By Vallery Maravi
Spotlight is a dramatic-thriller written by Academy Award-nominee Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer, and directed by Tom McCarthy himself. The film is based on the true story of how the Boston Globe uncovered the massive scandal of child molestation and cover-up within the local catholic church. A story about a team of journalists going after the catholic church in search of justice and getting the truth.
Tom McCarthy didn’t want to give a sense of a documentary since it was a very sensitive subject. He says he even passed the opportunity to direct it at first, but it was brought to him a year later with a different pitch on how the movie should start: “…because the movie opened very differently from what they pitched. This idea of Marty Baron arriving at The Boston Globe–there was just something really interesting and compelling about this outsider arriving in Boston, taking over this city newspaper in a very Irish Catholic city, and asking some very straightforward but tough questions about the Catholic Church. I was immediately like, ‘yeah, that’s interesting’.” McCarthy says he felt sensitive to the subject and maybe more empathetic to it which was already a challenge to direct it since the story touched many levels that dealt with faith. Although, the more he asked questions and the more digging there was into the story the more material he noticed he had. He felt fascinated and engaged with the process of the investigation that he found important and helpful tools to tell his story.
The movie portrays a small and very talented group of journalist working for the Spotlight news paper in the early 2000. The new editor of the Boston Globe, Marty Baron, played by Live Schreiber, happens to read a column where he finds out about a lawyer, Mitchell Garabedian, Stanley Tucci, who knew and represented the victims of sexual abuse by a priest named John Geoghan. Baron comes to meet Walter Robinson “Robby”, played by Michael Keaton, the editor of the Spotlight team. Baron comes to an agreement that the Spotlight team should drop everything and start investigating Mitchell Garabedian. On the team, other journalists jump in the investigation played by Rachel McAdams, Mark Ruffalo and John Slattery.
Looking at the set of the conference room, I was taken away by it. I thought they did a magnificent job on the set design and I even thought the production used a real building to shoot the film. William Cheng is a master of details. He and his co-set designer John MacNeil were in charge of building the set of The Boston Globe, and I could say that it was perfectly replicated. The team came across with an old abandoned store warehouse about to be tear down. The team was lucky enough to get inside and be able to re-do the whole interior. Stephen Carter was the production designer, and he went to Boston exclusively to take pictures of the real building of “The Boston Globe” and take photos of the details that they needed. The production designers also made their investigation through old pictures of the building since the movie was done recently and the building didn’t look the same anymore like it did 15 years ago. Since the production had to come with a different layout for the set to make it fit into the new built set, some shapes and chairs weren’t exactly the same, but they did come up with new furnishing, colors and materials ideas to evoke as much of that era as they could.
I thought the colors were a great picked, but what do I know. I wanted to start analysing camera angles and colors as soon as I started watching the film. So when it came to the colors of the set environment that were used I noticed a great deal of light blue and maroon along with black, white, green and wooden brown. I couldn’t help noticing the color of the clothing picked for the actors, which was a very simple style. The production didn’t want to overwhelm the actor’s performances by distracting the audience with the wardrobe. Both Baron and the reporters seems to wear a light blue shirt in different tones. Sasha Pfeiffer, Rachel McAdams, would go with mostly dark colors. Their small work place outside Baron’s office was a bright room. The news room had a soft light and clear, it felt like a peaceful workplace besides the pile of papers and the mess. It didn’t seem to be a stressful room but instead a very united team motivated to work. Their tables and the shelves had a touch of a light blue almost turquoise. Even the pens, the curtains, folders were light blue. Throughout the investigation when collecting clips of newspapers, the books they were looking through to find photos of the priests were also maroon and light blue, almost all of them. The conference room, the aisles and the main character’s offices were pretty much bright. It felt almost like a fresh and clear place to work at. Once outside the news room building, when shooting at the characters’ home, the lighting got darker. The lighting at Pfiffers’ house, one of the reporters, the colors were more maroon, felt almost warmed, cozy and homey. It seemed more of a personal situation since her husband and grandma were there. When shooting at Michael Rezendes’ house the lighting wasn’t that soft. It didn’t give a feeling of a home. He was kind of in and out, the place was almost empty, and the lighting wasn’t as bright. At the church, the set of course was mostly reddish and maroon, and the lighting wasn’t so much bright. So I thought, does the reddish/maroon had any significance with the blood of Christ as suggested in the bible? just as the red curtains, the red carpet and some churches red doors. Maybe this was an idea to maintain the reddish color on the set throughout the film while the turquoise and white colors represents purity? I suppose. Also, I thought it was interesting how the director had these people spread out sitting in mass wearing red and turquoise. The team was really defining those colors everywhere. Even at the houses of the victims. The all had some decorations with these colors, even on the streets and coffee shops. I never saw such a combination on the sets, or perhaps I never paid attention before but this was definitely something that the production designers wanted us to see very clear.
The original motion picture soundtrack of Spotlight was, I thought, absolutely beautiful and elegant. A soundtrack score by veteran Hollywood film composer Howard Shore. The story was even more intriguing while listening to these soundtracks. There were a beautiful set of them, and my favorite was “Legacy”. The opening of the film starts with “Spotlight” a piano melody giving an elegant and smooth tone. “Deference and Complicity” plays over the opening scenes where we see a priest in 1976 being questioned by police but released after intervention from the higher-ups at the Boston Archdiocese. “Investigative Journalism” is a more nervous-sounding piece, reflecting the tension-filled newsroom where the Spotlight team was working. I think these soundtrack really helped us feel more the process of the case. There was a lot of suspense along the dialogues.
When it comes to editing, here is the magic touch. This is what the whole story is about. Is about how much does the director wants you to know and how he/she wants you to perceive the story. There is so many elements that play an important role on a story, and editing/cuts are the key. Editor Tom McArdle had the challenge of keeping the material interesting and moving. He said to a magazine: “We spent eight months editing and we spent a lot of time thinking about pace and clarity.” “We would have screenings every three weeks and sort of feel where things were playing well and where they might be lagging. We ended up cutting out five complete scenes and then pieces of other scenes. A lot of scenes we would just cut out a line or two of dialogue just to keep it moving, but it was definitely a concern, to keep it interesting to people.”
The film was developed chronologically and there wasn’t any flashbacks, so everything was up to the cuts. Since editing is the guide to maintain audiences focused it is important for the editor to keep it neat and clear, and that was what McArdle wanted to do. McCarthy and McArdle agreed to keep the audience involved on what was happening so the editing had to be done and redone to refine the footage. “Some of the scenes were scenes of the reporters’ personal lives, and it just sort of seemed later in the edit that we wanted to stay focused on the investigation and we didn’t want things to sort of throw us off that course.” “On [McCarthy’s] other films there were scenes we would have had a concern about losing, but not this one.” – Vanity.com
Along the editing, camera angles also tell a story. One of the scenes that really called my attention and I thought it was very creative was when Robby and the reporters are sitting down in the office while on the phone speaking to Richard on speaker, as soon as that scene starts the camera starts to zoom out from them very slowly, then the camera stops and they finish talking, but the make it look like they are about to continue but they only paused for a second looking at each other, then the cut jumps into another scene and the other actor finishes the sentence. I really liked that.
Camera shots used were wide, full medium, medium-close and panning. Panning was noticeable in the shots throughout the film since the reporters were constantly entering into a room, walking and talking in the aisle on their way in or out, and also walking around in the city. Another scene I noticed all these shots combined in one was when Baron awaits in his office for Bobby and his partner, the couches are in the middle where they will sit down, the camera is behind Baron, so when the two journalists walk into the room the camera follows them panning to the right, then they sit. There is a full shot of the room cutting it to a medium shot and over the shoulder while they speak.
From the five main characters, only two of them were round characters. At first, we all see the team very much interested in following every detail in search of the truth about what happened and who are the priests involved later to realized that they had all they needed five years ago, but they never supported that, not until now. Michael’s character had a pitch moment when he wanted to fight justice for those people affected, and he was building that up from the moment he started it. Wasn’t until the end the Bobby also realized why they waited so long when he knew, as a journalist, they had the power to help and the voice to speak up for the victims.
This movie was a new different experience from others that I have analyzed before. I liked it, but it wasn’t as extraordinary as I thought it would be perhaps because it was a sensitive story they kept it simple and just emphazise the work of the journalist based on the true story. There is so many elements to keep in mind, and every single one of them also tells a story.