Columbia Pictures drops ball on Brad Pitt pic

Columbia Pictures has dropped the ball on “Moneyball,” the Steven Soderbergh-directed Brad Pitt starrer that was supposed to begin production on Monday in Phoenix.

On Friday, Columbia Pictures topper Amy Pascal placed the picture into “limited turnaround,” giving the filmmaker the chance to set it up at another studio, with Warner Bros. and Paramount the prime targets.

The move came after Pascal read a rewrite that Soderbergh did to Steven Zaillian’s script and found it very different from the earlier scripts she championed. Pascal was uncomfortable enough with how the vision had changed that she applied the brakes.

Soderbergh and Pitt’s CAA reps spent the weekend attempting to get another studio to play ball.

If a new financier doesn’t emerge by today, Columbia will re-examine options that include replacing Soderbergh (and hoping Pitt doesn’t ankle), delaying the film until Pascal and the filmmaker find themselves in synch on the script or pulling the plug.

Columbia’s move to jettison a Pitt pic is ironic. Pitt dropped out of “State of Play” just before that picture was to begin production, when he read the studio-approved shooting script that veered too far from the draft that prompted him to sign on. It is unusual to see a studio step off a film to which a superstar like Pitt is firmly committed.

Even in the climate of heightened studio caution, the turnaround news on “Moneyball” is surprising given that the project had reached the equivalent of third base. It was just 96 hours before the participants were ready to take the field, following three months of prep and with camera tests completed and cast and budget in place.

Pascal’s wariness is hardly unfathomable. Even though it was approved by Major League Baseball, the script doesn’t follow the traditional narrative structure of most sports yarns.

“Moneyball” is based on the bestselling Michael Lewis book about Billy Beane (Pitt), the former player who resurfaced as the Oakland A’s general manager and found success fielding competitive teams for low cost.

Aside from actors like Pitt and Demetri Martin, Soderbergh is using real ballplayers — such as former A’s Scott Hatteberg and David Justice — as actors, and he also has shot interviews with such ballplayers as Beane’s former Mets teammates Lenny Dykstra, Mookie Wilson and Darryl Strawberry. Those vignettes would be interspersed in the film.While Soderbergh is confident his take will work visually, Columbia brass had doubts on a film that costs north of $50 million. That is reasonable for a studio-funded pic that includes the discounted salary of a global star like Pitt, but baseball films traditionally don’t fare well on the global playing field.

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