Oakland Goes Hollywood With Brad Pitt's 'Moneyball' Production
It's about guys like Scott Hatteberg, Miguel Tejada and -- who are we kidding? -- Brad Pitt.
For the past week, Hollywood has taken over the Coliseum, where they've been shooting the long-awaited film "Moneyball," based on the book that chronicled Billy Beane's innovative methods of building the 2002 A's.
Pitt, who is playing Beane, has already left quite an impression on the A's employees who have spent a little time with him.
"Is he a good me?" Beane said. "We'll see."
While it won't be until the film's release next summer that we see how well Pitt captures the personality of Beane, so far everyone around the A's has been taken with Pitt's personality.
"He's awesome," said A's director of ballpark operations Dave Rinetti, who got his picture taken with Pitt and Angelina Jolie on the mound on Tuesday afternoon. "He's gracious, hilarious, professional. He's everything you would think about in an A-list actor."
Steve Vucinich, the A's clubhouse manager, said that Pitt is "so down to earth everybody loves him."
Beane said he and Pitt have spent some time together as Pitt has tried to learn the role. Beane said that Pitt and the filmmakers have done a good job of trying to learn about the industry they are recreating, without getting in the way.
"I think it's been a lot of fun for the fans that have come out," Beane said. "I think it's been a lot of fun for the people in the organization, seeing the whole process. Everyone who has been involved with the movie has been really respectful of what our priorities are here. But I think people around the organization have really enjoyed it."
In some ways, it's hard to believe this movie is really happening. Although the book was a best-seller when it was published in 2003, it seemed to have a fairly narrow appeal, to baseball fans and perhaps other managers looking for ways to run their businesses. That's why there were eyebrows raised when the idea of a movie was first broached.
One screenplay, written by Steven Zaillian and leaked to the media last summer, was rejected by Major League Baseball because too many liberties were taken with the truth -- including a Beane sex scene. The rewritten version, by Steven Soderbergh, was accurate, but apparently too boring for Sony Pictures, which pulled the plug on production just weeks before filming was supposed to begin.
Aaron Sorkin ("A Few Good Men," "The American President," "The West Wing") got involved and rewrote the script, which got the movie back on track. The current script hasn't been leaked, but folks around the Coliseum who have read it said it is entertaining, while sticking relatively close to the real story, with one notable exception.
Jonah Hill, best known for playing a chubby, sex-crazed teenager in "Superbad," and other similar characters, was cast in the role of former A's assistant GM Paul DePodesta. DePodesta, a wiry Harvard grad who would later become GM of the Dodgers, didn't care for the casting, so he asked that his name be removed from the character, who is now "Peter Brand." (DePodesta clarified to FanHouse on Wednesday. Meaning no offense to Hill, he simply felt that the character was fictitious, and only loosely based on him. "At the end of the day, I just wasn't comfortable with my name on a fictitious character," DePodesta wrote in an email.)
Philip Seymour Hoffman, who won an Academy Award for the title role in "Capote," is playing former A's manager Art Howe. Robin Wright ("Forest Gump") and Kathryn Morris ("Cold Case") play Beane's wife and ex-wife.
Chris Pratt ("Parks and Recreation") plays Hatteberg, a central figure in the book because he represented the undervalued baseball skill (getting on base) that Beane tried to acquire to build his team on a shoestring. Hatteberg also hit the game-winning homer in the final game of the A's remarkable 20-game winning streak that summer.
Problem is, Pratt is right-handed, and Hatteberg hit left-handed. Enter Chad Kreuter.
The USC baseball coach, a former major league catcher, is the film's baseball consultant. It was his job to coach Pratt, to teach him how to hit left-handed. (Pratt took a swing that looked like Hatteberg's in the shot in which he hit the homer, but in real life he actually hit a weak ground ball.)
Other than Pratt, the players are mostly real former professionals, selected by Kreuter. The best known is former Giants shortstop Royce Clayton, who is playing Tejada.
Kreuter, who is portraying former A's pitching coach Rick Peterson, has been at the ballpark providing his input in the baseball scenes shot over the past week.
"We took lots of takes making sure everything is right," Kreuter said. "The directors and producers are very intent on trying to get as much realism out of the baseball scenes as possible. There is not much that's been missed."
They spent four all-night sessions filming scenes from the 20th game in the winning streak, which will account for about 12 minutes of the movie, Kreuter said. Another couple days were spent filming the Opening Day game against the Rangers. They'll shoot at the Coliseum on 10 days, ending about 5 a.m. on Friday.
The details are impressive. While they could have gotten away with just generic ballplayers, they have all the same names as those were really on the field in those games, everyone from Mark Mulder to Larry Sutton.
The ballpark has even been converted back to its 2002 state, with the tarps removed from the third deck for parts of the filming. They replaced outfield signs with the ones that were there eight years ago.
A's radio play-by-play man Ken Korach was asked to recreate a broadcast, without a script. Korach said director Bennett Miller said "This is Opening Day 2002 ... talk." Miller wanted Korach and broadcasters Greg Papa and Glen Kuiper to all sound authentic, so he gave them general topics to discuss, and they just started talking as they would on a real broadcast.
"It was great," Kuiper said. "A really cool experience."
As many as 2,000 extras lined up each night to be a part of the experience, filling the ballpark for crowd scenes. They were strategically moved around the ballpark, depending on the shots. Some of the extras reported on the Moneyball Facebook page that it was interesting, but at times pretty boring, with hours and hours going into getting just a few minutes worth of footage.
Kreuter said it's been an education for him too.
"We all watch movies," he said, "but you never really know how they are made and what goes into them 'til you are actually on the set and see how many people are involved. It's organized chaos."