Although it had a troubled history with original director Steven Soderbergh leaving just days before production was to start, Moneyball is the classic example of producers saying “never say die.” That is certainly the case with Rachael Horovitz, who originally optioned the Michael Lewis book Moneyball: The Art Of Winning An Unfair Game, which dealt with Oakland A’s General Manager Billy Beane’s attempts to put together a successful team using unorthodox methods and a miniscule budget. Horovitz, a former VP at Fine Line Features and an exec at Revolution Studios, won an Emmy and Golden Globe for her company Specialty Films’ maiden voyage, Grey Gardens, and was bound and determined to make this movie happen. Eventually Sony got into a bidding war with Warner Bros and brought in Horovitz’s former New Line colleague Michael De Luca to co-produce. De Luca — New Line and DreamWorks’ former production head and now a successful producer of films like The Social Network, 21, Ghost Rider and the upcoming Butter and The Sitter — helped shape the film before Soderbergh’s exit and remained a strong force afterward when his Social Network colleague Scott Rudin came on board. Horovitz and De Luca talked to Deadline Awards Columnist Pete Hammond about the many curveballs Moneyball faced on its way to the screen — and six Oscar nominations including Best Picture and Best Actor for Brad Pitt.
AWARDSLINE: Rachael, you started this project, you optioned the book. Tell me how this came about.
HOROVITZ: The book had terrific heart. I felt that (the role of) Billy Beane would be great for an actor, and that the human story of the material was relatable. I was certain that the rights wouldn’t be available and they were. So, stunned, I took a shot at trying to set it up and discovered that all of the studios passed on it. So then I went back to the drawing board and came up with a pitch and set it up at Sony. Mike was just moving over from DreamWorks to being a producer at Sony and we had worked together at New Line.
AWARDSLINE: Both of you had worked on a lot of projects together at New Line?
HOROVITZ: Two favorite projects we developed were Rushmore, which we didn’t get to make, and About Schmidt.
DE LUCA: I knew if it was a Rachael Horovitz project, it was going to be elevated, plus she’s got great taste. So when I came into Columbia, I leapt at this project, one, because of Rachael and two, because I read the book and immediately connected it.
AWARDSLINE: At what point did Steven Zaillian come on to write this?
DE LUCA: He came in when we knew there was interest from Brad Pitt.
AWARDSLINE: Steven Soderbergh was involved early on and at one point left the project for several years.
HOROVITZ: He was the person that I wanted when I read the book and so I had conversations with him about doing it before it was even set up. It didn’t solidify until we had Brad Pitt. Brad always loved the book and hoped we would come to him with a convincing package. He had other stuff on his plate but always said to keep him in the loop.
AWARDSLINE: But then the project went awry. What happened?
DE LUCA: It was an honest case of creative differences in the end. Steven pursued an aesthetic with his re-writing of the Zaillian script that went in a direction that some of us, and Sony, didn’t want to continue. Steven was an advocate for replacing Zaillian’s flashbacks, which illustrate Billy Beane’s life as a player both as a high school player and in the minors and majors, with interviews from contemporaries, which would be shot a la Reds. Everybody reacted favorably to Steven’s initial instincts. It was the eventual final re-write that was submitted before production began that caused the most serious gut check.
AWARDSLINE: That was close to the start of production. Is this the kind of situation that just freaks you out? It’s a week before cameras roll, you’ve got Brad Pitt and suddenly you don’t have Soderbergh. What do you do?
DE LUCA: Rachael can back me up: As a producer you are designed for this. You are accustomed to dealing with adversity and things not happening. Your tool set is to never lose faith. So it didn’t faze us because we were so passionate about the material.
AWARDSLINE: How fast did you put it back together? And did Bennett Miller come in before Scott Rudin and Aaron Sorkin?
DE LUCA: Because we were all on Social Network together, Rudin came with Sorkin to jump-start the post-Soderbergh version. Aaron wrote a new draft in a short time because he’s very fast. That script got Bennett Miller interested.
AWARDSLINE: How long was it before you got the project back on track?
HOROVITZ: It was about three months before Bennett came into the mix.
AWARDSLINE: And Brad Pitt continued to stay with the project? Pitt is close to Soderbergh, having starred in a few of his films.
DE LUCA: Brad was so committed to that character and the story of Moneyball in total. I think that’s what carried him through this transitional period.
AWARDSLINE: Are you surprised at the film’s box office and critical success?
DE LUCA: In a way, we weren’t surprised. From Bennett’s first pitch to watching Brad and him shoot the movie, to watching different post production cuts — we knew he had made an inspirational, emotional movie about this man’s quest for wisdom. It’s always nice when the general response to a film echoes what you’ve always felt as you shepherded it.
AWARDSLINE: In terms of awards strategy you ended up entering the movie in the drama category for the Golden Globes, and it didn’t work out. With the Academy you didn’t have that problem. Mike, you went through this whole awards-season process last year with The Social Network. Do you think it’s important?
DE LUCA: It’s always the icing on the cake. You never plan for it. I was humble and grateful in the face of it; it was my first experience with anything on that level. What it does in a great way is focus additional PR on the movies that have moved us during the year. One always hopes with every movie, that it connects and moves people. The season is a great place where movies are celebrated. There’s no downside to it.