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'Moneyball' can't find a place in Hollywood's lineup

June 22, 2009 |  7:32 pm

BradPitt At a time when expensive adult dramas keep striking out at the box office, it appears not even Brad Pitt and director Steven Soderbergh can entice a Hollywood studio to spend about $57 million on a baseball movie.

Pitt and Soderbergh, who were given a short window to set up their adaptation of the 2003 bestselling book "Moneyball" at a rival studio after Sony Pictures unexpectedly killed the project just three days before production was to begin today, have been turned down by Warner Bros. and Paramount Pictures, which shared concerns about the film's high budget and limited commercial appeal.

Sony movie chief Amy Pascal had given them the weekend to try and set the movie up at the two studios where they have the closest ties. Pitt's production company is based at Paramount, and the actor and Soderbergh have made the "Ocean's 11" movies at Warner.

On Friday, as first reported by industry trade paper Daily Variety, Sony's Pascal pulled the plug on the production after Soderbergh turned in a rewrite of the script by Steve Zaillian that she found unacceptable, according to people close to the situation. A person informed about the matter said that Pascal had liked Zaillian's adaptation of Michael Lewis' book about Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane, but when Soderbergh's rewrite came in last Wednesday, she was surprised that there were "substantial changes."

Pascal met with Soderbergh in her Culver City office to see if he was willing to revise his take, but the two couldn't agree on a vision for the film. They also disagreed over Soderbergh's plan to shoot the film in a more improvisational documentary style, the person said.

Soderbergh She then made a last-minute decision to scrap the production, shocking those who were about to start shooting, said one individual involved in the project.

By Monday, Paramount and Warner Bros. had already decided to pass. Similarly budgeted dramas aimed at adults, such as "State of Play," "Duplicity" and "The International," have all fared poorly at the box office this year. "Moneyball" has the added burden of being about baseball, which would not only limit its appeal among women, but also overseas audiences. International receipts from theatrical, television and DVD sales typically account for more than half of a film's total sales.

As studios continue to tighten their belts, those added up to more than enough reasons to flash a red light.

"In light of the economic climate, Warner and Paramount said they weren't going to make the movie," said Pitt's manager, Cynthia Pett-Dante. She added that Pitt "totally supports Steven all the way" in his vision for the movie.

Soderbergh's manager, Michael Sugar, declined comment on behalf of the director.

One executive who had considered bringing the project to his studio said the movie would have had to gross more than $100 million at the domestic box office just to break even.

Sony is still weighing its options, which now appear limited to either convincing Soderbergh to alter his vision, proceeding with another director, or putting the entire project on the disabled list.

Either way, the studio will be on the hook for the nearly $10 million it has already spent on preproduction and screenplay development.

-- Claudia Eller, Ben Fritz and John Horn

Photos: Brad Pitt. Credit: Koichi Kamoshida, Getty Images. Steven Soderbergh. Credit: Peter Foley, European Pressphoto Agency.

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