscar

Steven Soderbergh, who vaulted to Academy prominence with a rare two nominations in the best-director category, overcame potential vote splitting as he copped his first Oscar for the drug war drama “Traffic.”

Soderbergh’s surprise win also flew in the face of historical precedent, as his win repped only the fifth time in 54 years the winner of the Directors Guild of America’s award hasn’t gone on to grab the helming Oscar. Ang Lee was awarded this year’s DGA award for outstanding directorial achievement in feature film for “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.”

Soderbergh had never been nominated for a directing Oscar before this year. He previously was nominated for best original screenplay for 1989’s “sex, lies and videotape,” his filmmaking debut.

But though it was Soderbergh’s first Oscar, he said afterwards the win won’t change his style of moviemaking.

“I’ve always followed the same methodology,” he said. “I don’t think I could alter my way of working if I tried.”

Soderbergh often writes his own screenplays and occasionally also produces, edits or — as with “Traffic” and “Ocean’s Eleven” — lenses his own pics.

But Soderbergh said he doesn’t delineate between studio and non-studio films.

“We’d all like to see good movies,” he said. “We don’t care who’s writing the check.”

So dramatic was this year’s burst into mainstream prominence for the 38-year-old Baton Rouge, La., native that thesp Julia Roberts lectured attendees at the DGA awards banquet on how to pronounce his name (Soh-der-bergh, with a long “o”).

As in the Oscars, Soderbergh was also nominated by the DGA for Roberts-toplined “Erin Brockovich.”

Roberts, who’s part of an ensemble cast in Soderbergh’s “Ocean’s Eleven” that’s currently in production, has become something of a one-woman cheerleading squad for his directing prowess. She credits his character-development instructions for shaping her Oscar-winning perf in “Brockovich.”

George Clooney, who plays lead character Danny Ocean in Soderbergh’s upcoming pic, also toplined his 1998 hijinks laffer, “Out of Sight.” Pic, an adaptation of an Elmore Leonard mystery novel, marked something of a commercial rebound for Soderbergh after his helming of niche-only fare such as “Schizopolis” and “Gray’s Anatomy,” a pair of 1996 releases.

In 1999, Soderbergh directed Terence Stamp in “The Limey,” a noir-ish drama that drew critical praise but limited box office.

By contrast, “Traffic” has been a decided commercial hit, taking in some $108 million domestically and more than $25 million in a still-young foreign rollout.

Dana Harris contributed to this report.

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