With advance word of well-received showings in Venice and Telluride, the audience for Spotlight at the Toronto International Film Festival was in full anticipation mode. After seeing director Tom McCarthy’s extraordinary handling of the story about The Boston Globe’s investigation into child abuse within the Catholic Church, the audience was on its feet as the cast joined the real Spotlight reporters onstage. So what makes this serious film one of the season’s most popular? Producers Nicole Rocklin and Steve Golin—half of the producing team that also includes Blye Pagon Faust and Michael Sugar—share their thoughts.
How did you first become involved?
Nicole Rocklin: My partner, Blye Faust, and I found out about the project from a friend we were working with, David Mizner. It was an extraordinary story, so we immediately partnered with Michael Sugar and Steve.
Steve Golin: Michael and I were involved for four or five years, and the girls were involved before that. These things take a while, and Tom McCarthy was going to do the film a year earlier, but there was a seasonal aspect to the production and we missed our season.
Journalists report the story but don’t always like to be the story. Was there hesitation from the real Spotlight team?
Rocklin: What’s interesting is that when we approached them they were all just like, “This is never going to happen.” We were honest, and we said the chances of (the film) getting made were slim to none. But they trusted us, and it must be hard when someone’s going to portray you on film and, at least on paper, you don’t have any decision-making influence. But obviously these guys were heavily involved, and I think we had someone on-set pretty much the entire time. There wasn’t much resistance.
Was McCarthy always your director pick?
Rocklin: Always. For me, The Vistor is one of my favorite movies. He’d never (filmed) a true story and was interested, but the first time we went to him he turned it down based on availability. It came back around, thank God. He and Josh Singer, who co-wrote the script, had an incredible dynamic. They very much investigated the investigation and turned up things we didn’t know about, that the journalists weren’t even aware of.
Did the cast come together easily?
Golin: It was a huge challenge. I think Mark Ruffalo gets the credit, because when you do one of these ensemble movies, often the actors’ representatives are very cautious about making sure it’s the right team of people and they’re not putting their client in a bad situation, particularly on a film of this size, where they’re not getting paid much. The script had been around and it was Mark who really signed on first and told his representatives that he was doing the movie and to make it happen. He was the brave “journalist” to say yes first. A lot of other actors were circling, and when he put his flag in the sand, they started signing on. It was very close to not happening.
Was there sensitivity to this subject in Boston, where some of the film was shot?
Rocklin: It was really supportive. We expected a little pushback but we could have been shooting a Marvel movie. People were mentally supportive, and there wasn’t any major pushback.
Golin: There’s always some pushback on movies because people think it’s a pain in the ass. Every movie I’ve worked on, someone starts shouting at you and telling you to get the f**k out. But I think we were all pleasantly surprised there wasn’t more institutional negativity from Boston and, frankly, the movie has been extremely well received in Boston. I think the whole stage of denial for Catholics is over. They know this happened, it’s fact, and I think it’s an extremely fair portrayal.
Given how hard it was to bring the ensemble together and shoot within season, did you have enough time to shoot?
Rocklin: It was 40 days, and we ended up having to go back to Boston because of the seasons. We didn’t start having much time to go back but Tom wanted to get all the seasons and to make sure everything was perfect in terms of Boston scenery.
Golin: The executive producer, Michael Bederman, was very resourceful in terms of putting a little bit of money aside to allow Tom to do that. You always wish you had more time, and we always wish we had more money so we could get paid more, but I honestly believe if we had more time and more money this movie wouldn’t have been any better. I think we made the best version of this movie we were capable of making.
Steve, you’re also a producer on The Revenant, another Best Picture front-runner. Is it odd to have two horses in the race?
Golin: This movie took five years and that movie was 10 years, so it’s like having two children of different ages. It was certainly never by design that these movies would come out within a few months of each other, but that’s the way it happened. I’ve worked on a lot of movies, and I’ve made some I thought came out great, and a bunch that didn’t. It’s obviously more gratifying to make the movies people are talking about. I love them both, and it’s a weird situation, but it’s a high-class problem to have.