By Peter Nowak - Friday, September 7, 2012 - 0 Comments
Last week’s post about how the budgets for television shows may need to go down in order to adapt to the internet sparked some interesting discussion over on Twitter. The discussion involved films, of course, with one commenter suggesting that A-list actors such as Tom Cruise command huge salaries because they’re proven draws.
That got me thinking: do movie executives really cast their movies based on the drawing power of the actors? Of course they used to, so the better question is perhaps whether they still do? And if so, is it possible to play games with such a system, similar to how baseball manager Billy Beane played “Moneyball” with the Oakland Athletics?
Surely I’m not the first person to have thought of this – it would actually only surprise me if this sort of thing wasn’t widespread in Hollywood.
Beane’s Moneyball strategy, for the uninitiated, was a system of picking players based on non-traditional statistics. For much of its history, Major League Baseball has aligned the value of its players according to traditional stats, like batting average, home runs, stolen bases, earned run average and so on. If one guy consistently hits .300 and 40 home runs, then he’s an all-star who should make big bucks, or so the system has gone.
Beane, however, didn’t have those big bucks to spend with the A’s, so he instead focused on what he felt were more important statistics, such as on-base average and slugging percentage. After all, it doesn’t really matter how a player gets on base – whether it’s through a hit, a walk or even hit by a pitch – because once he’s there, he has the same chance to score a run as a good hitter, which is the only thing that matters in a game that’s decided by one team outscoring the other.
As dramatized in the Brad Pitt film, Beane put together a successful team based on his stats that had no bona fide all-stars, just players who put together solid numbers but were paid modestly. The “Moneyball” strategy has of course had a big effect on baseball since, with many teams now employing statisticians that study such numbers.
The logic seems to apply to movies as well. Over the past year, Tom Cruise was again the highest paid actor, according to Forbes. The illuminating part, however, comes from looking at the magazine’s most overpaid actors list, which calculates the revenue from their last three films against salaries. Right there at ninth most overpaid is Cruise, whose movies earn $6.35 for every dollar he’s paid.
Contrast that with the most profitable actor, Kristen Stewart, whose movies (which have basically been Twilightfilms, so far) earn $55.83 for ever dollar she’s paid.
The two lists are quite obvious when compared. The overpaid list includes established, big A-listers including Cruise’s ex-wife Nicole Kidman and comedians such as Adam Sandler, Will Ferrell and Eddie Murphy. The most profitable list, meanwhile, is made up mostly of young actors such as Stewart’s co-star Robert Pattinson, Daniel Radcliffe and Shia Labeouf.
The major flaw with Forbes’ process is equally obvious when the types of movies the actors star in are considered. People go to see comedies based on the actor/comedian, while not many go to big event movies like Transformers to see Labeouf. Comedy actors thus probably merit higher pay while their movies earn less than blockbusters, which pay their stars relatively little. This skew explains much of the two lists.
Still, the inclusion of dramatic actors such as Cruise and Kidman on the overpaid list does lend credence to the fact that paying an actor large amounts of money to star in a movie is pretty risky, if not foolish. From a financial perspective, it would seem to make more sense to play Moneyball with actors. As long as it’s not a movie that’s completely dependent on the actor’s personality, young players consistently deliver a better bang for the buck.
By Jessica Allen - Wednesday, September 5, 2012 at 3:42 PM - 0 Comments
This year, Venus and Serena come to the big screen
Nearly every single sports movie I can think of makes me feel good on the inside. No wonder, considering their predictable narrative arcs almost always involve an underdog–think Rocky–or a team of underdogs–think Hoosiers–who against all odds, win something, or lose at something but their personal victory is so great that no one cares they lost.
Last year there were a couple of great sports movies at TIFF: Moneyball and Goon. This year, there’s a documentary called Venus and Serena based on one year in the super star tennis sisters’ lives that details how they made it and their struggles to stay on top that premieres on September 11. And then on September 10, there’s Arthur Newman, a film about a one-time hot shot in the world of competitive amateur golf, which sounds like it might slightly deviate from the classic sports movie formula: the hot shot tanks when he hits the pro circuit, then stages his own death, reinvents himself as a “Arthur Newman” and “sets out toward his own private Oz of golf.” It starts Colin Firth, Emily Blunt and Anne Heche.
By Brian D. Johnson - Thursday, October 6, 2011 at 10:37 PM - 0 Comments
George Clooney, who directed The Ides of March, likes to call it a political thriller. Which may be putting too fine a point on it. Insofar as politics is a game, as opposed to a mission, it can be seen as a sports movie, a less sentimental Moneyball, with the backroom boys trying to win the White House rather than the World Series. In his finest directing effort to date, Clooney casts himself as a left-wing Democrat in a presidential primary race. But he’s not the star, just the supporting player. The movie belongs to Ryan Gosling, who portrays Clooney’s hotshot press secretary, a golden boy whose tender ideals hit the wall in a game of hardball involving sex, lies and interns. This, in fact, is so much of a backroom story that Clooney’s character did not even appear onstage in the 2008 play on which the movie is based. The play, which bore the decidedly less sexy title of Farragut North, comes from Beau Willimon, who was a young writer on presidential hopeful Howard Dean’s 2004 Iowa campaign. Presumably he knows whereof he speaks.
The Ides of March burns along with a shrewd, whip-smart script, and when I first saw it, just before TIFF, I instantly hailed it as this year’s The Social Network. The analogy seemed obvious: it’s another brainy backstage intrigue about diabolical ambition, dirty tricks and betrayed loyalty. Well, since then I saw Moneyball, which was co-scripted by Aaron Sorkin, and now of course everyone is comparing that movie to The Social Network, which Sorkin wrote. Continue…
By Brian D. Johnson - Friday, September 23, 2011 at 3:35 PM - 0 Comments
Now that the circus act has left Toronto, our critic picks the films that are bound for glory
It was celebrity gridlock. Each year the juggernaut of the Toronto International Film Festival seems bigger than ever, but with its 36th edition (Sept. 8-18), it turned a corner. Anchored by its grand new headquarters, the TIFF Bell Lightbox, the festival finally moved fully downtown. As black SUV limos lined the streets, disgorging stars into the red-carpet blaze of cameras, the city’s entertainment district turned into a glass-and-concrete answer to Cannes—with some surreal moments worthy of Fellini.
Counter-spinning tabloid gossip, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie wrapped their arms around each other in a regal show of marital bliss at the premiere of Moneyball—for which Pitt earned up to $15 million as a hero who reinvents baseball by casting low-rent players instead of high-priced stars. Fresh from her hydrangea-bashing faux pas with a fan in Venice, Madonna ran a gauntlet of critical scorn for W.E., her risible take on Wallis Simpson and King Edward VIII, then denied reports that her goons told festival volunteers to avert their eyes when the Queen Mother of Pop came into view. Impresario Garth Drabinsky, on the eve of going to prison for fraud, took a hubris-heavy perp walk down the red carpet with Christopher Plummer for the premiere of Barrymore. Bono introduced a U2 documentary by comparing songwriting to sausage-making. And Neil Young did a double take when a grey-haired lady introduced herself at the premiere of his concert film—he confessed he had a crush on her in the fourth grade.
Now that the stardust has settled, and the circus has left town, all that remains of the festival are the movies. Some of them we’ll still be talking about in February. Each year TIFF launches the fall season of Oscar-pedigree films, and as the buzz merchants tried to sniff out the next King’s Speech or Slumdog Millionaire from 268 feature titles, there was no obvious champ. But some clear contenders stood out. It was above all a festival of stellar male performances—Clooney, Pitt, Gosling, Fassbender, Harrelson—even if the audience prize went to Nadine Labaki’s Where Do We Go Now?, a feel-good fable of female liberation from Lebanon.
By Brian D. Johnson - Saturday, September 10, 2011 at 6:01 PM - 0 Comments
A few hours before my colleague, Jessica Allen threw that question to Brad Pitt on front lines of the red carpet—”What’s you’re favorite sports movie”—I asked the same damn question in TIFF’s Moneyball press conference yesterday. I was the first to get a word with Mr. Pitt, and, of course, like a polite Canadian, I didn’t ask about Angelina or the kids or those recent tabloid headlines about her being pissed that he’s allegedly smoking reefer—reefer!— in some obscure “drug den” on their estate. No, like Jessica, I lobbed him a softball query about his favorite sports movie. As on the red carpet, he mentioned his childhood affection for Bad News Bears. Then he talked about how North Dallas Forty, starring Nick Nolte, has a special place in his heart because he snuck into it. But I also asked Brad if the Moneyball strategy—trying to score hits with the right combo of utility players rather than high-priced stars—should be tried, or has been tried by Hollywood.”Well, not if they hired me,” he quipped. He went on to says that, “with digital video on the rise, we’re going to see more of this talent that wouldn’t have had a shot before.” (I can only think that he’s referring, with uncanny prescience, to our rising red carpet star, Jessica Allen).
As the press conference wore on, the issue of disparity between marquee players and hired hands in Hollywood became the prevailing theme. On a podium that included Pitt, Jonah Hill and Philip Seymour Hoffman, the least known actor was Chris Pratt, who plays Scott Hatteberg, the struggling first baseman in Moneyball. And as soon as he opened his mouth, this rather dull affair known as “the Brad Pitt press conference” suddenly perked up. When fielding a group question about what inspired the actors, he compared himself to his character and gushed with genuine passion, “I’ve never done anything like this before. I’m inspired right now! I don’t get paid a shitload of money. You guys got me for really cheap. I’m kinda like Scott Hatteberg.” He went on to rave about the baseball skills of the cast. “Every bit of baseball you see is real. I would put this team against any baseball team in any movie.”
Jonah Hill also weighed in with his underdog credentials. With Superbad, the film that launched his career, he said “I was a very unlikely person to be the star of a big motion picture. And I continually get that underdog opportunity.” In fact, the novelty of his nerdy character in Moneyball is the secret to the movie’s odd couple chemistry. You wonder: what is this guy doing sharing power in the clubhouse with Brad Pitt? Later, when director Bennett Miller launched into a long and lofty dissertation about the beauty of baseball—talking about its “bicameral existence” as romance and science, its attachment to superstition, its timeless, clockless nature, its “long periods of boredom and monotony punctuated by moments of excitement and extreme terror. . . “—Jonah Hill cut him off with a verbal line drive: “He’s trying to say that it looks really cool.”
On the underdog issue, meanwhile, Philip Seymour Hoffman finally put the all this celebrity relativism in perspective by pointing out that no one on the podium was really an underdog actor. “Most actors don’t work,” he reminded us. “Everyone at this table is in the top five per cent.”
By Jessica Allen - Friday, September 9, 2011 at 1:09 PM - 0 Comments
Finally—the red carpets come out tonight
On Wednesday morning, the eve before the TIFF storm, I rode my bike past Roy Thompson Hall–the site of all the festival’s galas–and saw several metal stands lined up like soldiers in the lobby.
By tonight they’ll have strands of rope attached to them (golden? velvet?) to separate the common folk and media types from the stars walking down red carpets, which, by the by, I also saw—stuffed unceremoniously into big clear plastic bags. They’ll be rolled out any hour now and the first people to walk down them will be some of Hollywood’s heaviest hitters, including Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill, the stars of Moneyball (6:30 pm), and George Clooney, the director, writer and star of Ides of March (9:30 pm). Clooney will be accompanied by some of his co-stars, including Ryan Gosling, Evan Rachel Wood, Marisa Tomei, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Giamatti. And it’ll be just as exciting Saturday night, when two homegrown Canadian directors debut their films to Toronto: Sarah Polley’s Take This Waltz (9:30pm), starring Michelle Williams, Seth Rogan and Sarah Silverman, plus David Cronenberg’s fictional film about Carl Yung (Michael Fassbinder) and Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen), A Dangerous Method (6:30 pm).
It’s going to be mayhem. And Maclean’s will be there.
By Brian D. Johnson - Friday, September 9, 2011 at 10:00 AM - 0 Comments
The front half of U2, Bono & the Edge, launched The Toronto International Rock Festival, er, Film Festival last night with From the Sky Down, the first documentary to open TIFF—and one of three rock docs at the festival. Introducing the premiere onstage at Roy Thompson Hall, Bono admitted the band was anxious about letting director David Guggenheim (An Inconvenient Truth) spy on their creative process. “Not because we’re precious—which we are!” he said, but because songwriting “is not that pretty.” He cited the adage that “if you knew what you went into the sausage, you wouldn’t eat it.” When it comes to U2, I’m not much of carnivore anyway, but that’s another story. On TIFF’s opening day, my highlights were two sausage-making stories about the other stuff that goes on in stadiums and arenas when rock stars aren’t performing—namely Moneyball, a terrifically entertaining baseball movie starring Brad Pitt, and The Last Gladiators, a timely documentary about hockey enforcers by Oscar-winning U.S. director Alex Gibney (Taxi to the Dark Side, Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room)
Pitt is having a remarkable year. First he plays the dark side of the American Dream in Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life, which won the Palme d’Or in Cannes; and now he switch-hits to the sunny side in Moneyball‘s amazing-but-true story of Billy Beane, a general manager who changed the face of major league baseball. Continue…
By Colby Cosh - Thursday, April 8, 2010 at 10:40 AM - 4 Comments
Can an anonymous stats guru turn the Blue Jays around?
Everybody who takes an introductory stats course at university learns about Student’s t-test, a technique useful with small-sample experiments. “Student,” in this case, has nothing to do with the classroom. It was the pen name of William Sealy Gosset (1876-1937), one of the most important figures in the development of modern statistics. Gosset had a celebrated scientific career, but his alter ego got the immortality. His discoveries arose from his work as a brewer and agriculturist for Guinness, which had a strict policy against the publication of trade secrets; hence the pseudonym.
Last week, the Toronto Blue Jays announced the hiring of baseball’s modern-day answer to “Student”—the New Jersey-based, Montreal-born author, programmer and analyst known to the world as “Tom Tango.” Tango is among the most respected figures in the field of “sabermetrics,” the application of scientific and quantitative methods to baseball, which is perhaps best known as the subject of Michael Lewis’s non-fiction bestseller Moneyball. A wide-ranging baseball philosopher whose topics of study range anywhere from millimetric variances in the strike zone to multi-million-dollar team payrolls, Tango is the lead author of 2006’s The Book: Playing the Percentages in Baseball, perhaps the most important sabermetric manual of the past two decades. When the Kansas City Royals’ Zack Greinke won the American League Cy Young Award last year, the right-hander said that he was especially fond of a statistic called “FIP” and pitched with it constantly in mind. FIP stands for Fielding-Independent Pitching (a method of factoring the defence out of a pitcher’s earned run average and crediting him only for events over which he has sole control). Its inventor: Tom Tango.
But while he is admired, prolific and an active correspondent with other scholars, Tango remains an enigma. He keeps his real name a closely guarded secret. Long known in the online sabermetrics world as “Tangotiger,” he tacked on the “Tom” and dropped the “Tiger” solely to have something semi-respectable-looking to put on the cover of The Book. “There are a lot of old-timers who think that I should sign my Christian name,” he blogged in 2008. “I don’t see why it’s anyone’s business other than mine.”