Ensconced at his new platform under the Hitfix umbrella, In Contention’s Kris Tapley talks with Bennett Miller about the recent history of baseball and the immediate future of filmmaking.
In “Moneyball” — a project which had been nearly a decade in the making and had suffered a very public collapse before Miller ever came around to it — he sees a lot of his own struggles getting it made. “It was a beautiful nightmare,” he says of the process. “But I’m proud of it. It’s like Brad [Pitt] said to me, ‘I’m proud of it for how hard it was.'”
Of course, Pitt was with the project even longer, since 2007. And his sticking with it is likely the only thing that kept air in its lungs when director Steven Soderbergh left after a last-minute 2009 production stoppage (courtesy of studio head Amy Pascal). But Miller still had his fair share of difficulty — internally and externally — navigating a story that didn’t necessarily scream “MOVIE!,” even if it is loaded with themes ripe for expansion.
Miller grew up a Yankees fan, during the team’s late-1970s heyday. Eventually he grew apart from baseball, but the process of making “Moneyball” reinvigorated that spirit somewhat. Mainly he really liked Billy Beane, the subject of the film (who changed the game forever with his implementation of sabermetrics as General Manager of the Oakland Athletics). He was taken by a story of progress, of a man finding that his destiny wasn’t what he thought it would be. It’s not a story of the Holy Grail so much as a story of the quest for the Holy Grail, Miller said at one Toronto Q&A. “It’s a wisdom story,” he tells me.
And indeed, in the tale of a man struggling against the status quo to create something new and exciting, well, Miller says he can relate.
He has questions of the questioner, though. Brett Ratner producing the Oscars? I offer my thoughts: It’s part and parcel of the consumerism of everything (“That would be a great book title,” he says). The Academy wants ratings for its telecast and hopes Ratner can streamline things into something entertaining to watch. I tell him I’m fine with any changes to the actual show but it’s when they start fiddling with the functionality of their voting process (like expanding the Best Picture category to 10 nominees two years ago, then potentially edging out fringe indie cinema with it’s latest rule change) that it begins to bother me. He fully agrees.
He’s curious about the trajectory of cinema and what this point in history could mean for the industry. I humbly offer that DIY production and distribution is likely to become more and more prevalent, especially as streaming finds its way as a major delivery method. He’s saddened by the reduction of things. He recalls a recent New York screening of George Stevens’s “Giant” — one of his favorite films — and the transportation to another time that those three and a half hours inflicted on the still-captivated audience. “You’re never going to duplicate that on a computer screen,” he says. Of course not. “But, it’s like you say,” he ponders. “The consumerism of everything.”
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