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Sony's Amy Pascal speaks out about 'Moneyball'

Moenyballpic

It's never an easy decision when a studio head has to pull the plug on a big movie, as Amy Pascal did last week when she shut down "Moneyball," a $58-million Steven Soderbergh film that was set to star Brad Pitt as Billy Beane, the maverick general manager of the Oakland A's who almost singlehandedly reinvented the way baseball scouts and develops young talent.

The movie, based on the bestselling book by Michael Lewis, wasn't just in pre-production. It was literally five days away from filming when Soderbergh turned in a new version of the script that Pascal and her Sony team found unacceptable. The decision was so abrupt that the film's producer, Michael DeLuca, got the call about it while on his honeymoon in Paris. As a courtesy to the talent, Pascal gave them an opportunity to try and set the film up elsewhere, but no other studio has shown any interest. So the movie remains at Sony, but will it ever get made? Will Pitt stick with the project? And what exactly went wrong?

Although stories about the film's abrupt demise have appeared everywhere -- with Variety getting the original scoop -- Pascal hasn't talked about the decision until now. To hear her tell it, Soderbergh delivered a script that was inventive but a radical departure from the film Sony thought he was going to make. It was, put simply, more of a dramatic re-creation than a feature film.

"I've wanted to work with Steven forever, because he's simply a great filmmaker," Pascal told me today. "But the draft he turned in wasn't at all what we'd signed up for. He wanted to make a dramatic reenactment of events with real people playing themselves. I'd still work with Steven in a minute, but in terms of this project, he wanted to do the film in a different way than we did."

Soderbergh's last-minute revisions represented a huge change from the shooting script I read when I was working on a story about the film during its pre-production. The script, written by Oscar winner Steve Zaillian, was a baseball movie, but it was loaded with great comic moments and dazzling dialogue that captured the frenetic energy of Beane, a strikingly good-looking former phenom who washed out after a brief stint in the majors, only to resurface as a general manager who operated more like "Entourage's" Ari Gold than the buttoned-down insiders who normally run big-league teams. Beane was a born hustler, always wheeling and dealing, staying one step ahead of his rivals as he scouted unlikely unknown minor leaguers to replace the high-priced free agents a small-market team like the Oakland A's couldn't afford.

Soderbergh wouldn't talk to me about all this, but it seems clear that he became obsessed with authenticity, replacing many of Zaillian's inspired scripted set-pieces with actual interviews with the real people who were involved in the events. The Soderbergh aesthetic, according to one source close to the film, was simple: If it didn't happen in real life, it wasn't going to be in the movie. That might make for an intriguing art film, but it clearly was no longer a film that any studio would spend $58 million to make, especially with baseball films having virtually no appeal outside of the U.S.

"Steven wanted to tell the story through these interviews with the real people, as they commented on Beane," Pascal explains. "But there are lots of ways to tell a true story. We were just more comfortable with what we thought was a wonderful draft from Steve Zaillian."

What did Soderbergh do that managed to get Sony to pull the plug on a go movie? Keep reading:

Some changes to Zaillian's script were subtle, others were dramatic. At one point, Beane signs Scott Hatteberg, a journeyman catcher with a bad arm whom Bean can get for peanuts and turn into a first baseman. Beane loves Hatteberg's ability to get on base, but his staff is appalled -- he just can't turn anyone into a slick-fielding first baseman overnight. In Zaillian's script, one of the coaches watches Hatteberg taking ground balls at a Little League field, his wife armed with a plastic laundry basket full of baseballs. She hits the balls to her husband off a tee, with their 4-year-old daughter backing him up down the line. One ball takes a bad hop and goes between Hatteberg's legs. When his daughter scoops it up, the coach quips: "Maybe we should sign her."

Soderbergh cut out the joke because it was the screenwriter's invention -- the coach had never actually said it. He also cut out a scene where Beane gives a tongue-lashing to Jason Giambi, one of his departing free agents, again because it didn't actually happen. Zaillian's script was anchored by on-screen monologues by Bill James, the oddball guru of modern-day baseball statistics (who today works in the Boston Red Sox front office). James functioned as a Greek chorus for the film, offering wry, Yoda-like explanations about the complexity of the game.

Zaillian's deft renditions of James' maxims were funny and always to the point, allowing the audience the opportunity to see inside the game. In one monologue, James says: "If you score three runs and the other team scores four, you can be inspired as all hell but you still lost. The numbers represent the ineluctable sum of victories and defeats, and that cannot be made one iota larger or smaller than it is by PR campaigns, personal animosities or any of the greater and lesser forms of B.S." But in Soderbergh's draft, the James material had all vanished, presumably to be replaced by interviews with Beane's real-life associates.

The Sony production team and Soderbergh ended up having a summit meeting after everyone had read Soderbergh's draft of the script. Pascal wouldn't discuss what was said, but other sources close to the project say that Soderbergh asked the Sony executives to trust him, saying that even if what they wanted wasn't on the printed page, he would find a way to capture the drama and the humor of the story when he was on the set, filming interactions with the real-life baseball people. 

Studios get nervous when directors say "Trust me." Sony was especially concerned, wondering if the end result would be one of Soderbergh's "experimental" films, like "Bubble" or "The Girlfriend Experience," not one of his more polished gems, like "Out of Sight" or "Ocean's Eleven." For now, the project remains in limbo, with Sony having sunk nearly $10 million into the film already. The studio still needs to find out whether Pitt, who is intensely loyal to Soderbergh, will stay with the project. As Pascal put it: "We really hope we can still make this with Brad Pitt."

Sony would also have to find a new director who is not only a good fit for the material but would pass muster with Pitt, who has director approval on his films. To find a director with enough stature or buzz to attract Pitt won't be easy. The most likely options would be for the studio to go in more of a comic direction -- possibilities being Jay Roach or Jason Reitman -- or toward a more dramatic choice, like Gary Ross or even George Clooney, who is putting the finishing touches on a two-year production deal with the studio. (My own pick would be someone with a sharp, subversive edge, like Pete Berg.)

Pascal insists there's no bad blood between her and Soderbergh, saying the two plan to meet in the coming days to discuss other possible projects. In the meanwhile, she remains an ardent believer in the film. "We love this movie, we always have and we still want to make it. It's a completely innovative way to tell a baseball story. It's about wanting to believe in magic, which is what baseball is all about." 

I'd still say that makes "Moneyball" a longshot. Or to put it in baseball terms, this is a project that will need to stage a big late-inning rally to put a win up on the scoreboard.  

RELATED:

Why the new Brad Pitt film is right on the 'Money'

Photo of Billy Beane (left) by US Presswire; Brad Pitt by EPA

 
Comments () | Archives (35)

The comments to this entry are closed.

jed red, you are so right. It is stunning that anyone can look at the East Bay, with its 4 or 5 million people, and call the A's a "small market" team - yet the Atlanta Braves play in a city smaller than Tucson and are somehow a major market. And Green Bay (pop. 101,000) has a longstanding NFL team with multiple Super Bowl rings, but LA can't keep a team around. A team is only "small market" if it allows itself to think that way.

Billy Crystal would be the perfect director for this movie

Oh the irony! Maybe Pascal and Co. should have learned a thing or two from the source material about succeding with role players on a shoestring budget.

Another potentially unique and satisfying project sunk by inflated above-the-line costs...

I'm not saying it wouldn't have been a good movie in either version, but a studio has to be on crack these days to greenlight a sports movie, esp. one directed by Clooney (anyone remember "Leathernecks"? Didn't think so.) Pitt is a star, but like all movie stars today, he's not a guarantee unless he's in something like his recent hits, SMITH and BUTTON. A $58 million price tag is just insane from a business standpoint, esp. if you consider the P&R and back end deal of the above the line players. No way this would have made money. I'm betting Sony is glad they found a way out of this deal. And, oh yeah: Peter Berg is "subversive"? Because "The Rundown" and "The Kingdom" were such edgy movies???

I'd rather watch a movie about the janitor at Sony pictures, than a movie about the book Moneyball. What the hell are these people thinking? And they've already spent $10M ??? They should have given it to Kevin Smith. He could have made Clerks 12 ... I also don't want to see Brad Pitt in a movie until he loses whats-her-name.

Someone should try to get their hands on copies of letters that were sent to Sony from various members of the actual story, specifically the one from Paul DePodesta and Thad Bosley. Although they are written by people outside of "the business", they make some really interesting points about fear, integrity and, essentially, the state of the industry (and also confirm that Major League Baseball nor Paul or Billy would have ever approved the Zailian fairy tale draft). And, unlike this piece, they give further insight into the other side. Bottom line, OSCAR-WINNING DIRECTOR director Steven Soderbergh had a vision and at least someone at Sony was supporting it from February until that very last day, giving notes, authorizing paychecks. Business Affairs sent out contracts to every single baseball player and coach he was using for the last six weeks before the shutdown. Breakdown of communication? It couldn't have been the big surprise painted in this lame excuse for journalism....

As an insider that was working in the production office on "Moneyball", after reading Patrick Goldstein’s latest blog entry, “Sony’s Amy Pascal speaks out about ‘Moneyball’”, I can’t understand how a “journalist” has not done his research – nor has he dug deep enough to get to the true core of the story.

First and foremost, Soderbergh had been upfront with the direction in which he intended to take the film from the very beginning of his employment. In fact, it was clear to all of us - whether in the Art Department or the Costumes Department, etc. – that Soderbergh intended to use real people to play themselves in the creation of the true story of "Moneyball". Additionally, for months Soderbergh had been shooting interviews with real ball players and people from Billy Beane’s past, and the studio approved these shoots. How could the studio then at the eleventh hour claim that his approach was a surprise to them? He intended to tell the true story rather than a fictitious version of the story. How innovative.

What exactly is wrong with making a movie accurate? And since when does an authentic film translate as an “art” film? I know numerous people that thought that Soderbergh’s approach sounded insightful and interesting and true to the game and what really happened. If baseball lovers and non-baseball lovers alike in my large social network felt this way (not to mention the hundreds of bloggers that were fans of the concept), why couldn’t this approach have universal appeal?

Here’s a FACT that Goldstein failed to mention: Major League Baseball would not approve Zaillian’s draft with all of the fictionalized accounts of what did not happen. At least Michael Cieply of the NY Times mentioned that in his article this morning.

Here’s another fact: Soderbergh’s script dated June 17, 2009 was not the first script that he handed in to Sony. On June 7th, Soderbergh submitted a draft to the studio with the following note on the first page:

“NOTE: Scenes involving Billy Beane’s minor and major league career have been removed from this draft. They will be determined by filmed interviews with scouts, coaches, managers, players and family members who were with him at the time.”

Sony executives read this draft. And Sony executives gave Soderbergh their notes. Clearly Amy Pacal did not read this draft – if she had, maybe the drama that began with the June 17th draft could have been avoided...

Another fact: Soderbergh handed in yet another draft dated June 10, 2009 with this note on the first page:

“NOTE: Billy Beane’s minor and major league career will be shown via filmed interviews with scouts, coaches, managers, players and family members who were with him at the time. These interviews will comprise approximately ten percent of the film.

“Another ten percent of the film will consist of re-enactments of real events as remembered by the people playing themselves. The purpose of these scenes will be to provide set-up and perspective for subjects, situations, or relationships which currently appear in the screenplay without the requisite/normal amount of context.”

Now why in the world was Amy Pascal so shocked (or, rather, “apoplectic” as it was relayed to the production team) when she read the June 17th draft? Could Soderbergh have made his intentions any more clear? Even if these executives did not read beyond PAGE 1, they would have known the direction in which he wanted to take the film – and they should have perhaps reported that to their boss. And maybe, just maybe, if there had been communication with their boss, maybe, just maybe, another avenue could have been taken rather than pulling the plug three days before the film was supposed to start shooting. For instance, maybe they could have delayed principal photography while script/concept issues were resolved.

Another thought: Not only did this “journalist” not do thorough research (for example, did he try to contact any of the producers?), Goldstein did not even mention the fact that on the day that Amy Pascal pulled the plug, there were 230 people that were working on "Moneyball". Now those 230 people are all out of jobs.

When Soderbergh had to address a stage filled with my fellow crew members who were about to lose their jobs, he told us that just as "Moneyball" was the unorthodox version of building baseball teams, "Moneyball" the movie was the unorthodox way of making a film. Unfortunately, Amy Pascal does not believe in Moneyball as a concept; otherwise the film would be in its second week of shooting right now.

Brilliant!!! Grab some headlines with the thing before it even starts production! $100 Sony makes this thing with little or no time lost.

Soderbergh would have a made a great subversive movie about the baseball industry.
Zaillian's version would have been as authentic to football as Jerry Maguire, a fine film but ultimately says nothing about the game or its players. When a major film director like Soderbergh schooled in the great 70's era of authentic "based on" movies like All The Presidents Men gets canned by a studio all we can do is read Roger Eberts review on the seminal fact meets fiction Medium Cool, Haskell Wexlers film on the '68 Democratic Convention. Movies must always be about something Patrick, always.

http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/19690921/REVIEWS/909210301/1023

To the shrill, taunting web posters (here and elsewhere) braying for Amy Pascal's blood (and PItt/Zallian/Lourd's), while calling her 'an idiot', 'a crazy executive bitch' and a 'feminazi' - please stop. It's ugly.

Is this supposed to help Soderbergh? I feel it does the opposite. Soderbergh deserves civilized and literate advocates.

PS an ellipsis has three dots...NOT TWO.

 
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