Last month, just hours before the scheduled start of production on Columbia Pictures' “Moneyball”, starring Brad Pitt and directed by Steven Soderbergh, the studio pulled the plug on production, putting the project into “limited turnaround”
With an A-list star like Brad Pitt, and a well-known and respected Director, the film seemed a sure-thing to some, so this surprising decision, made by Columbia chief Amy Pascal, has had many Hollywood insiders asking “why?”
The answers may provide valuable insight into how studios will make greenlighting decisions in the coming months and years, as the economic climate for the entertainment industry and the world as a whole, undergoes major shifts.
The stated reason for the shelving of Moneyball is the studio-chief's receipt of a final draft screenplay that is reportedly very different from the script she'd originally supported. Apparently, director Soderbergh's vision of the film had departed wildly in recent weeks from the studio-head's.
The baseball-themed script by Oscar winner Steve Zaillian was reportedly rewritten at Soderbergh's direction to include real-people portraying themselves, and to eliminate material that hadn't happened in real-life, leaving a story that studio executives felt lacked emotion and punch.
The limited turnaround gave Soderbergh a short window of time in which to set-up the project at another studio, but with a rumored budget of $56 Million, it'll be a hard-sell, especially if Pitt's deal is, as reported, a $20 Million pay-or-play. The studio could also keep the picture in development, finding another director to help the project, but the delays may cost it the projects' A-list star.
So, what lessons can producers, writers, and directors take away from this dramatic turn of events?
- If you're making a studio picture, don't expect their full support when you make major revisions at the eleventh-hour.
- An A-List star and a respected director do NOT guarantee a green light. The script still matters!
- The Golden Rule applies: He who has the gold, makes the rules. Experienced financiers, whether in the studios or the independent world, won't invest in “trust me”. They want to see all of the key elements in place, ready to go. They don't like surprises.
- Ego and Hubris, contrary to popular thinking, have no place in the business side of show-business.
- Knowing when to say “no” to a project is important… even if it looks like a freight train coming right at you.
More about pay-or-play clauses and turnaround deals in a future post.