Moneyball: From Page to Screen

Moneyball is based on the true story of Billy Beane (Brad Pitt), once a would-be baseball superstar who, stung by the failure to live up to expectations on the field, turned his fiercely competitive nature to management.  Heading into the 2002 season, Billy faces a dismal situation: his small-market Oakland A’s have lost their star players (again) to big market clubs (and their enormous salaries) and is left to rebuild his team and compete with a third of their payroll. Driven to win, Billy takes on the system by challenging the fundamental tenants of the game.

He looks outside of baseball, to the dismissed theories of Bill James, and hires Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), a brainy, number-crunching, Yale-educated economist.  Together they take on conventional wisdom with a willingness to reexamine everything and armed with computer driven statistical analysis long ignored by the baseball establishment.  They reach imagination-defying conclusions and go after players overlooked and dismissed by the rest of baseball for being too odd, too old, too injured or too much trouble, but who all have key skills that are universally undervalued. 

As Billy and Peter forge forward, their new methods and roster of misfits rile the old guard, the media, the fans, and their own field manager (Philip Seymour Hoffman), who refuses to cooperate. Ultimately this experiment will lead not only to a change in the way the game is played, but to an outcome that would leave Billy with a new understanding that transcends the game and delivers him to a new place.

Columbia Pictures presents a Scott Rudin / Michael De Luca / Rachael Horovitz production, Moneyball.  Directed by Bennett Miller.  Produced by Michael De Luca, Rachael Horovitz, and Brad Pitt.  Screenplay by Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin.  Story by Stan Chervin.  Based on the book by Michael Lewis.  Executive Producers are Scott Rudin, Andrew Karsch, Sidney Kimmel, and Mark Bakshi.  Director of Photography is Wally Pfister, ASC.  Production Designer is Jess Gonchor.  Edited by Christopher Tellefsen, A.C.E.  Costume Designer is Kasia Walicka Maimone.  Music by Mychael Danna.

 

Moneyball, which has been rated PG-13, will be released in theaters nationwide on September 23, 2011.

 

From Page to Screen

In 2003, former Salomon Brothers bond trader turned author Michael Lewis, at the time best known for such business and politics bestsellers as Liar’s Poker and The New New Thing, published a book about baseball. Only it wasn’t just about baseball. On the surface, it was about how the under-funded, underrated Oakland A’s took on an unfair system of big-money and powerhouse teams.  But it was really about the fascinating mix of men behind a major cultural shift and how a risky vision, born from necessity, becomes reality, when a ragtag team of cast-offs rejected due to unfounded biases, get the chance to finally prove their potential.

Lewis’s book has been adapted into a feature film, Moneyball, starring Brad Pitt as Billy Beane, the A’s General Manager – the man who would have to think differently and reinvent the rules if his team was going to compete.  “Moneyball is a classic underdog story,” says Pitt, who also serves as a producer of the project.  “They go up against the system.  How are they going to survive, how are they going to compete?  Even if they do groom good talent, that talent gets poached by the big-market, big-money teams.  And what these guys decided was, they couldn’t fight the other guy’s fight, or they were going to lose.  They had to re-examine everything, to look for new knowledge, to find some kind of justice.”

At first glimpse, Lewis’ best-selling and groundbreaking book does not lend itself to a film adaptation. The book is a study of inefficiencies and oversights within the markets of the game of baseball and features case studies of undervalued items, (players, strategies, tactics), using analyses of statistics and theories.  But at the center of it all is Billy Beane on a quixotic quest and as his story unfolds, something unexpected happens. His pursuit of a championship leads to something larger and more meaningful. The hallways and front offices of the Oakland Coliseum become an unlikely setting for inspiration and redemption.  

Lewis’ book shed light on the hindrances of groupthink and how irrational intuition and conventional ‘wisdom’ have dominated institutions throughout history.  Challenging a system invariably provokes a fight.  The film Moneyball builds its foundation from the experience of one man who chooses to take on that fight.  Piercing through the layers of statistics, the film finds the quieter, deeper, and more personal story of Billy Beane, which bristles with moments of self-doubt and real life courage.

“Whenever a book is adapted into a movie, there are two possibilities: either the filmmakers stick to the book, or they make up their own story,” says Michael Lewis.  “With Moneyball, frankly, I wondered how they were going to do it, because the book doesn’t necessarily have a single narrative or the kind of dramatic arc you usually see in a movie.  So it was truly tough to crack the code and get it right and it was an extremely pleasant surprise to see that Bennett and the screenwriters did the impossible – not only did I love the movie, but I was stunned by how well it represents my book.  It is honest and true to what happened with Billy and the A’s and what they achieved.”

That story is very close to Pitt and one that he was uniquely suited and positioned to see through, as both an actor and a producer.  He has played a variety of roles and characters and often makes surprising choices – yet has never played an iconoclast like Billy Beane, a fiercely competitive middle-aged family man, driven by a desire to win – and perhaps, even more importantly, reinvent himself.  Pitt’s determination to play this part on the screen resulted in a dogged support from the actor/producer, one he saw through a long development process in the effort to get it right.  Moneyball found a match with director Bennett Miller. Miller had a garnered a rare first-timer’s Oscar nomination for Best Director with his debut film, the acclaimed Capote.

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