Join SBIFF for an in-depth discussion in this video A nose for good material, part of 2012 SBIFF Producers' Panel: Movers & Shakers.
Patrick Goldstein: Mike, you made Moneyball at a studio, at Sony, but it probably took longer actually to get made than almost any other film in-- Mike De Luca: Except Tree of Life. I mean I feel bad. We took nine years for a much less ambitious story. We didn't have creation. Patrick Goldstein: Now one of the many qualities of a good producer is having a good nose for material, and knowing it when you see it, and you acquire the rights to the Michael Lewis book.
Mike De Luca: Actually Rachael Horovitz, my partner on the movie, was the originating producer and brought the book to Sony and set it up, and I joined it about a year into its development history. Patrick Goldstein: And because I know one of the last films you did before that, Social Network, you also were there at the beginning with the material. But it took years to get this movie actually to getting greenlit, and I'm kind of curious, if you could explain what made you think it was worth putting all that time and energy into a film that a lot of people said, gee, that's a book about the sabermetrics of baseball, and how would that possibly translate into a good dramatic film? Mike De Luca: Well, I don't know if this sounds narcissistic, but it's hard not to read your own life into material sometimes, because you find that what moves you is something that you relate to.
So in this book, and even in kind of our first draft, which ended up not being the basis of the movie ultimately, this story of this guy who is looking back in his early 40s on his life and trying to figure out if he had made the right choices as a kid, and how it was informing his decisions for his future and for his own experience as a father, it was all stuff I was relating to at the time and I thought, there is something here that transcends the sport. And I always think sports movies, they are hard, but they can be great metaphors for life and the book seemed to have the DNA for that if we could kind of extract it.
It just took a long time. Patrick Goldstein: And I also, since you mentioned Brad Pitt, and obviously Bill, he is in your film as well, it's of great value to have Brad Pitt involved. The question is, often I read about stars who become attached to material and then nothing happens, nothing happens, they move on, and they get more excited about it, another piece of material or a filmmaker gets involved they want to work with. So for both of you, what kept Brad Pitt involved? Mike De Luca: Well for us, I think he recognized in Billy Beane, the young Billy Beane, who was put in a certain box and he was pegged to be this superstar athlete and just in the end didn't have the psychology you need in the batter's box to deal with a strike in a less temperamental way.
I'm sure Brad out of the gate felt like he was put in a certain box in terms of being a movie star and what the studios would have liked him to have done, as opposed to the choices, the provocative choices that he'd like to make. He founded entry point into the material that really mattered to him, that was emotionally moving to him, this idea of second chances and not letting someone else close the book on you, being able to write your own book, as it was. So it moved him emotionally, helped us shape the script, and I think his keeping on the eye on the prize got us through our later development and into the hands of Steve Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin and Bennett Miller who were all of a mind with Brad about the kind of movie they wanted to make.
Patrick Goldstein: Bill, when did Brad get involved with your film? Bill Pohlad: Very early actually, because he and Terry had been in discussions and known each other for a while, and Terry is one of those guys, as you can imagine, that attracts people who want to work with him, and that was certainly the case with Brad. But Brad came on to Tree of Life very early, way before there was ever any thought of him being in it. He and Dede were very instrumental in keeping it going, and we all worked together side by side as producers honestly.
Patrick Goldstein: But he was committed. He said when you're ready, I will make a window in my schedule? Bill Pohlad: No, it really did happen just the opposite. He was there at the table as a producer and we had, I think it's fairly well known that Heath Ledger was going to play his role at the time. Heath ultimately decided not to do it. And when we were searching around for other people, it really was like, whatever, the elephant in the room or something, why didn't we think of this before? It sounds silly right now, but it really was, because Brad had been there in another capacity for so long that we just had not gone there, and then all of a sudden it seemed obvious, seemed perfect.
Patrick Goldstein: And it's interesting because he is an actual producer on both of your films, and I think a lot of people would say, okay, movie star, a lot of them take producer credits. So what did he actually do to deserve that credit in your mind? Mike De Luca: For us, he started producing, kind of the minute he got serious about attaching to the movie as an actor, he really was in the room with Zaillian from the beginning, getting that movie to a place, at the script level at least, where we can start talking about directors, and then he helped us come up with our first budget with Soderbergh that made the movie kind of makeable for Sony, and then stayed with it and held it together, which is very producerial, as we transitioned out of Soderbergh into Bennett Miller, and really selected Bennett Miller.
Patrick Goldstein: And over to you. Bill Pohlad: We didn't have the same kind of drama in that regard, but Brad, again, was there at the table for the whole time. Again, he was operating as a producer alongside Dede and Sarah and the rest of us well before thinking about it as a director. And so as soon as we were in production he wasn't as much of a producer. He was concentrating on what he was doing. But throughout post, he was there for scene cuts all along the way and helping to give his opinions on shaping the film.
Graham King: He was a unit photographer on a movie for me this year as well. He was! He was! Mike De Luca: That's so cool. Graham King: I did a film which Angelina Jolie directed, In the Land of Blood and Honey, and I showed up to set and there's Brad as a unit photographer, with three kids round his neck, two more here. It's a real family film but-- Mike De Luca: He could multitask. Graham King: Yeah. Patrick Goldstein: Wow!
Moderated by Patrick Goldstein (Los Angeles Times columnist for "The Big Picture"), the festival lit up the marquee with a panel of Oscar®-nominated producers you'll certainly see on the red carpet on February 26, 2012. These professionals cover a wide range of films, from huge-budget effects movies to smaller, ensemble-casted dramas. Graham King (Hugo), who marks his fourth film with director Martin Scorsese, tells how they worked together to shoot their first 3D film—and their first with kids and animals. Mike De Luca (Moneyball) needed to develop a working relationship with Major League Baseball, who had final cut on his film. Bill Pohlad (The Tree of Life) talks about the 10 years it took to green light his film and the obstacles along the way. Jim Burke (The Descendants) worked with director Alexander Payne to put every dollar on the screen while shooting in Hawaii, known to be an expensive location. Letty Aronson (Midnight in Paris) shares the unique working relationship she has with director (and brother) Woody Allen.
Despite the impressive resumes of all of these producers, getting every one of these feature films to the screen presented new challenges.