Moneyball: If you film it, they will come
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[Editor’s note: We are rerunning this article that Jed Rigney wrote a few weeks ago because “Moneyball” is being released this week. Also, it is one of the finest articles our site has ever had and Jed is quite clearly a writing genius and we are all so very, very, very lucky to have the opportunity to read his enlightened words.]
[Actual Editor’s note: Obviously Jed wrote that last Editor’s note.]
In a world ruled by customs, conformity and convention, one man emerges from the masses. A free thinker who breaks the bonds of tradition and goes to battle against the forces of obedience and constancy to bring his people the victory they have long sought.
Sounds like some sort of post-apocalyptic sci-fi film, right? Or Justin Bieber’s next concert film. Nope, it’s “Moneyball” – coming this week to a theater near you. It’s Hollywood’s latest baseball movie, and it’s about the statistical evolution in baseball-player analysis in the last decade or so. It stars the uber-cool and ultra-sexy Brad Pitt and the slightly less-cool and drastically less-sexy Jonah Hill. Check out the trailer here. [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AiAHlZVgXjk]
The concept behind the movie (and the book it was based on) is that there are ways to evaluate players’ abilities based on more advanced statistics than the same-old, same-old (batting average, home runs and RBI) – and then using these new scouting standards to get certain players cheaper because the rest of the league doesn’t agree with (or understand) their value. Many baseball “purists” (old dudes) think these advancements are “nerdy” and that it’s “unnecessary” to look at “facts” and “statistics” just because they are “impartial” and “accurate.”
How are they going to make a movie about baseball front offices and statistics work? I don’t know. But somehow they made a movie about computer nerds writing programs and suing each other in “The Social Network” and that turned out pretty good.
When it comes down to it, the most important statistic for this movie is how much money it makes at the box office. And I really hope it does well. Not because Brad Pitt needs more money – though I’m glad he gets to have some time away from Angelina Jolie. And not because I hope Ned Colletti of the Dodgers sees this movie and thinks “Oops! I’m doing it wrong! I should fire myself.” But because I love baseball movies and, in Hollywood, one successful film breeds more movies of the same genre.
Hollywood is almost entirely a culture of fear. Fear of losing your job or your status or your “power.” It’s an industry that makes “art,” but it is an industry. Studio executives see a movie do well and they want to make more like that because they think the public will want more. Have you noticed how many movies have come out recently that are kind of similar to “The Hangover”? “Hot Tub Time Machine,” “Hall Pass” and “Horrible Bosses” – and many more on the way. It’s not a coincidence.
And following that “logic” (for lack of a better word), Hollywood types really like when a new project can be described in its formative stages as being like another movie that was already successful – the next “Midnight Run” or the next “My Best Friend’s Wedding.” Or you can describe a project’s similarities and differences, like the TV show “Lost” as “Gilligan’s Island” without Gilligan. Even better yet, they love if you can describe a project as a combination of two successful movies – that way it has an apparency of some originality while at the same time possibly appealing to every single human person who saw one and/or the other of the films. So, you could describe a movie like “Inception” as “The Matrix” meets “Flatliners.” Or “Avatar” as “Dances with Wolves” meets “The Smurfs.” They love this stuff. It makes them feel safe (or safer) (or something) in going ahead with a project.
A couple years ago I was talking to a producer about an idea I had for a movie. “It’s ‘Predator’ meets ‘Major League.’” After he stopped laughing, he said, “Great idea, but there’s no way. The baseball genre is dead.”
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