LOS ANGELES — In “Moneyball,” the sad-sack Oakland
A’s defy conventional wisdom by setting records and making the playoffs
despite one of the lowest payrolls in Major League Baseball.
the adaptation of Michael Lewis’ bestselling book hits theaters this
weekend, Sony Pictures is hoping to buck the Hollywood wisdom that
star-driven sports dramas have limited appeal in this country and do
virtually no business overseas.
Only a handful of
movies about baseball have been hits in the U.S. — including “A League
of Their Own,” “The Rookie,” “Field of Dreams” and “Bull Durham” — and
none have generated more than a pittance of ticket sales abroad.
But Sony isn’t selling a baseball movie. It’s selling Brad Pitt.
an unusual move in an age when movie stars no longer guarantee huge
box-office returns and are often upstaged by such brand names as
“Transformers” and “Harry Potter.” But Pitt remains one of the few
actors who is a brand unto himself. The 47-year-old actor continues to
have broad appeal around the world, particularly among women who might
not otherwise be too interested in a sports film that features no
romance or prominent female characters.
wonder that the superstar’s face and name are as prominent as the film’s
title on the posters and billboards. The trailers and most of the
commercials promoting the movie focus almost entirely on the emotional
journey of Pitt’s character, Oakland A’s General Manager Billy Beane,
and the romance of baseball. Plot points about Beane’s use of
statistical analysis to field a team by focusing on players’ ability to
get on base are intentionally minimized in the marketing campaign.
baseball movies have found audiences by selling themselves as being
about much more than the sport,” said Vincent Bruzzese, motion picture
group president for research firm Ipsos OTX. “There have to be
characters whose personal journeys you want to follow.”
Sony spokesman declined to discuss the “Moneyball” marketing campaign,
but the movie’s materials make clear that the studio believes audiences
will connect with Pitt’s Beane, a single father and charming underdog
who triumphs over adversity.
But in promoting the
picture, Sony is making sure to cover all its bases. It is running ads
on ESPN during sports games that lean more heavily on the film’s
baseball elements, and is sponsoring fantasy baseball websites. In
addition, before “Moneyball’s” premiere Monday night in Oakland, the
cast did interviews at the A’s stadium. To help draw in women, the
studio is also running TV spots on the Lifetime Network and Fox’s
Sony is taking a page from its own
marketing playbook, hoping that “Moneyball” will mimic the performance
of a drama it opened this time last year about a seemingly obscure topic
that wound up catching on with audiences.
Sony is doing with ‘Moneyball’ reminds me of what it did for ‘The Social
Network,’” said Jim Gallagher, a consultant and former Walt Disney
Studios marketing president, referring to the Oscar-winning drama about
the origins of Facebook. “They’re taking a subject matter few would care
about and making it all about the people involved.”
years ago, “Moneyball” was almost benched just days before Brad Pitt
was set to board a plane to Phoenix to begin filming his passion
project. Then-director Steven Soderbergh had just submitted a new script
to Sony co-Chairman Amy Pascal, who balked at the filmmaker’s nearly
$60-million budget and his interest in peppering the movie with
documentary-style interviews with actual baseball players.
than torpedo the project completely, Sony rejiggered it with a new
screenplay draft from “Social Network” writer Aaron Sorkin and a lower
budget (closer to $50 million). The studio hired “Capote” director
Bennett Miller in April 2010 and began production that July.
is expected to open with a box-office take between $15 million and
slightly more than $20 million, according to people who have seen
pre-release audience surveys. That means the film will have to generate
strong word of mouth to keep it in theaters for many weeks to come to be
a sizable hit.
“The Social Network,” which had a
similar production budget, went from a $22-million opening to a
$97-million final domestic take.
is unclear at this point whether “Moneyball” will follow in “The Social
Network’s” footsteps and become a top contender in Hollywood’s upcoming
awards season. Many in the industry are convinced that Sony will mount
an aggressive Oscar campaign for Pitt, whose performance is being buzzed
about by those who have seen the picture.
appears less likely is that “Moneyball” will mirror “The Social
Network’s” strong performance overseas given that its subject matter is
“America’s pastime.” Still, “Moneyball” may do at least some business in
baseball-obsessed countries like Mexico, where it debuts in October,
and Japan, where it launches in November. Next month it will be the
closing-night movie at the Tokyo International Film Festival.
is sure to be a draw overseas. Whether he plays a man aging in reverse
in character drama “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” or outlaw Jesse
James in the little-seen drama “The Assassination of Jesse James by the
Coward Robert Ford,” Pitt’s films have consistently generated more box
office from foreign moviegoers than Americans over the last decade.
Europe, where Pitt is particularly popular and “Moneyball” will roll
out in November and December, the trailer features even fewer shots of
baseball fields than the one playing in the U.S. and focuses more on
Beane’s relationship with statistics whiz kid Peter Brand (played by
Jonah Hill) and the duo’s struggle to win.
Pitt garners a ton of media attention overseas,” said Randy Greenberg, a
consultant and former head of Universal Pictures International
theatrical marketing and distribution.
who is currently shooting “World War Z” in Glasgow, Scotland, will be
doing publicity in Europe and traveling to both Japan and South Korea to
promote the film.
Although “Moneyball” is likely
to surpass “A League of Their Own’s” foreign take of $25 million — a
record for a baseball movie — it might not be by much.
“They’ve got their work cut out for them,” Greenberg said. “It’s a very tough movie. A very American type of movie.”
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