By David Poland firstname.lastname@example.org
What Is Really The Story On Moneyball?
I don’t have an answer. But I am 98% sure that the simplified line being floated out there that Amy Pascal was either asserting herself or just couldn’t find it in her heart to back the script changes is not the full story.
Financially, Pitt’s success in foreign countries is undeniable… and in Moneyball, he would be playing a major charismatic, chiseled, former athlete. Looking at a $58 million budget for this film, take this into account: Since 1994 – fifteen years – Brad Pitt has been in One movie that didn’t gross $50 million internationally. ONE. He has been in Two movies that grossed less than $100 million worldwide. TWO. And one of them was Snatch, made for under $15 million, grossing $84 million worldwide, a profit before DVD of at least $15 million, probably more.
This leaves ONE financial argument against betting with Pitt… The Assassination of Jesse James, which WB sat on for a year before dumping it domestically, and not releasing it foreign until after the US flop had registered against it, tainting the film everywhere it went.
Add this to the equation… Pitt’s last nine films, starting with Ocean’s Eleven at the end of 2001, have all grossed OVER $100 million in foreign markets alone… with the one exception of Jesse James. And it’s not just Ocean’s movies… it’s Babel ($101m), it’s Burn After Reading ($101m), and its The Curious Case of Benjamin Button ($205m). Pitt hasn’t made a single movie that hasn’t done 150% of domestic since The Mexican in 2001.
You have to work long and hard to convince yourself that Brad Pitt playing a charismatic in a $60 million modern era, film is a bad risk. Meet Joe Black was a 3 hour long disaster with Pitt playing a zombie through most of the film and it did $143 million worldwide in 1998 box office dollars… which is the low end of the modern Pitt box office curve.
Thing is… this is, indeed, happening all over town lately. We’re not talking about overinflated comedies from solid box office players who want to time warp or Hawaii themselves into spending more than $100 million… or even $80 million on backlot set comedies. $60 million… Brad Pitt… unusual… but no more so than Burn After Reading ($161m ww).
Add this… Sony eats $15 million to $20 million on the movie if they shut it down. It will never come back to life, most likely, but if it does, not a dollar they spent aside from the book buy will go towards the film itself. If the film did just $160m worldwide, that’s $88 million in rentals against $58m in production and, say, $80 million in marketing. A $50 million shortfall that should more than be made up by DVD and other post-theatricals. But it’s really a $30 million shortfall from where they are today, so the choice to put the movie into “limited turnaround” is a choice to lose money on a project that is all but guaranteed to make money at this budget price.
Using the $20 million already laid out, how low would the worldwide box office have to be for this movie to lose a dollar for the studio? Estimate: about $120 million. $66m bo rentals, $35m post-theatrical, $20m against the film = $121m – $58m production – $63m marketing.
And note again, only 3 times in the last 15 years has a Brad Pitt film failed to top $130m worldwide. One, Snatch, made money. Fight Club, which did only $100 million in 1999, cost slightly more than Moneyball, though marketing was tens of millions lower on average in those days, but probably still lost a little money… not $20 million. The third was the infamous Jesse James.
The Devil’s Frickin’ Own did $140 million ww in 1997 with the most negative wave of media you can imagine!
But again… stupid choices are being made all over town, as they always have. But it is hyper-intense at the moment because studios are cash-strapped, credit-strapped, and under enormous pressure from the parent companies.
What’s the real story at Sony? They made The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 for $100 million. I like the movie (not everyone did) and it may catch up with its cost overseas, but it has a looong way to go. And this weekend, the $60 million Year One, signaled a domestic gross of less than $60 million and a foreign gross of $40 million or less.
So you tell me… is Amy Pascal being a hero and battening down the hatches against out-of-control superstar salaries or is she feeling the heat (Paul Blart seems like decades ago already) and wildly overreacting to a draft she doesn’t like as much as the last one, throwing away a smartly priced movie with one of the planet’s five biggest movie stars?
The irony is that Soderberg & Zaillian have not crafted what they see as “a baseball movie.” Soderbergh’s position on this film is not one like The Good German, a black and white dramatic experiment with another Ocean’s an easy next step for the studio. He said to me, “Moneyball has to work. This one has to work.” What was the context? That this was the opportunity to make a very successful film that would allow him to keep doing his smaller films for a few years until he needed to feed the commercial beast again.
The great lie of Hollywood, at the moment, is that actions are being taken for the best of the studio. The truths are “we can’t afford it,” “our egos won’t allow it,” “we f-ed up the last one and we don’t know if we can really make the next one work,” and “fire him, not me.” And as a result, an entire wave of really interesting, modestly budgeted movies are being dumped while over-budgeted car wrecks are being green lit because they fit the perceived idea of what has been successful.
Do you know that Spanglish made less than Little Nicky worldwide… the biggest fiscal loser of Adam Sandler’s career? Do you know that Jim Brooks is still casting up his next film at Sony?
Now don’t get me wrong… I don’t think Jim Brooks should be kicked out of show business because he made one massive stinker that couldn’t capitalize on a major movie star after so many wonderful and successful films. But if you want to throw stones at Soderbergh for making smaller films, look at the bottom line. Che’ made good money for IFC (and should have made more) and The Girlfriend Experience will make money for Magnolia.
I can’t get into the details of some of the other projects that are being kicked all over town by paranoid execs who either have to pretend they have the money to proceed but just don’t want to or who are so scared of their own shadows that if there isn’t an animated vehicle or guy with a mask in it, they don’t want to know. But those films will soon be The Story of this industry. That is the next wave. “They” haven’t stopped making movies or started making better decisions… they have just returned to their holes in the trees to try to protect the nuts they have and not get eaten by the bear waiting for them outside.
The wet, drooly dream is that somehow, the financial setbacks will lead to more creativity. In this example, as with many others right now, the truth is the opposite.
There are plenty of situations in which saying, “No” to Brad Pitt would be smart and/or perhaps heroic. This is not that moment.