Impact Film & TV sent contributor Jake Leonard, to London for the press conference regarding the film, with select questions being used for this article. For the review of the film click here.
Speakers: Michael Keaton (who plays Walter ‘Robby’ Robinson), Mark Ruffalo (playing Mike Rezendes), Tom McCarthy (director and co-writer), Walter Robinson (former head of the Spotlight team and current editor-at-large of the Boston Globe newspaper), and Mike Rezendes (former member of the Spotlight team).
Chair: Dave Calhoun (Global Film Editor of Time Out magazine)
DC: When you found out that the film was being made, what were your first reactions?
WR: Our first reaction was one of disbelief because, though the story itself was significant, it never occurred to us that anyone would find it interesting to know how we carried out the investigation. But it soon became apparent that Tom [McCarthy] and Josh Singer [co-writer] were determined to tell the story almost precisely the way it occurred, which we were grateful for.
MR: They took a real risk. A story like this could go wrong six ways to Sunday and Tom and Josh were under no obligation whatsoever to involve us in the process. So we’re just lucky that our story fell into the hands of such talented filmmakers and such talented and committed actors.
DC: How did you collaborate on the film?
TM: It’s important to point out that there is no source material on the process of the investigation itself. We had to conduct our own interviews and research. It did feel like reporting – we felt like very amateur journalists trying to do a job and do it well and have these guys [the real Spotlight journalists] as our guides and collaborators throughout. And it continued right the way through production – even my wardrobe team got in touch about what they wore at the time, what they had on their desks, etcetera. They were involved every step of the way. It was a truly exciting collaboration.
“We have a new pope, society is ready to talk about it”
Questions from the Floor
Can I ask Mike Rezendes and Walter Robinson what they thought the pivotal moment was in their investigation? Also, for Michael Keaton and Mark Ruffalo, what was your pivotal moment when reading the script?
MR: When I was researching the case of Father John Geoghan, I was looking into his last posting after 30 years of committing sexual abuse against children, and I found out that his last assignment was to be in charge of the altar boys. I just felt that was so depraved. I couldn’t understand how that could possibly happen and that’s when I told myself this could be a big story.
WR: The thing that shocked me the most was the realisation that in all the thousands of church documents passed between the cardinals and bishops about what to do about father-so-and-so, and what he had done and how to keep it all quiet, there was never, ever, a mention about what had happened to the children. And that just blew me away. That the Catholic Church would hide and enable this behaviour and not give a damn about a single one of the thousands of children who had been harmed by this.
MK: I found that no matter how many times we went over and over the script on set and in rehearsals, when we actually came to do it for a take, it still hit you. I already knew the story, I already knew the number of priests and what they did but it hits you. It sounds odd to say that you’re blessed to tell a story like this but you are. You’re in a position where you actually get to say something in a way that will open people’s eyes and may even help and change people’s lives. It was a really satisfying experience.
MaR: I read the script and I felt that this was a story that we had heard but it was time to revisit it again – we have a new pope, society is ready to talk about it, and there’s a space open for this film to really resonate in the world. I thought the film could be a tool to teach and coalesce ideas and that it would be a great honour to be part of that. It doesn’t happen often in your career as an actor.
Do you think long-form investigative journalism will survive?
WR: A lot of the criticism for the decline of such reporting can be hurled at editors. Editors at newspapers in America and here in the UK have cut many positions because of the financial constraints on print journalism due to the emergence of the internet. They have almost always chosen to cut investigative reporting. And yet if you ask people what they want from journalism, the answer is almost always investigative reporting. Editors have been foolish and they better damn well smarten up.
MR: I think Robby [WR] is right about all of that. There is another side to this, however, because the internet has also provided us with new tools and some interesting models for investigative reporting and there are several online-only investigative reporting websites that are doing some very fine work. We’re in a period of transition here. Although there are things that are troubling, there are things that are hopeful as well. Investigative reporting is so essential to democracy that I think we’re going to get through this. God help us if we don’t.
MaR: One thing I learned from Mike [Rezendes] was the humanity and dedication that’s needed to bring that extra level of nuance to investigative reporting. Mike would interview people with such humanity no matter whether they were on the right side of things or not and he would often give people on the wrong side the chance to right their wrongs and do things for the greater good that weren’t necessarily of benefit to themselves. It wasn’t an approach I necessarily envisioned many journalists to have but it was very interesting. Mike’s gentle on the people and hard on the problem. He’s a master at what he does. He changed state legislation on an issue that was hurting people. I can’t think of another example of a small group of people working on such a specific case being able to make a significant change over such a short amount of time. And that’s what’s so important about this story and what’s so important about this kind of journalism.
“Investigative reporting is so essential to democracy that I think we’re going to get through this. God help us if we don’t”
How have your attitudes towards the Catholic Church changed throughout the process of making the film and reporting the scandal?
WR: Certainly in Boston and many other cities, the Catholic Church’s political power pretty much disappeared once these revelations were made. There’s much more scepticism amongst Catholics of the institution. For myself, like most people, I have my faith, but that’s different to my feelings about the institution. I go to church for weddings and funerals but otherwise I don’t.
MR: I was a lapsed Catholic at the time. We have a writer at the Boston Globe who’s a former priest – James Carroll – and he often wrote about Catholic issues. I always considered myself a ‘James Carroll Catholic’. But after encountering the experiences of so many people and the role of the officials in the cover-ups, I think the break is irreparable. I wouldn’t consider myself a Catholic now.
“This movie isn’t about challenging religion; it’s about challenging institutions that take advantage of people”
MK: I haven’t been a good Catholic since I was an altar boy. I don’t know what I am but I will defend the right to believe in organised religion as much as I hate what’s happened in the world because of it. I think faith is good for people. I’m envious of it. But I have my own world view and I’m comfortable with it. It would be terrible for these revelations to take someone’s faith away. To me, this movie isn’t about challenging religion; it’s about challenging institutions that take advantage of people.
Reporting from Spotlight Press Conference, London, January 2016.