“Our first job is to make an entertaining film, but secondly, when we can have an impact like this, it’s pretty gratifying,” said Spotlight director Tom McCarthy during a recent interview with The Santa Barbara Independent. Nominated for five Academy Awards, McCarthy has achieved both objectives with this enthralling film, which follows a team of Boston Globe reporters that uncovers a sex-abuse scandal within the Catholic Church in 2002. Amiable and thoughtful, McCarthy answered a few questions ahead of his appearance at the SBIFF, where he will receive an award for Outstanding Directors of the Year.
How hard was it to get Spotlight made? We kept joking that we weren’t greenlit until we wrapped. And there was a lot of truth in that. I think in this particular marketplace, it’s always difficult to get something like Spotlight made … the subject matter, having an ensemble [cast]. Even when we had all the pieces in place, we were never certain. There were a lot of times we thought we were dead. Especially down at the stretch. We were running out of time, and the window on shooting and actors was tough. Fortunately, we pulled it off.
The team spent several years investigating the story, and you had to get all that information in your heads relatively quickly. That must have been a challenge. Well, keep in mind that everything they had reported on we had access to, but we didn’t have access to the investigation. So we could read what they reported pretty easily, though that took time, but understanding how they got there, that’s what we had to ask the questions about, and the only way we could do that was by going back again and again and again.
I like the way you portrayed the realism of a newspaper investigative team. It was a direct result of chatting with them and realizing they weren’t fist-pumping people. Occasionally they’d get mad like anybody else when their collaboration was difficult, but they are pros; they do their job. And it felt like we wanted to capture that. Then as we started to really lean into that, it felt like it was creating a style and a tone that was both original and exciting. We had this great end, but it was the procedural, the investigation — so totally how we addressed that was the next big question.
Was there any backlash regarding the subject matter? No, not really. They pretty much left us alone, and now that the movie has come, what is most exciting is the response. I just received an email from a producer that said two Australian cardinals are urging the parishioners to go see Spotlight. You hear things like that from halfway around the world, and you know we are connecting somewhere.
Which is the goal of all of the films you’ve made, I imagine. I think so, but you can’t always count on it. This movie has certainly a special relevant impact. And here, 12 weeks in and now expanding internationally, we are really starting to feel that. We are feeling that this movie is really moving the needle in some small way.