UPDATE: Sony sources tell me that the studio expects Major League Baseball to be on board with the version that will go into production. (MLB previously had approved the Steven Soderbergh version.) It will be formally submitted to MLB in the next week or two. The big hope is that MLB plays ball because it will be difficult to make the film without them. The league gets a fat licensing fee, but it is the gatekeeper to using logos on uniforms and making stadiums available for location shooting. Optimism is high because the film doesn’t paint the sport in a disparaging fashion, which is MLB’s main concern.
EXCLUSIVE: Columbia Pictures is locking in a July start date for the Bennett Miller-directed Moneyball. The picture is close to getting a green light after the above the line participants adjusted their deals to bring the film’s budget down from near $60 million to somewhere in the vicinity of $47 million. The budget gyrations have played out over the last month, and the effort was helped by the delivery of the latest rewrite by Aaron Sorkin that has everybody excited about making the film. The participants seemed to take to heart the message of the Michael Lewis Moneyball book, which was about how Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane hurt his playing career becoming a bonus baby phenom who signed for the money, and then remade himself as a baseball executive who fielded winning A’s teams with a fraction of the payroll that rivals were spending. Considering how Universal killed the drama Cartel last week over budget and script concerns, the flexibility of the Moneyball participants probably salvaged a film that had been a question mark in recent weeks. I’m told everybody took deal haircuts, including Brad Pitt, who is certainly getting less than the $15 million he signed on for when he originally agreed to play Beane. Pitt obviously is committed to seeing this through. Many felt he would jump after Sony execs halted production on the Steven Soderbergh version of Moneyball, days before shooting was supposed to get underway last summer. That version had a $58 million price tag, and a docu-drama visual style that didn’t match the down-the-middle drama that was written by Stan Chervin and Steve Zaillian. Presumably, Pitt will be rewarded with a stronger back-end definition that gives him a bigger payday if the film succeeds, but rumors racing around Hollywood included one that Pitt would make back some of what he surrendered on Moneyball by signing on to another Columbia film, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Both the studio and Pitt’s reps denied that, noting there is no Tattoo script to even ponder. That script is being written by Zaillian, based on the Stieg Larsson novel that was already turned into a Swedish film. Certainly, the argument for Pitt to bet on himself is made easier by the success of the other recent Lewis book adaptation, The Blind Side. Sandra Bullock worked for an upfront salary of around $2.5 million, but will make tens of millions of dollars through a rich back-end definition on a film that has so far grossed $287 million worldwide and is still playing overseas. The Blind Side would not have gotten made without her willingness to bet on herself in what became an Oscar-winning performance. While Moneyball is still pricey–baseball pictures don’t traditionally do well overseas–the budget trims allow Columbia to win if the picture hits a double or better.
Miller, who last directed Capote, will begin casting soon. Beyond Pitt, he so far has locked Jonah Hill to play Beane ‘s statistics-savvy assistant Paul De Podesta. Scratched from the lineup card is the entire roster of ex-ballplayers Soderbergh had set to play themselves, including Scott Hatteberg, David Justice, Darryl Strawberry and Lenny Dykstra.