Another great "baseball movie" has been nominated for an Academy Award, but just like the "curse of the Bambino", Moneyball will not win Best Picture. The Academy has a hard time giving the award for Best Picture to a sports film, no matter how good (The Natural, Field of Dreams, Bull Durham, Pride of the Yankees).
The two keys to the Greatness of Moneyball are:
Editing - the film is edited with great attention to rhythm and pacing by Christopher Tellefsen, A.C.E.
Casting - the movie would not have been as meaningful or authentic without Brad Pitt or Johah Hill. Their onscreen chemistry and ownership of the roles they play make this "sports film" more of a "buddy picture".
The themes of Moneyball are:
- Brains triumph over Brawn
- Renewal of Self Worth
- Class Warfare
It's not about winning, but about getting on base.
The following is an excerpt of a review by Dan Heaton (PopMatters.com):
Adapting Michael Lewis’ Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game for the screen has always seemed like a strange proposition. The 2003 non-fiction book takes a fairly clinical approach to the inventive statistical methods used by Billy Beane as general manager of the Oakland A’s during the 2002 season. It also presents the history of this much-different method for evaluating talent in major league baseball.
This seems like fodder for a great documentary, but awkward material for a dramatic story. How could a movie present this dense material and interest general audiences? Steven Soderbergh was originally attached to the production, but left over creative differences. Bennett Miller (Capote) ended up directing the film, and Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network) and Stephen Zallian (Schindler’s List) wrote the script. With this kind of pedigree involved, the movie version of Moneyball has just the right creative minds needed to bypass those obstacles. Sorkin in particular has shown an ability to translate complex material into a relatable product, so his participation is crucial to its success.
Brad Pitt stars as Beane, who’s recovering from losing his top three players to the big-spending teams. Oakland has a minimal payroll and can’t compete on the free-agent market with the wealthy clubs. Looking for a new way to scout players, he recruits numbers guru Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) to devise a new evaluation system. The old-time scouts are skeptical and believe you can’t quantify baseball success, but Beane has personal reasons to think otherwise. His frustrations from decisions he made as a top baseball prospect still haunt him today.
This personal side of the story is the master stroke in Sorkin and Zallian’s screenplay, which shifts the focus to Beane. Instead of providing intricate details on Sabermetrics, they make it a redemptive personal story. Like Mark Zuckerberg, Beane is sticking his neck out and will ride out the string, regardless of the consequences. His approach is much different than the Facebook founder, but their inventive tactics are relatable. Miller’s direction makes the point about Beane’s past without overplaying the connection. Pitt also shines by making his skepticism of the scouts clear in subtle fashion. They craft a mainstream crowd pleaser without catering to the lowest common denominator.
Moneyball is a film about baseball and should please fans interested in the stats, but it never delves too far into the approach. Brand explains the system and touts a few players they should grab, and that’s enough information. Jonah Hill received a supporting actor Oscar nomination for this role as the brains behind the operation. It’s a pretty standard performance that might not deserve this much recognition, but he still does an excellent job.
Pitt and Hill work together really well and find ways to inject a lot of humor into even some mundane moments. When they pull off a complex trade with a series of phone calls, their glee is infectious because we’re on board with the actors. Pitt has rarely looked so effortless on screen and deserves all the recognition. It’s one of his best roles because he doesn’t turn Beane into a saint. He’s a neurotic, superstitious guy who refuses to watch the game and avoids interacting with players. This isn’t the type of role you’d expect Pitt to play, but it works because of his understated approach.
The story focuses on the 2002 season, which begins terribly for the A’s and raises major questions about Beane’s sanity. Manager Art Howe (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) isn’t on board with the system and places road blocks at every turn. New players like Jeremy Giambi reveal serious negatives that likely prove the scouts’ assessments about them. It takes some serious commitment for Beane to keep his faith in Sabermetrics.
Knowledgeable viewers today know the end to this story, but there’s still a good deal of tension surrounding the early failures. Hoffman doesn’t get much to do beyond antagonizing Beane, but he sells the role of the grizzled veteran manager. He senses the ship is sinking and is acting for his own personal interests. It’s pretty much a thankless performance for the veteran, but he doesn’t phone in the role. This is Pitt’s movie and Beane is driving the story, so Howe just plays a small part in the main plot. There are recognizable players like David Justice and Scott Hatteberg involved, and the actors playing them are believable. However, these guys are more representative of the types of players valued in this system, not completely original characters?
Here is an interview with Editor, Christopher Tellefsen on Moneyball:
Editor Christopher Tellefsen on Moneyball
Inside Baseball with the True Story of Billy Beane, the Oakland As, and Sabermetrics
By Bryant Frazer
February 17, 2012 Source: Film & Video
Faced with an almost ludicrous salary differential
between the Oakland Athletics (which had $41 million to spend on players
in 2002) and large-market teams like the New York Yankees (which threw
around $125 million in the same season), Oakland's General Manager Billy
Beane looked to the numbers to help give his team an edge. The
best-selling book Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game examined Beane's efforts, which ended up changing the way many baseball clubs look at the game.
It wasn't clear how, exactly, anyone would film a book that takes baseball statistics — this brand of analysis is known as sabermetrics
— as a primary subject, but with Brad Pitt attached to play Beane, it
seemed destined to hit the big screen one way or another. First David
Frankel and later Steven Soderbergh were scheduled to direct, but Sony
squelched the Soderbergh project before the cameras could roll. Pitt
hung onto the project until director Bennett Miller came on board,
bringing with him film editor Christopher Tellefsen, A.C.E., with whom
Miller had worked on Capote. Miller and Tellefsen got to work
identifying the human elements that would add emotional complexity and
urgency to a story that was, truly, "inside baseball."
You could call the results a home run — Moneyball was a
box-office success and earned six Oscar nominations, including Best
Picture and Best Film Editing, plus plaudits for actors Pitt and Jonah
Hill, who plays assistant GM Peter Brand, the young gun who helped Beane
leverage the mathematical concepts underlying the game. We spoke to
Tellefsen about editing on the Avid, intercutting performances by actors
and non-actors, and coal-mining in the cutting room.
StudioDaily: Let's start off by talking a little bit about technology. You cut Moneyball on the Avid. Are you a longtime Avid editor?
Christopher Tellefsen: Yes. What I love about the Avid Media Composer is
its user-friendliness. I started working on the Avid in 1995. My first
[Avid] project was Flirting with Disaster. It did everything I
needed it to do, and I didn't have to be mired in anything beyond that.
Some people had trouble coming over to digital from the film world, but I
didn't have any problem with it. I just utilized it as an artistic
There is one aspect of it that I'm especially happy with — the
ScriptSync tool. Anyone I hire as my apprentice has to be a whiz with
Avid's script tool. On this film it was Mat Greenleaf. That helps with
every aspect of the film. With my first cut, I'm always ahead of the
script tool because I try to react to the footage as soon as I get it
and build a first assembly. I'm responding to it before there's been
time to ScriptSync a scene. But I always go back to the material and vet
every line for the performance aspect. I want to see comparisons of
every take, and ScriptSync allows you to do a very tight comparison very
quickly. It really shows the beauty of the technology. Whoever
developed ScriptSync is my hero.
Have you worked exclusively on the Avid since then?
Not exclusively. The last film I edited on film was Kids, with Larry Clark. I did Flirting with Disaster on an Avid, but then I did The People Vs. Larry Flynt
with Milos Forman, and he was adamant about one thing. He hadn't made a
film in a while, and the digital technology was new to him, and he
said, "Look, I like what you can do on a KEM, where you can have three
images running in sync to show the picture from multiple cameras." I
investigated, and at that time Avid 6.0 had multicam, but no one had
done a feature with it. I wasn't going to face those bugs. But
Lightworks had Heavyworks, which was generally used for TV shows with
multiple cameras and had been used on larger shows, so that's what I
used for Larry Flynt and Man on the Moon. Of course, these days a regular Media Composer is capable of running four camera views in four quadrants of the screen.
Earlier you mentioned vetting and reacting to raw footage from the shoot ...
You watch dailies, make notes, react to them. Here are the moments that
leap out to me immediately. This feels like a beginning, this like a
middle, and this like an end. You find the immediate, reactive moments
you want to hit. At the moment the stuff is in the Avid, before it can
go through the assistants or processed for ScriptSync, I start cutting. I
like to cut fast, keeping ahead of the shooting, so if there are any
problems or anything feels like it's missing we can take care of that
before the sets are struck.
Did director Bennett Miller spend much time working with you as you made that first assembly?
Not a lot. The shooting was grueling. This was a really intense shoot —
time-consuming and exhausting. So there wasn't a lot of time to sit down
comfortably and watch dailies. I would see him every two weeks during
that time, or possibly once a week. If I had something I was desperate
to show him, we'd make the time, but it was tough. Afterwards, of
course, we worked together very intensely. It was a very rich piece, and
the real challenge was getting all the undercurrents to work, and
getting the whole structure of it to really shine. Obviously, the
performances were very exciting. I knew we had something special.
Had you spent time sitting with Miller before the shoot began to
identify and agree on that structure, and what those key themes would
Oh, of course. We had long, philosophical conversations about what the
movie was about. What is this animal? What are we making here? That's
the M.O., to go forward with an idea of what this movie is. The
character of Billy Beane is very specific. We worked that out even to
the point of knowing what the ending was going to be — this scene of
him, alone in his truck, making a silent decision while listening to his
daughter's CD. That moment has to read. You have to believe he's making
the decision without actually saying it. He makes the decision with his
eyes. That takes an entire movie before it to make you believe that
moment. The narrative principles that get you to a moment that strong
and subtle have to be knitted into every aspect and every scene and
every frame. We were very much aligned and in sync with the philosophy
of the picture and the tone and the tenor throughout.
So the trick is to identify the kind of material you need to emphasize throughout the cut.
You've got that sense of striving and looking and digging. It's a process. It's the coal-mining of editing.
Moneyball is about Billy Beane as a
character, and his relationship with the people in his life, but it's
also, in part, a film about statistics. Did that create a challenge in
the editing process?
We wanted to make sure the subject wouldn't confuse people, that it
wouldn't be too simple for those who understood it, and that it wouldn't
be too complex for those who don't know what the hell it is. In
essence, we wanted it to be entertaining enough for anybody. And it
worked. Audiences loved seeing those theorems fly by. It's sort of fun.
We experimented with having them slightly animated and it just felt
phony, so we kept it very dry but elegant. We had a graphic designer
named Johannes Gamble — actually he's a filmmaker and an animator — who
shot all the statistics, and it was a clear aesthetic decision to make
them minimal and clean and clear.
It was all an experiment. We added the explanation of the under-handed
pitcher Chad Bradford to that scene. He was originally introduced in one
of the scenes with the scouts, but we felt it went a beat too long, so
we moved it to the statistics scene to balance it out and give it a more
personal note. The players are being reduced to numbers, but you're
also getting images of them as people. There's something cold-blooded
about it on a certain level, but that's the reality.
Are you a baseball fan?
No, not at all. But I read Michael Lewis' book and I find him to be an
extraordinary nonfiction writer. Whatever he takes on, he brings so much
character to it. I've gained a great regard for the art, craft, and
physical grace involved in understanding the strike zone, which is the
basic of sabermetrics. That's the core concept behind getting on base —
understanding the strike zone, and not hitting balls that are outside
it. When you think about that, these men stand there at the plate as a
ball comes at them at 85 mph, and they have to judge the strike zone.
It's very subtle. It's really precise. If you really understand those
things, as you watch the game you're reading their faces and their body
language, everything. The little signals they make to each other. It's a
coded, bizarre, and interestingly arcane game.
We knew we had to make a film that everyone could enjoy. The scene where
Billy and the traders are all talking on the phone? That is completely
about the specifics of baseball, and it is enormously entertaining. Brad
and Jonah are so brilliant. They're amazing. The physical stuff they
did in that scene was so precise.
Can you talk about performance, and how you feel about your responsibility as an editor to the actors in a film?
It's a huge, huge responsibility, and many times I never even meet these
people. It's just about using your sharpest skills of observance and
intuition and understanding of what it is to be a human being. That
helps you draw out a truly moving performance. It's a difficult process,
especially when you're striving for something of a very high order,
like editing Phil Hoffman's performance in Capote. You know you have
something extremely special, and you handle it in a very special way.
Do you ever agonize over choosing a take, or placing a cut,
because of the effect your choice will have on how a performance is
What's brought me where I am in my career is a strong intuition for
performance. I look for odd moments, too, such as the little movements
and tics that make a character memorable and real. What an actor gives —
they'll give a lot, hoping and praying that what they're striving for
will be properly brought out on the screen.
Did you move around any of the various story threads during the edit, or stick closely to the screenplay?
We certainly experimented. Much of it is in its original structure, but
especially in the losing streak and trhe winning streak we moved around a
lot of scenes and played with the structure. It is a true story, so
there's a certain limit to what we could do, but there was a lot of play
within those two sections. They were difficult because the required a
lot of archival footage, and we relied on commentary to tell a certain
part of the story. That was always the general plan, but we changed the
specifics. There were really good period announcers coming in to do ADR
and change a word or two here or there.
What about the scenes depicting Billy's history as a ball player, and his relationship with his daughter?
We just did a Q&A with Billy Beane where he said he was thrilled
with the scenes with his daughter. The brilliant young girl, Kerris
Dorsey, who plays Billy's daughter, was just marvelous. At her first
audition, she played a song, and Bennett was so taken with the song that
it ended up being the one she played in the guitar store, and that we
hear at the end of the film. Brad is a father himself, so he has his own
entry into that dynamic. They had a great thing going there.
Some of the scouts in the film were played by real-life baseball
scouts. Is it hard to cut believably between professional actors and
I love non-actors. In a film like Kids, everyone was a
non-actor and the performances were spectacular. But it's a different
vibe, and you have to work to blend everyone together so they feel as
one. You don't want them standing out as something other. It's a massage
to get it there — just working it and working it until things fall into
a place where they feel natural and right. When we shot, Wally Pfister
had three cameras set up and it was lit by fluorescents — just a room
with a bunch of guys around the table. Bennett got them loosened up and
threw the script away. They shot a lot, making the kind of choices and
camera moves that would feel as natural as a documentary.
Are there any scenes we haven't talked about yet that you're especially fond of?
I really loved and worked hard on the sequence where you first see the
players Billy's hired that are "less than." It's a fun sequence. You get
to see them showing themselves as not being the greatest, you note
Billy's concern, with all that he has riding on this, and then Art
Howe's judgment. All those layers were fun to subtly play off one
another. That whole sequence ends with the amazing bit where Billy goes
up to Peter and says, "This better work." And then, "I'm just kiddin'
Did you do previews as you were working?
We had about three test screenings. We did well right out of the gate,
but we knew there were structural things that we still had to work on.
Still, it was clear the audience was going to embrace it. At your first
screening, you know if the audience is going to be with the film or at
arm's length. It's a very mysterious thing.
Here is an essay on the casting process for Moneyball by Emmanel Levy (emmanuallevy.com):
Moneyball: Casting for AuthenticityIn casting the players on the 2002 Oakland Athletics, Bennett Miller put the focus on his desire to capture stark, naturalistic baseball action. So he looked for the real thing, casting primarily experienced ball players who could act. Early on, the filmmakers enlisted Michael Fisher, whose credits include The Blind Side and Remember the Titans, to serve as the film’s baseball coordinator, who set out to assemble, train and choreograph a cast who could authentically recreate the A’s ballgames down to the details.
Unlike the star-studded team of 2001, the 2002 A’s were a grittier bunch, but that led to a kind of unity that played a part in their record-shattering winning steak. “There was definitely a spirit to the 2002 team,” observes Billy Beane. “It was amazing how quickly they bonded, because they’d heard that they were going to come in last place or never make it to the playoffs. Guys like Scott Hatteberg and David Justice came together quickly and I think they had a little bit of a chip because they were tired of hearing about how all the star players had left for the big markets and it did provide a bit of an incentive and created the esprit d’corps that we had.”
The filmmakers looked for that same spirit in the casting. “The casting process was pretty extensive,” recalls Fisher. “Close to 750 guys tried out for the movie. We knew the best way to make it as authentic as possible, would be to get the best guys out there.” Most of those cast previously played in the minor leagues, and two – Royce Clayton (who plays Miguel Tejada) and Derrin Ebert (Mike Magnante) – are former Major League Baseball players, with Clayton’s career having culminated in a World Series championship ring for his time as a shortstop with the Boston Red Sox.
- Chris Pratt /Scott Hatteberg, First Base, #10. Pratt, best known for his co-starring role as Andy Dwyer on the hit NBC comedy “Parks and Recreation,” plays the injured catcher who becomes Billy’s Beane’s seemingly craziest acquisition – and strongest confirmation of his theories. Not only does Beane surprise Scott Hatteberg with an offer to join the A’s, he stuns him with a bizarre request: to play first base – a position he’s never played before. Pratt came to the production as the only player on the team without any real baseball experience and trained extensively, just as Hatteberg had to do. “Billy and Peter see the potential that nobody else sees,” says Michael De Luca. “Chris is such a wonderfully humanistic actor, bringing both drama and humor – he makes you root for him and for the moneyball theory.”
- Stephen Bishop/David Justice, Left Field, #23. Bishop is a film and television actor (“Friday Night Lights”) and a former minor league player in the Atlanta Braves farm system. While in the minors he formed a friendship with the man he plays in the film: former All-Star David Justice. “Justice,” Bishop says, “told me he couldn’t think of anybody he’d rather play the part than me. That gave me a lot of confidence and I hope I do him justice.”
- Casey Bond/Chad Bradford, Pitcher, #53. Bond, a former college pitcher and outfielder, plays the A’s idiosyncratic relief pitcher who throws in a submariner, knuckle-scraping style. Bond, who was drafted into the minor leagues as a centerfielder for the San Francisco Giants, quit the game to become an actor, having landed a national commercial in Nashville, and subsequently moved to Los Angeles. Based on his resemblance to Chad Bradford and his ability to pitch with Bradford’s unique underhand style, he was cast in the role.
- Royce Clayton/Miguel Tejada, Shortstop, #4. Clayton is a former 1997 All-Star shortstop for the St. Louis Cardinals who earned a World Series ring for the champion Boston Red Sox in 2007. He plays six-time All-Star shortstop Miguel Tejada, who was the Oakland A’s MVP in their historic 2002 season, and who Clayton played against numerous times in the majors.
- Nick Porrazzo/Jeremy Giambi, First Base, #16. Porrazzo, who plays shortstop with the California Winter League, portrays first baseman Jeremy Giambi, the younger brother of the much better known, five-time All-Star Jason Giambi.
- Derrin Ebert/Mike Magnante, Pitcher, #52. Ebert played in the minors for twelve years and was called up to the majors by the Atlanta Braves during their 1999 season. In his first acting role, he plays Magnante, the left-handed relief pitcher who in 2002 played his final year of Major League Baseball for the Oakland A’s before being replaced by Ricardo Rincon.
- Marvin Horn/Terrence Long, Center Field, #12. Horn, a former minor league player drafted by the Chicago White Sox in 1994, plays Terrence Long, an outfielder for the A’s during their 2000-2003 seasons, who played his last game in the majors for the Yankees in 2006.
- Art Ortiz/Eric Chavez, Third Base, #3. Ortiz, an up-and-coming actor who played baseball in college and spent some time in the minors, plays the third baseman, an American League six-time Rawlings Gold Glove recipient.
- Brent Dohling/Mark Ellis, Second Base #14. Dohling, a former college player and now baseball coach in Irvine, California, plays Ellis, the second baseman who made his major league debut with the A’s in 2002.
- Miguel Mendoza/Ricardo Rincon, Pitcher, #73. Mendoza, a former Chico State college player, plays Rincon, who came on board the A’s as a surprise trade and spent three years (2002-2005) of his 10-year career as a relief pitcher with the team.
The filmmakers also cast several pro baseball scouts to join the veteran character actors who make up the A’s scouting department, including former player and manager Ken Medlock (who plays director of scouting Grady Fuson), legendary scout Phil Pote, Los Angeles Dodgers scout Artie Harris and baseball coaches and managers George Vranau and Barry Moss. Actors Glenn Morshower, Jack McGee, Nick Searcy, Vyto Ruginis, Bob Bishop, and Chris Lee round out the other scouts.
Beane appreciated that the filmmakers aimed for authenticity. “They put a lot of detail into hiring guys who had a real background in playing, who look like athletes,” he says. “I thought Chris Pratt who plays Scott Hatteberg was fantastic. I was moved by how he had some of the same mannerisms, how he even walked a little bowlegged like Scott, and he did a great job of recreating his whole demeanor. Every time he did something, I’d say ‘Well, that’s what Scott used to do.’ It’s a very difficult thing to pull off, but as a guy who was in the game, I was impressed.”
The Making of Moneyball: