Sony Knew What Soderbergh Was Up to on Moneyball ScriptS

Yesterday we posted Sony's take on why Moneyball, the Soderbergh/Pitt film based on Michael Lewis' book, died five days before shooting was to start. Now someone close to the project has provided us with a different version of events.

First, let's briefly recap what we and others have reported so far: The film was set to begin shooting last week. Five days before the start of shooting, director Steven Soderbergh turned in a rewrite of the original script, which was written by Steven Zaillian, that Sony executives, led by co-Chairman Amy Pascal, did not like. The studio felt that Soderbergh, who was insistent that every event in the film had to have taken place in real life, was taking the film in an "artsy" direction that they weren't willing to gamble $58-million dollars on, so they killed it. That's the short version of events according to Amy Pascal anyway.

Since then a few more details about the project emerged. Movieline and Deadspin provided some new information in reports of their own, and today the New York Times has an article that sheds some light on Soderbergh's zeal for authenticity.

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.

All of this brings us to the information provided to us by a tipster who'd been working on the project and has a decidedly different point of view than that of Amy Pascal and Sony.

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?

Regarding the notion that Sony executives were shocked to discover the direction Soderbergh planned on taking the film:

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 Pascal 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.

Our tipster closed with this note:

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 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.

So there you have it—Another side of the story. All of this is obviously meaningless in the grand scheme of life, not to mention very "inside baseball" (pun intended), but it's so damn fun to talk about. We anxiously await the next bit of backbiting to emerge between the Sony and Soderbergh camps.

Why Did Sony Kill the Pitt/Soderbergh Film Adaptation of Michael Lewis' Moneyball [Previously]
MLB Approval Still Murky as Moneyball Circles the Drain [Movieline]
Money Worries Kill A-List Film at Last Minute [New York Times]
Soderbergh's Moneyball Script Too Real to Get Made [Deadspin]
pic via Vulture