FEBRUARY 24 2017
For more than a decade Brad Pitt has been carefully building a plan B, as a producer. It looks to be paying off big time.
If you want to dazzle your friends on Monday with your depth of Oscar-related trivia, you might casually mention that Brad Pitt has been nominated for six Academy Awards, with one win so far. But if you really want to impress them, you'll need to remember the role for which he collected that little gold man.
Was it as the teeth-tapping madman Jeffrey Goines in 12 Monkeys, for which he was nominated as best supporting actor in 1996? Or as a man who lives his life in reverse in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (best actor 2009)? Or maybe as the number-crunching baseball team manager Billy Beane in Moneyball (best actor again, 2012)?
Actually, it was none of those.
Brad Pitt's sole Oscar win has come in the role for which he has garnered least notice to date – as a movie producer.
When 12 Years a Slave collected the best picture Oscar in 2014, Pitt was one of the five producers who took home a statuette (the best picture award is given to the producers, not the director, of the film). His co-winners were Steve McQueen, who also directed, independent producer Anthony Katagas, and Dede Gardner and Jeremy Kleiner, the co-presidents of Plan B, Pitt's production company.
This year, his Plan B will be among the contenders again, with Moonlight up for eight Academy Awards, including best picture.
It is the fourth year straight the company has had a best picture nominee, after 12 Years... (2014), Selma (2015) and The Big Short (2016). In a relatively short space of time, it has emerged as a major-minor player, racking up receipts (global box office of more than $US2.4 billion), favourable notices, and award nominations, an uncommon trifecta in the movie business.
Pitt launched Plan B in 2001 with his then wife Jennifer Aniston and Hollywood executive Brad Grey. Grey exited soon after, when he was appointed top dog at Paramount (a job from which he has just been dumped, following a $US450 million loss for the studio last financial year).
When he and Aniston divorced, Pitt assumed sole ownership of the company, which had been around in name since 1996, passing through a few sets of hands before reaching the glamour couple.
The first film produced by Plan B was Troy, in 2004. It gave us the memorable sight of Pitt in a leather skirt, and was a reasonable success in commercial terms (taking about $US500 million worldwide, on a budget of $US175 million), but the sword-and-sandals epic gave little indication of the direction Plan B would head in years to come.
It didn't take long for this boutique production house to start mixing it with the big boys. In 2006, the firm produced Martin Scorsese's The Departed, which won four Oscars the following February, including best picture (including, finally, a best director award for Scorsese, who had been nominated and overlooked five times before that).
Pitt is listed in the movie's credits as one of that film's four producers. But only one of them, Englishman Graham King, received an Oscar.
That was down to the Academy's guidelines on who is eligible, which state in part: "The nominees will be those three or fewer producers who have performed the major portion of the producing functions." The rules are rubbery, though. Producing teams can sometimes be treated as a single producer, and producers ruled out can appeal, and sometimes be ruled back in.
At any rate, the Academy ruled in the case of The Departed that neither Pitt nor Grey was eligible. Nor will Pitt be invited onto the winners' podium should Moonlight win best picture next week – the nominated producers are Plan B's Gardner and Kleiner and independent producer Adele Romanski, who initiated the project with writer-director Barry Jenkins in 2013.
But while Gardner and Kleiner are clearly the driving forces in Plan B, Pitt isn't just a nominal producer. There are films on which he takes an executive producer credit – a sure sign that his involvement isn't very hands-on – but on plenty of Plan B's titles he is credited as one of a small number of producers. Indeed, on some of the company's forthcoming pictures (many of which will undoubtedly fall by the wayside) he is the only credited producer.
Hollywood is of course full of producers, some of whom might never have even been on a movie set. On Terrence Malick's Voyage of Time: Life's Journey, for instance, 23 people get a producer credit of some stripe (Pitt is one of seven listed as a producer proper).
The Producers Guild of America draws a distinction between those who have merely traded cash for cache or been cogs in a machine and those who have been genuinely instrumental in getting a film conceived, financed and/or distributed. The Academy largely follows suit when it comes to Oscar eligibility. It hasn't entirely stopped the stampede to the stage on awards night, but it has at least cut down on the work of those who engrave the names on the statuettes.
At 53, it seems Pitt is easing himself into a future where he will inevitably seem less viable as a leading man. He has 42 producer credits on imdb.com. On about half of those he is listed as a producer – one of the people who actually make the thing happen – rather than an executive producer (someone who makes sure they make it happen, usually on behalf of a studio or other financial backer).
True, he also appears in many of the films he has a producer credit on, but it's often no more than a cameo or small role – just enough to help make the project more appealing to those who will bankroll, distribute or screen it.
It's a smart way to leverage on-screen appeal to build an off-screen business, but ultimately Plan B will have to outgrow its owner's star power if it is to go the distance. And that's where projects such as Moonlight and the Netflix TV series The OA matter so much. Their success owes nothing to Pitt onscreen.
Indeed, it's highly likely that at some point Plan B will become Pitt's plan A. Maybe that is already starting to happen.
The company has four films slated for release in the near future; Pitt is a producer of two, an EP of the other two, and appears in only one of them, War Machine, a satire about the military campaign in Afghanistan directed by Australian David Michod (Animal Kingdom).
Since 2010, Pitt has acted in 10 movies and produced 10. He has also produced two TV series. There have been big-budget blockbusters such as World War Z (with a sequel in the works, allegedly to be directed by David Fincher) and Fury, as well as quirky smaller films such as Moneyball and Kick-Ass.
And of course there have been the critical darlings.
To date, Plan B has notched up 36 Oscar nominations since its first (for costume design), in 2005, for Troy. It has won nine, and if the predictions hold true, Moonlight looks set to add to that tally come Monday.
Whether that happens of not, it's fair to say Pitt's plan B is working out just fine. For now at least, successful producer is a role he appears to have nailed.
Plan B at the Oscars
Troy 1 nomination, 2005. No producer credit for Pitt
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory 1 nomination, 2006. No producer credit for Pitt
The Departed 5 nominations, 4 wins, 2007. No Oscar for Pitt, despite being one of four credited producers
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford 2 nominations, 2008. Pitt was one of five producers
The Tree of Life 3 nominations, 2012. Pitt was one of six named producers
12 Years a Slave 9 nominations, 3 wins, 2014. Pitt was one of five eligible producers
Selma 2 nominations, 1 win, 2015. No producer credit for Pitt
The Big Short 5 nominations, 1 win, 2016. Pitt was one of four producers
Moonlight 8 nominations 2017. No producer credit for Pitt
not mine.credit and source: THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD