In case you haven’t followed the ridiculous process of Amy Pascal of Sony and Columbia Tri-Star suddenly putting a full halt and turnaround on the baseball pic Moneyball, I direct you to post number one HERE and post number two HERE.
Now, we’re hearing the end of this argument and some details about what exactly went wrong with the script to make Pascal halt the $58 million dollar production mere days before the project began filming with Brad Pitt in the starring role. The word on the digital street was that the script that director Steven Soderbergh delivered was so tonally different from the Pascal-approved draft written by Schindler’s List scribe Steven Zaillian that she ground the movie to a halt. At that point, Sony had already pumped an estimated $10 million dollars into the development of the script.
What were the script details that caused Pascal to boot Soderbergh off the flick, and why is Sony so eager to save money on Brad Pitt films while risking money on George Clooney films?
The Big Picture LA Times Blog actually talked to Pascal about why Moneyball didn’t get started:
“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.
Summation: Steven Soderbergh went for an authentic re-telling of real-life events and Pascal wanted the Brad Pitt, A-List, possible Oscar nod movie she signed up for.
This would be an interesting creative vs. business argument if there wasn’t another side to the story: the Soderbergh-working-with-Major-League-Baseball side. In an interesting Left Coast/Right Coast bit of reporting dialogue, it was The New York Times that added the new piece of the puzzle:
One reason was to win the approval of Major League Baseball, which was not happy with some factual liberties in Mr. Zaillian’s version. Such approval is crucial in a baseball film that intends to use protected trademarks.
“Typically, on a film like this, we look at it for historical accuracy,” said Matthew Bourne, a vice president of Major League Baseball for public relations. “We’ve been in touch with Soderbergh and Sony, and they’ve been receptive to our requests.”
What baseball saw as accurate, Sony executives saw as being too much a documentary. Mr. Soderbergh, for instance, planned to film interviews with some of the people who were connected to the film’s story.
The executives, who had just seen disappointing results from “The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3” and “Year One,” rebelled. Ms. Pascal and Matt Tolmach, co-president of Sony’s film operation, personally told Mr. Soderbergh of their dissatisfaction.
Summation: In one corner we have Steven Soderbergh and Major League Baseball and in the other we have Sony, feeling the hurt of Year One and The Taking Of Pelham 1 2 3 underperforming as DVD and home video sales decline.
I can understand not wanting to launch a $58 million dollar Brad Pitt film unless you’re damn sure that you will make your money back, but there’s one more piece of news that seems to contradict this fiscally-responsible attitude Pascal seems to be relying on.
Namely, Sony has acquired George Clooney’s production company Smokehouse Pictures after Clooney and production partner Grant Heslov left Warner Brothers. Which is odd, because if Clooney’s flicks were making bank, Warners would have put up a fight, right?
Not to mention some interesting inclusions in the press release:
The Smokehouse Pictures team includes Senior Vice President of Development Nina Wolarsky, and creative executive Alex Meenehan. The company is currently in development on the following projects with Warner Bros:
Screenplay by Aaron Sorkin. An adaptation of Jonathan Mahler’s nonfiction book chronicling the historic Supreme Court case in which two lawyers sued the Bush administration on behalf of accused terrorist Salim Hamdan.
OUR BRAND IS CRISIS
A satirical comedy about American spin doctors competing in the same Presidential election in Bolivia. Based on the documentary by Rachel Boynton, with a script by Peter Straughan (MEN WHO STARE AT GOATS).
An adaptation of Beau Willimon’s critically acclaimed play, set during the Iowa primary of a presidential race.
ESCAPE FROM TEHRAN
The true story of how the CIA used a fake movie project to smuggle hostages out of 1979 Tehran. Chris Terrio is writing the screenplay.
A contemporary spy thriller about a spy who risks everything to reveal a conspiracy after he’s accused of a murder he didn’t commit. Based on the bestselling book by Olen Steinhauer. Tony Peckham is writing the screenplay.
THE INNOCENT MAN
Based on the bestselling nonfiction book by John Grisham, the true story of murder and injustice in a small town in Oklahoma. Adapted by David Gordon Green.
Any of those movies sound like a sure-fire hit to you? Probably not. They all sound interesting and intellectually challenging, as is the wont of Smokehouse Pictures, but marketable? As Will Smith would say: “Naw.”
As of now, Moneyball still exists as a project, though Soderbergh has been booted and Pitt is the only name attached. Pascal still has her finger on the Moneyball money button, since Steven was unable to drum up any other studio support for his accurate film while the script was in limited turnaround.
So here’s the question: What is Amy Pascal doing? Is she going to save money, make money, or simply refuse to roll the dice on a project based on creative integrity alone?
Guess what, Amy, you just made my watchlist (though you’ll never usurp the top Most Hated spot from NBC’s Ben Silverman).