Spotlight Director Tom McCarthy: 'I Want This To Be A Rallying Call'

The Spotlight director on the Oscars, Mark Ruffalo and why journalism needs help

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Fans of The Wire will recognise Tom McCarthy the actor for his role as Scott Templeton, the weasel-like young reporter who fabricated entire stories to further his own newspaper career in season five.

Eight years on and Tom McCarthy the director has been nominated at the Oscars for Spotlight, a film about a group of real-life journalists who embodied the opposite values when they won the Pulitzer Prize for uncovering the Catholic Church child sex abuse scandal that rocked the world in 2001.

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Out this week, Spotlight is a beautifully paced, expertly plotted and utterly gripping film that would make a worthy winner come Februrary. Here McCarthy talks about why he made it, what he hopes it achieves and why journalism needs more people like the heroes of his current film and less like the guy he played in the past.

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Why this story? Why this film?
There is a scene where Mitchell Garabedian [the attorney, played by Stanley Tucci] says: "it takes a village to raise a child, and it takes a village to abuse one". When I hit upon that – this concept of societal deference and complicity – that's when I thought: OK, we have a movie.

Then there is the story of Marty Baron, the first outsider to edit the Boston Globe – who also happens to be Jewish, which is important – coming to what I consider to be a very insular, very Irish Catholic city and almost on day one having this idea of challenging the church. He read a small column in his new paper about an abusive priest that ended with the line "we may never know the truth." That's a rallying cry for any reporter, and Marty took it up right away.

The film seemed careful to put the story – not the journalists themselves – front and centre
Yeah. We took the inspiration from the reporters and their work and how they conducted themselves. But I ultimately, I think they are the heroes. When Robby [Walter Robinson, played by Michael Keaton] confesses he could have chased the story sooner – I'd argue that makes him even more heroic, because he had the courage to admit to something that everyone in that movie should be admitting to. Everyone in society should be asking hard questions when bad things happen and they don't often do that.

Look, there is the whole thing they're saying about the Oscars. I am sure you're reading about it - the race issue, that they're too white. I made what is probably the whitest movie this year. It happens to be an element of the story – you're talking about a city that is very white, that's Boston, that's Southy - but still, as I director, I need to take stock of these issues and think about them going forward.

Did making a story about real people add pressure for you?
You always feel a pressure to get a movie right. Sometimes you manage it, sometimes you don't. But I think with this one, spending a lot of time with the reporters and really getting to know some of the victims… yeah, you see the struggle they face every single day and of course you want to represent that with grace and dignity. That train ride up to Boston to show them the film for the first time was a whole new kind of nervous - it was nothing like showing the producers or the studio or the first audience. It's all nerve-wracking, but this was different. Deeper, in a way.

How do you evaluate journalism in 2016? Can it still achieve the things it did at the Globe in 2001?
I think it still can. I just think it's probably happening less frequently. The obstacles are greater now. It's obviously an industry under fire, so to speak, and greatly diminished in terms of its powers – particularly at local level. Hopefully this movie will in some way act as a rallying cry, not just to inspire young journalists but innovators to come up with a new model for the industry. Because I don't think we've figured that out yet.

With the arrival of the internet we thought: we have all this information, we don't need papers now, we have 'citizen journalists'. Well, I don't want a 'citizen fireman', I want a real fireman! I want a real doctor, not a 'citizen doctor'. And I want a real journalist doing their work. When you spend time with these people, you end up asking: how did you do that? They've got a thousand tricks. They're seasoned. They were taught by veteran reporters, and they teach junior reporters. I think the craft is easy to disregard for a lot of people, but when you really look at it you appreciate it more.

Now it's the kids teaching the veterans how to use the 'tools'…
Right! I have no idea with the internet. I don't tweet, I don't do a lot of things. Ruffalo does it all. I'm like: how do people know I'm in Venice?! Because Ruffalo has told them! But I have a great appreciation for the craft of investigation. And I think this film celebrates that. People love seeing smart people do their job well, and hopefully this movie can ignite the discussion around what we have lost and what we are continuing to lose by having a greatly diminished press.

How are you feeling about the Oscars?
Pretty good! I think we can all breathe easy now. Six nominations for a movie like this… we're tremendously honoured. I'd have selfishly liked to have seen Keaton get one, because I think he equally deserves it. Not that he would complain - he's a gentleman that way. But whatever happens happens. We've done our job.

What do you think?

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