When Canadian composer Mychael Danna was asked by director Bennett Miller to score “Moneyball,” he knew it wasn’t going to be an easy, straightforward assignment. Miller, with whom Danna previously collaborated on the Oscar-nominated “Capote” (2005) made it clear that, despite its raw material of pitches and strikes, the film wasn’t primarily a baseball movie.
“It takes place in a world that reveres tradition and a certain way of doing things — and that includes scoring baseball movies as well as coaching baseball teams,” notes Danna. “But the story is of a total reassessment of the usual approach within that very traditional world, and ultimately of finding a new, better way of doing things, with sabermetrics.”
Armed with this, Danna, whose credits include “Little Miss Sunshine” and “The Ice Storm,” set out to create a score that both pays homage to tradition and salutes the new, “without adding all kinds of exotic and odd instruments that don’t belong in this world. Like (the film’s real-life character) Billy Beane, I wanted to work with materials within this traditional world, but look at them and use them in a new way, and find a different solution.”
Just as the famed Oakland A’s general manager’s solution was to strip away unnecessary nostalgia and sentiment when judging a player’s performance, Danna followed a similar path, by taking baseball movies’ scores of the past and “stripping the traditional orchestral score down to a very simple, clean sound,” he explains. “No unnecessary sentiment or emotion.”
Danna worked so closely with Bennett he refers to the result as “our score. We worked on it together right from the start of the shoot through to the final mix,” he explains. “I’d initially use a synthesized mock-up of an orchestra, and we’d play the sketches and take notes about tone and in-point and out-point.”
The team also did an early test session for one of the themes, using a string group, “as we were looking for a specific sound that’d give us that sense of power and scope, yet still keep a feeling of intimacy and tension,” Danna says. “That was the challenge, to keep both those elements in balance.”
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