By Connor Buestad
Andy Warhol once said that in the future, everyone will be world famous for 15 minutes. To me, this idea sounds plausible enough. The kicker is figuring out when, where and how this 15 minutes of famousness is going to come to fruition. Fortunately, the dream machine that is Hollywood movies has recently arrived in Oakland, ready to hand out “15 Minutes” by the truckload.
“Moneyball: The art of winning an unfair game” was a book written my Michael Lewis back in 2003. The book is about baseball, but appeals to a fairly broad audience. It chronicles the General Manager of the Oakland Athletics, Billy Beane, and his quest to turn the 2002 version of the A’s into a contender, despite being strapped with a tiny payroll and limited resources. Today, this book is being adapted into a big league Hollywood film, with the infamous Brad Pitt portraying Beane, Phillip Seymour Hoffman playing A’s manager Art Howe, and Jonah Hill acting as Beane’s front office assistant, Paul DePodesta. For one night in August, I was there myself, chronicling Oakland’s attempt at housing the big wigs of the movie industry and also doing a bit of acting myself (spoiler alert).
For those of you that have spent any more than five minutes with me knows one thing right off the bat (pun intended), my acting chops are nothing to write home about. I wish I was being self deprecating when I told you my skills as an actor were worse than poor, but in reality I’m just telling you the truth. After recently working in a New York City restaurant for 8 months, it became painfully clear that I shouldn’t bother heading off on any auditions with my co-workers. A hundred bucks for a headshot? Out of the question. Nonetheless, working with so many aspiring actors and actresses had a way of heightening my interest and sensitivity of what it takes to make it in the entertainment business. After spending a night on the set of “Moneyball” my suspicions proved correct: nothing comes easy, and there is certainly no rest for the weary.
When I showed up to “work” at the Oakland Coliseum, it was a little after 4pm on Wednesday, August 4th. Per my instructions, I strolled happily down into the A’s players’ parking lot, just as the real team was driving off following their victory over the Kansas City Royals that day. Sorting through a sea of Range Rovers and Beamers, I made my way into the Oakland Raiders locker room, where I was to meet the rest of the pseudo 2002 Minnesota Twins. Arriving a bit late, my locker was one of the few in the room not yet occupied. Minutes later, I was dressed in my full Twins uniform, ready to spend the night in character as former major leaguer Corey Koskie, cheesy goatee and all.
Our first order of business as actors for the night was to go retrieve some food from beyond the center field wall. There were rumors that a long night lay ahead of us, so eating was highly encouraged. At this point though, I was too jazzed to sit still and eat in a lonely room in the bowels of the stadium, I had to see what this movie business was all about.
Slowly but surely, the movie production crew began to come out of the woodwork and start setting up camera equipment out on the filed. If this group had one thing in common, it was that they all looked as though they had just woken up, restless from the night before, a cup of Joe never far from one’s lips. To me, the look of the behind-the-scenes production crew could best be described as “anti-Hollywood”. Long hair, tattoos, no-name clothing, the whole nine. It was almost as if the crew’s collective style was a non verbal f-you to the US Weekly, celebrity crazed world of movies.
After a little while I noticed some of the actors themselves begin to trickle onto the set. The first one I noticed was Royce Clayton, the handsome shortstop formerly of the San Francisco Giants who cut out a nice baseball career for himself, spanning almost 20 years. Clayton was here to portray Miguel Tejada in the film, and judging by his designer jeans and accompanying strut, Clayton certainly had that Hollywood swagger to him. As I sat and observed, I thought to myself, “tonight has the potential to be pretty darn interesting.” Of course, I had been on the field for about an hour by now, with no sign of Brangelina. As discouraged as I may have been at this point, I needed to forge on; I had some acting to do after all.
The first scene we shot was of then Twins player Doug Mientkiewicz (pronounced /mɪntˈkeɪvɪtʃ/ mint-KAY-vich getting picked-off first base. Then A’s player Scott Hatteberg was the first baseman applying the tag in this scene and his character was being played by actor Chris Pratt. Pratt, who played “Che” on the hit show “the O.C.” is a spitting image of Hatteberg. Unfortunately, he lacks any sort of rudimentary baseball skills. Thus, this relatively straight forward scene took about an hour longer than expected, as Pratt tried to grasp the whole idea of catching the ball and tagging out the runner in one fluid motion.
By this time in the evening, the “fans” had migrated into the stadium and taken their seats in line with the view of the camera. One such fan was my buddy Mark Bennett (@markadambennett) who took the liberty to get the extras in the crowd loosened up by heckling me and the rest of the Twins. This heckling, lubricated by some smuggled adult beverages, kept the mood light and as realistic as this “playoff game” could get. As Mark later mentioned through his twitter feed, the whole situation was a bit ironic; fake fans, heckling fake players, at a fake game. So it goes in show business I guess.
Soon enough, this pick-off scene was wrapped up and us Twins were herded like sheep back into the Raiders’ not-so-fancy locker room where we were instructed to hurry up and wait, indefinitely. Being the dedicated Bay Area Surf n’ Sport journalist that I am, I decided it would be best for me to stay behind and continue chronicling the business out on the field. Luckily I was rewarded for this…
“Wait. Is that him? No, it can’t be. No, hold on here. Holy shit, that dude who just walked into the dugout is definitely BRAD effing PITT!”
Naturally, I went straight to my iPhone. Photos, texts, tweets… I had to let the world know I was hanging on the set with Brad. This was a bad idea, I soon discovered, as a security guard almost silently ripped my head off as he whispered, “put that away or you’re gone.” Even current A’s center fielder Coco Crisp, who happened to be hanging around after his game that day, was ushered out of his own dugout to make room for Mr. Pitt. Hollywood really does wait for no man.
Over the next hour, I sat a safe distance away from security as Pitt acted out a scene where he portrays a frustrated Billy Beane venting in the A’s dugout. I noticed one overzealous teenage girl in the second deck squeal a shout of approval; she was promptly sent packing and asked not to return. Apparently Brad Pitt doesn’t like to be distracted at work. Fair enough, I suppose.
It wasn’t long before the novelty of seeing Pitt in the flesh was wearing off, and by this time, he was gone altogether. In an industry where everyone seems to work 13 hour days, Pitt was the exception as he disappeared from the set after about 2 hours of labor. (He must be really good at remembering his lines).
I wish I had a cool story to tell about chatting it up with Angelina. You know, just shooting the breeze about her kids’ summer camp plans, or what happened between her and Billy Bob Thornton, but this never came to be. Nor did Jonah Hill come by and tell dirty jokes and eat lots of candy bars. But hey, beggars can’t be choosers.
By around 9pm, it was time for my Twins team and the opposing A’s to retake the field and shoot a scene from the 2002 American League Division Playoff Series. Mind you, I had been here since 4pm and had done virtually nothing but stand around, so my expectations of what was to come weren’t very high at this point. That was until one of the directors came over to me and said, “Change of plans, we’re gonna have the third baseman catch the final out now. You’re Corey Koskie, right?” “God damn right I’m Corey Koskie,” I responded, bewildered by what was going on and what was to come.
In reality, Twins second basemen Denny Hocking caught the final out in 2002 that ended the A’s season. This is of note because Hocking broke his middle finger in the postgame dogpile and was forced to miss the rest of the playoffs that year. Despite all this, I guess the lighting was better at third base. And in movies, I’ve learned it’s all about lighting. And on this fateful Wednesday night in Oakland, I must say the lighting looked pretty darn good over at third.
So, here I was, out on this sacred piece of real estate made most famous by Carney Lansford, doing my best to nail one of the final scenes in a Brad Pitt movie. As I trotted out my position, I half expected the pseudo public address announcer to start bumping the Talking Heads “Once in a Lifetime.”
“You may ask yourself, well, how did I get here?”
Truth is, I had no idea how I got here, but there was no time to ponder this question. The sun was scheduled to rise at 6:14am and this deadline was not flexible.
My job for the next 6 hours was as follows: mime a catch of a pop fly, then celebrate like mad with my 24 other teammates who were running at me full speed from the dugout and the other 8 positions on the field. How hard could it be?
Turns out this can be pretty time consuming. The movie crew had to build a makeshift track for the camera to roll along, cameras had to be brought in from all angles, the director had to take a break to eat his mac n’ cheesse, etcetera, etcetera. The number of takes it took to film this one scene seemed endless. The fake 2002 Minnesota Twins must of celebrated our victory over the fake 2002 Oakland A’s upwards of 20 times through the course of the night. Sure, there was complementary Peet’s coffee available at my beck and call (I made friends with one of the Grips), but doing just about anything after 3 o’ clock in the morning can get pretty tedious.
I may have been tired, but as the hours wore on, and the takes added up, I began to realize how interesting it was to see filmmakers do their thing. Going into it, I fully assumed things would be run on a rigid script, exactly as planned. From what I saw, though, this did not seem to be the case at all. Granted no one asked me of my opinion, but after every two or three takes, the director and his confidants would huddle up and bounce ideas off each other and figure out what would look the best on screen. Should we move this camera here? Should we turn the north light tower off? Should he catch it standing still, or on the run? What can our special effects guys pull off and what is too much?
These brainstorming sessions really left an impression on me and shed light on why standing on a cold baseball field at 4am could be so much fun. It may have taken 12 hours to get to this stage, but there came a point where these filmmakers were truly in their element, and it was awesome to see their creative juices flowing at full speed.
Now, I wish I could end this story with some unexpected twist, but you can’t change history and the Twins will forever beat the A’s 5-4 on October 6th, 2002. By 5am, the directors had seen enough. The catch and the celebration were securely on film and the sun was set to come up in just over an hour. It was finally time to go home. The director was headed to his hotel, the production crew was packing up, and my acting career was ending just as quick as it had begun. As I climbed into my cold dark car in parking lot “A” of the Coliseum, I could only help but think, “I wish there were some cornfields around, because if there were, I’d walk right through.”
“Is this heaven?” I thought, looking back at The Coliseum. “No, it’s Oakland.”