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CONTAGION

Production Information
Don't talk to anyone. Don't touch anyone. Stay away from other people.

"I think it's always compelling to watch people struggling with a real-world problem, especially one with a ticking clock, where the stakes couldn't be any higher,” states director Seven Soderbergh, whose new film, "Contagion,” raises questions about what might happen—on a personal, national and global level—if an unknown and quickly replicating deadly disease was able to spread unchecked. How would it start? How would it move? And how would we deal with it?

The inspiration for "Contagion” was sparked by a conversation, he believes, "anyone can relate to.” While working together on their previous project, "The Informant!,” Soderbergh and screenwriter Scott Z. Burns did a fair amount of traveling. Burns recalls, "Steven and I spent a lot of time on planes, and we talked about how often it seems people get sick when they travel. So the idea began as an exploration of the vulnerability of human beings in public places. I think all of us, when we come down with something, tend to think back over the past few days and who we spoke to, sat next to, or touched. It's human nature.”

Sharing airspace with a contagious passenger or handling objects that harbor bacteria and then unconsciously rubbing our eyes can result in an annoying cold, but, the two began to speculate, what if these common, innocent interactions were circulating something much worse? And what if it rapidly expanded to worldwide proportions? People could be dead before they knew what hit them.

Even more insidious, in the hours between contact and the onset of symptoms, it would be impossible to tell who had it…or who would get it next.

Matt Damon, who stars as one of the film's central characters, marks his latest of multiple creative collaborations with Soderbergh on "Contagion” and says, "Steven's movies don't leave any fat on the bone. They're lean and fast. For a subject like this, that pace mirrors the progression of the infection itself and how things spiral very quickly out of control, so you want that sense of acceleration. He knows exactly how to keep multiple threads alive and cut back to each one at the right time. The story really moves.”

"It's not often you get the opportunity to make a movie that touches on themes that resonate with everyone, and can also be an entertaining thriller,” says Soderbergh. "When Scott and I talked about doing a serious film about a pandemic, I thought that because of what's been happening in the world, plus all the advances in medicine and technology, we had to approach it in an ultra-realistic manner.” He admits, "Having been through the research now, I will never again think the same way about how we interact with one another. You cannot immerse yourself in this world and not be forever altered by your awareness of it.”

That awareness, one of the film's themes, is amplified as the virus spreads. What makes "Contagion” so frightening on both an intellectual and a visceral level is that, while fictional, it is grounded in real science and real possibilities—and seen through the drama of individual lives and relationships that could soon be lost or forever changed. "It's important that these characters feel like real people and not just medical experts or professionals in their field,” says Kate Winslet, who stars as a doctor working in one of the disease's first identified hot-spots. "You're accessing the world of this epidemic through human channels.”

Amid recent warnings of antibiotic-resistant superbugs and the ever-present concern over potential weaponization of biological agents, "we didn't have to make anything up that wasn't true, in a sense, to make it a more terrifying ride,” says Gregory Jacobs, Soderbergh's longtime producing partner. "I love a good zombie movie, but we know that's not real. The impact here comes from dealing with a horror set in our own backyards that manifests, at first, like the common cold. People look normal, they're functional, so they move around and spread it without being aware. No one realizes there's cause for concern until they're critical. And by then it's too late.”

Producers Michael Shamberg and Stacey Sher were equally intrigued by how the story taps into our most primal fears and survival instincts. "It shows not only how a virus could infiltrate the population in staggering numbers but how that could affect day-to- day life, when the familiar suddenly becomes unfamiliar and you're afraid to go back into your own house or see your friends,” Shamberg observes.

Experts assign a tipping point to such scenarios: measured in days, it's the point at which society begins to break down. Stores run out of food; banks, schools and gas stations close; borders are locked down. And though a crisis can inspire touching acts of compassion, the reality is more often panic, paranoia, and a lawlessness that quickly becomes a threat in itself.

"I think it's going to be shocking and dramatic and a little upsetting,” says Jude Law of the film's potential effect on audiences. "Also relevant in ways you don't necessarily think about every day. Not touching door handles, and coughing into your hand as opposed to your elbow….suddenly all these little things start fizzing at the forefront of your consciousness.”

Says Sher, "Steven always asks ‘What's real here, what would actually happen and what would they be saying?,' because what's real is often more chilling and smarter than anything you can make up.” With that in mind, the filmmakers drew upon information they received from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other infectious disease experts who served as technical advisors on the project— and which ultimately led her to conclude, "I think the question raised by ‘Contagion' is not whether or not this could happen. It's more a case of when.”

Burns agrees, citing, "The 1918 Spanish Flu wiped out 50 million people, one-fifth of the world's population at the time and more than the total killed in World War I. Diseases spread exponentially. It just takes 30 steps to jump from one to one billion. Factoring in the incubation period, we could reach that number in 120 days.” Burns also learned that a new virus is discovered nearly every week. "That's 52 fresh bullets loaded into a gun and aimed at the human race every year,” he says.

"Everything that happens in this movie could happen, or is already happening, which is the truly scary part,” adds Ricky Strauss, an executive producer on the film and president of Participant Media, the company created by Jeff Skoll to back movies that illuminate important social issues. After working with Soderbergh and Burns on "The Informant!,” Participant came aboard to support the development of "Contagion” and put at the filmmakers' disposal their relationships with scientists at the Skoll Global Threats Fund, who are working on pandemic research.

But science and statistics tell only part of the story. Striving to paint a picture he calls "epic in scale and ambition but also intimate,” Soderbergh tracks the pandemic's progress from several deeply personal points of view, along lines that run concurrently and influence one another but don't necessarily intersect. In this way, "Contagion” reveals not only acts of bravery and sacrifice from average people and the professionals committed to protecting them, but the sometimes flawed and emotionally driven choices that make them who they are. In the process, he notes, "Each character confronts some aspect of his

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