The journey of Moneyball from a best-selling book to screen is nearly as dramatic as the story it tells, about Oakland Athletics’ GM Billy Beane’s use of unorthodox scouting techniques to put together a winning team on a shoestring budget.
Before star Brad Pitt could step in front of the camera as Beane, he first had to deal with the dismissal of director Steven Soderbergh, whose version of the film made the studio nervous enough to halt production.
Enter director Bennett Miller (Capote) — plus a rewrite by Aaron Sorkin (the Social Network) — and things were soon underway again. Here, Miller gives Metro a step-by-step guide on how to restart a project.
STEP 1: IGNORE THE PAST
There’s this whole backstory which I was oblivious to as it was happening. You know, I didn’t really know anything until all of that went down. I was told more or less the history of what had happened and the condition of the movie and the problems that had occurred and most importantly Brad’s determination to get it made and his passion to stick with it.
STEP 2: BE IN THE RIGHT PLACE AT THE RIGHT TIME
My perspective was that I was struggling to get another movie made and finally had to concede that it was not going to happen. The timing of that coincided with the opening up of this opportunity, which it was several months after it had shut down.
STEP 3: FIND YOUR ANGLE
I read everything there was to read about it and turned it over in my head and saw what would be my way into it. It’s the dual track of this character, this story of a guy who’s trying to win baseball games, who’s just extremely competitive and desperate to do a very difficult thing, which is to win a championship with a third of the money as the rich teams. But more interesting to me was what was happening beneath that. That there’s a character who’s being driven by some personal, private issues that maybe nobody else in the story understands, meaning this is a person whose life didn’t turn out the way he had expected it to. It becomes a story about a guy who later in life chooses to be ruthlessly honest and questioning of everything in some kind of search for redemption.
STEP 4: MEET BRAD PITT
I flew to L.A. and met with Brad, and we sat and had a long conversation about how to make the movie. At that point, I don’t think anybody ever looked back.
STEP 5: DON’T WORRY ABOUT THE SCRIPT
The book reports on [Beane’s backstory] with a kind of detail that no movie could possibly cover just because it’s a book. So the way that we ultimately treated that stuff was invented very late and grew from a lot of improvisation. Most of those scouts were real scouts. The guys in the flashback who scout young Billy are both real scouts — one of which actually did scout Billy Beane back in 1979. That scene was 100 per cent improvised.
STEP 6: UNDERSTAND THE MEANING OF LIFE
The line from the movie that comes to mind is, “It’s an unfair game.” And life’s unfair, and that’s the truth. It’s just unfair. And how do you deal with that information? How do you manage that? It just seems to always go that way, like you really have to bust some heads to get anywhere sometimes.