Director Steven Soderbergh Talks ‘Moneyball,’ Baseball Movies

'My clearly stated goal is to set a new standard for realism,' he says of his new sports film.

Starting with “Ocean’s Eleven,” Brad Pitt and Steven Soderbergh made a trilogy of films about a group of savvy risk-takers who use their unconventional thinking to strike it rich. Pitt and Soderbergh’s next collaboration will also see them focusing on a group of risk-taking, outside-the-box thinkers — except the action in “Moneyball” is entirely legal.

Adapted from the Michael Lewis best-seller, the film tells the true story of the 2002 Oakland Athletics, a Major League Baseball club with a vastly smaller payroll than other teams that nonetheless came in first place in their division when general manager Billy Beane (to be played by Pitt) employed a newfangled, statistics-based approach to building his roster of players. From “Sex, Lies, and Videotape” to “Traffic,” Soderbergh has made a career out of bringing gritty realism to his pictures, and he plans on taking the same approach with “Moneyball.”

“We have the dramatic building blocks, so the question is how real can we make the world?” the director asked while promoting his feature about a high-class escort, “The Girlfriend Experience.” “My clearly stated goal is to set a new standard for realism in that [sports] world.”

To that end, he’ll be recreating the bowels of Oakland Coliseum — where the A’s play — on a soundstage and filming at actual American League stadiums around the country. And since he has the cooperation of the MLB, “Moneyball” will also be able to use actual game footage from the 2002 season.

Soderbergh is also shooting for realism in his cast, which will be made up of both actors and the real-life participants. “Anybody who is not actively playing who was on the 2002 team has been approached,” he said. “We’ve got about 60 percent of them. We have [manager] Art Howe, we’ve got Rick Peterson, the pitching coach. We’ve got three-quarters of the scouts who were there. … The guys on the team we can’t get — we’re casting real people who can play and perform. We’ll have the real footage and then we’ll go to the close-up with our guy in it, and it should be seamless,” the director explained.

Baseball has always been a rich subject for filmmakers, but Soderbergh holds one movie in particularly high esteem. ” ‘Bull Durham’ is the model for most baseball fans in terms of behavior and storytelling,” he said. “It seems the most lifelike. But I want to do something that’s even more immersive. I’m standing on the shoulders of [director] Ron Shelton. That was his contribution to the genre. Now it’s my turn.”

Filming begins in about six weeks, and the Oscar-winning director is not shy when it comes to his expectation for the finished product. “I hope it sets a new standard,” Soderbergh said. “Hopefully, anybody who makes a sports movie from now on is going to have to grapple with this.”

Check out everything we’ve got on “Moneyball.”

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