On Sunday night, when the last of the envelopes are opened at this year’s Academy Awards ceremony in Los Angeles, one of East Hampton’s own could be making her way to the stage.
Rachael Horovitz, who lives in Springs, is nominated for best picture as a producer of “Moneyball” along with Brad Pitt and Michael De Luca, but the film is primarily her baby. She optioned the Michael Lewis book, struggled with convincing distributors that the nonfiction work could have a cinematic narrative, brought together the screenwriters, the stars, and the director for the film, not once but twice when Steven Soderbergh’s vision was a bit too far out of the mainstream for Sony Pictures. (The film ended up with Bennett Miller as the director at the suggestion of Mr. Pitt’s friend Catherine Keener, who had worked with him on the movie “Capote.”)
Considering the book came out in 2002, it has been a long struggle, but one that has ultimately paid off, not just in the realization of her own goals for the project, but also the enthusiastic and warm reception the film has received and its many award nominations, including her first for an Oscar.
“Moneyball” has received recognition not only from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, but from the Golden Globes, the Screen Actors Guild, the British Academy Film Awards or BAFTA, and the Producers Guild. It has won awards from several city and regional critics groups, including the New York Film Critics Circle, which named Brad Pitt for best actor and Aaron Sorkin and Steven Zaillian for best screenplay. The film won an American Film Institute Movie of the Year award as well.
On Sunday it is up for Academy Awards in six categories, including best picture, best actor, best supporting actor for Jonah Hill, adapted screenplay, editing, and sound mixing.
“It’s really exciting,” she said earlier this month while packing for the BAFTA awards, which were held in London on Feb. 12. “The first weekend that ‘Moneyball’ was on the marquee in East Hampton, I danced a jig.”
It was the only theater where she “wanted to slip in the back to see the audience’s reaction.” And so she did a couple of days after the movie opened, and reveled as a man in the back complained that someone was blocking his view. “It was a meaningful hometown experience. There was a lot of work I did to push this movie into being that I did in the little corner of the hallway in my house that I call my office.”
Although she has worked on such well-received films as “About Schmidt,” “Rushmore,” “Next Stop Wonderland,” and “State and Main” when she was an executive at Fine Line Features, “Moneyball,” along with the HBO film version of “Grey Gardens,” were her first projects through her own independent production company, Specialty Films. She had always envisioned speaking to Albert Maysles about making a narrative film from the documentary, but as a studio executive, “I didn’t work at a company that would make a movie like that. It was the first phone call I made after I quit being a movie executive and ‘Moneyball’ was the first material I optioned.” She was stunned to discover that not only were the rights to “Grey Gardens” available, but they were free.
“Grey Gardens” was filmed in Toronto, which was a disappointment after working on the pre-production of the film in Springs. “It was only money. That year Canada had an incredible tax incentive the studios couldn’t ignore.” But the weather held, the exterior of Grey Gardens at the time was perfectly rendered by the production designer and distressed just as authentically as time passed in the film, and it all worked out. “I joked that I was going to ship the 1930s facade back to Springs and tack it onto my house.”
Ms. Horovitz did not grow up thinking she would make films. She was introduced to films, and to the South Fork, through lifelong friends and family. It would be difficult now for her to imagine her life without either.
Her father is Israel Horovitz, the author of “Line,” New York City’s longest running play, and a long list of other award-winning productions as well as a number of screenplays. Her mother, Doris Keefe, a painter, died when Ms. Horovitz was in her early 20s. “Both my parents were from Boston and we went to the North Shore” of Massachusetts in the summer. “The early juxtaposition of Ipswich farmland and the beach would come back to her on her first trip to Springs with her godmother, Priscilla Morgan, to stay with her good friends Willem de Kooning and his daughter, Lisa de Kooning.
She continued to visit for several years and then bought a place with her husband, Michael Jackson, a television producer and former head of Channel Four and BBC in Britain, and their twin sons, Eli and Joe. While she spends some of her time working while she is here, she might just as easily be found swimming in the bay or ocean or gathering fresh produce for dinner from the farm stands in summer.
She likes it that while many people in the film business come here to relax, she doesn’t have to see them, which is why she has chosen not to live in Los Angeles either. Nonetheless, she didn’t mind coming upon Paul McCartney one late afternoon singing along with his extended family of children and grandchildren in an East Hampton beach parking lot. “I was so moved that he could be anywhere in the world and that’s where he was that evening. It was a lovely moment,” she said, but she respected his privacy and kept her distance.
After she graduated from college, she took a circuitous path to her destiny. She first worked at Shakespeare and Company in Paris. “My plan was to live in Paris and the South of France and do something creative. I came home when I ran out of money.” One of her first stateside jobs was working for the administration of former New York City Mayor Ed Koch under Henry Stern, who was the parks commissioner.
She eventually found her way to the film business through a group of friends who worked for the producer Dino De Laurentiis in New York. They “made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. I went over to Dino’s company and, after my first Cannes [Film Festival], I was hooked.” Still, she kept a hand in city government by helping found the Cinema School in the Bronx, the first public high school specializing in a film curriculum.
She has another 12 projects in various stages of development, with an enviable eye for significant, yet often atypical, storytelling. Included are a biography of the British writer Bruce Chatwin, who died in 1989, an adaptation of Isabel Gillies’s memoir “Happens Every Day” with Amy Adams, and a recently optioned piece by Adam Gopnick about his friendship with the art historian and curator Kirk Varnedoe called “Last of the Metrozoids.” She is also working on an adaptation of Bill Buford’s book “Heat” about working in the kitchen at Mario Battali’s restaurant Babbo and Wil Haygood’s book “Sweet Thunder” about Sugar Ray Robinson.
After the validation of her tenacity with “Moneyball,” she is back in the netherworld of attempting to ensure that her visions for these films are fulfilled. “In a sense you don’t really know that your vision is going to be realized when you’re a producer.” Much of what happens gets turned over to other people. “You’ll see some of the dailies, and what worked on the page and in conversations doesn’t always work live.” With “Moneyball,” she said, “I felt secure watching the very first dailies and was also pretty confident when Bennett Miller came on board that that would be a defining moment.”
Still, she has an affection for the way Steven Soderbergh saw the film as well. “His way into the story was different, not to use flashbacks of the young Billy as a player, but instead he was going to use real footage, documentary style,” to cut to some of his Mets teammates such as Darryl Strawberry and the scouts on scene in the 1980s when Billy Beane was a player. “That documentary footage was incredibly interesting, that version is still in my brain.”
The production team decided that for this film, it was important to get it right and be entertaining. “It was kind of a tenet of the team that we not stray from the verisimilitude of that worldview. We didn’t have to be 100 percent accurate. The exact thing said or the exact meeting in an exact place was not as essential as the understanding of the world itself.” That meant communicating the dark and dank world of major league baseball’s front offices, particularly that of Oakland.
The Oscar nominations are exciting, she said, but it would have been okay if they hadn’t received them either. “We were thrilled when we found out about them. When you work for so many years on a movie that you care about so much, what counts is that you think it’s good. So this is a home run for me.”