Only eight of 307 films eligible for this year’s best picture Oscar scored nominations and producer Steve Golin was lucky enough to produce two of them. The founder and CEO of Anonymous Content is up for “The Revenant” and “Spotlight,” which scored a combined 18 noms overall. Golin has also found success in television producing USA’s breakout drama “Mr. Robot,” which recently won two Golden Globes. Variety talked with Golin about the awards season and juggling a pair of picture candidates.
You’re up for dual best picture nominations, how much extra work is that during awards season?
It’s been a lot of work, obviously doing Q&As on both movies, events and all that. It’s a high class problem for sure, but it has been a little bit more with both movies.
How do you make sure you’re giving equal attention to both campaigns?
I’m not running the campaigns. There are really smart people both at Open Road and New Regency Fox that are organizing events and telling us what to do, so basically I do what I’m told. If there’s something to go to, if there’s a Q&A or an event or something, I’m doing what I’m told. I really want to support both movies. I really worked hard on those movies for a long time. It’s such a great opportunity for the movies and the company and myself, so I’m going to do what needs to be done and work hard.
What made you want to work with Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu again on “The Revenant”?
Alejandro and I are really close friends personally, outside of the business. He’s so gifted, and we did work together quite a bit. The first thing he really did in America was one of the BMW films we did in 2001. And since then we’ve become very good friends. We made “Babel” together, we made a lot of TV commercials together and I was looking for an opportunity to work with him again. Then this script came along, and I gave it to him and you know, he liked it and attached himself and he and Mark [Smith] rewrote the script.
And do you see yourself working with him in the future?
There’s no project that we have that’s immediate, but I would love to work with him again. It’s such a great experience to work with him, and again, we’re really good friends.
You’re known as one of the more creatively focused producers in the industry. Would you say it was difficult to stay in the creative mindset with “The Revenant’s” big budget?
The thing with Alejandro is he’s so creative and so focused on the creative aspect of it. I was a little bit caught in the middle of trying to protect, have him make a great movie creatively and keep it on track. It was a very difficult movie. Every one of us said it was the most difficult movie we’ve ever been on. I think that’s true and frankly I wouldn’t be in a big rush to make another movie like that with that amount of pressure and logistic difficulties and all that, but I’m really super proud of the fact that we got the movie finished and the movie’s as good as it is. And I’m completely thrilled and tremendously relieved that it’s making as much money as it is. Because it was a difficult movie and it did go a bit over budget. When those movies don’t do well then it’s really bad. But the fact that the movie’s doing so well, I’m so happy for New Regency, and I’m glad that they’re going to make some money on this movie because I didn’t always know this. I love the movie, but I’m not the best person to tell you what everybody’s going to go to see. Frankly, I think it’s a testament to the movie and to Leo. I mean Leo is so great in the movie and I think he’s just a huge star.
How does it feel to possibly be part of Leo’s first Oscar?
Listen, I don’t think Leo made the movie to win the Oscar. I think if you make movies thinking you’re going to win the Oscar you’re going to be so disappointed. It’s not the way to do it. I think Leo really believed in the movie, in the story. There were elements in the story, different things that he was very passionate about, and I know that he was very excited to work with Alejandro. We were thrilled to get Leo. I think now the fact that he’s got a nomination and he’s got some good momentum, I couldn’t be happier if he wins the Oscar. He’s definitely 100 percent getting my vote, but I think anytime a movie that you work on is recognized in any category you feel a sense of pride and accomplishment. I certainly hope that Leo does get the Oscar.
When did you first realize the “Spotlight” investigation was worthy of a movie?
Blye Faust and Nicole Rocklin brought us the project about five or six years ago, and they really just came in and told us the story, to Michael Sugar, my partner, they went to him first and then he came to me and said, ‘I got this story that we think is really an important story, very interesting.’ Nicole and Blye came in a they had reams and reams of research that they had done with the journalists and they gave that to us and that’s really how I got involved. This is a phenomenal story and it’s a very important story. I knew a lot about the story, as everybody did, but I didn’t know a lot of the details or the depths of how manipulative the church was and the way they covered it up. I also didn’t quite understand the scope of what they had done. Josh (Singer) and Tom (McCarthy) did a phenomenal job on the screenplay. That screenplay was really a piece of investigative journalism on its own. They really investigated the investigation and they talked to people. It was an unusual movie because we had so much cooperation from the people that were the real people in the story, which generally you don’t have as much.
How involved were all the journalists?
They were incredibly involved. I mean Josh and Tom interviewed them all multiple times ad nauseam and also interviewed people that were not on the journalistic team that were part of the story. They did extensive research. And reporters are really good because they take really good notes. So they had access to the notes, to all the emails during this period because, look, it was ten years ago and people’s recollections change and even if you ask six different people what happened yesterday you might get different versions of the story. So certainly after ten years people’s recollections change, but there was so much documentation in this particular case and we had such good access from the Globe, from the journalists and from all the other people. Obviously we compressed certain things for dramatic purposes, but not very much. It’s a very, very honest portrayal of what happened.
Can you pinpoint a key aspect that you think makes a movie an awards contender?
I think all the movies that are nominated are all worthy, and I think a bunch of the movies that are not nominated are equally worthy. I’m part of the business and part of the game, but a little bit (of me) thinks it’s ridiculous saying one movie’s the best movie or one movie’s better than the other movie. I think if you look back at the history of the best movies it’s arguable that a lot of years the Academy got it wrong and the movies that really have sustained themselves as more important in terms of longevity were not the ones that were chosen at that moment.
Bold filmmaking, storytelling, quality, the movie being well made, great performances — those are the elements of it. Ultimately, it’s about the story first. Finding a great story and telling it well. And I think that if you look at “The Revenant” versus “Spotlight,” one is a little bit more procedural and talky, arguably more in a classic sense. “The Revenant” is very different. Almost no dialogue, and it’s very bold in terms of the technical aspects. Those are two movies that are completely 180 degrees of each other and on the extremes. And “Mad Max” is a phenomenal technical achievement. “The Martian,” there’s some great stuff in that. I guess “The Big Short” is kind of funny because it’s more of an off-kilter version of “Spotlight” with the humor and the tone of it. That’s what makes the horse race — things that are different. I’m glad everything’s not the same.
You were also recognized in the television world this season, do prefer TV or film right now?
I like them both, but I think that the TV business has changed so much, whereas it’s very difficult to make the kind of movies that I like to make, which are generally dramas. It’s a very tough genre of movie, so I think that in terms of the company and the direction that we’re going in we’re really focused on television. We have a lot of projects on air, in production, in development and I think that every actor and every director — if you look at Martin Scorsese, David Fincher and Ridley Scott, and Alejandro’s got a TV show — every director is willing to do TV now, and I’m really in the director business. It’s been very satisfying. Sam Esmail, who created “Mr. Robot,” is so talented and it was such a great experience working on that. The fact that we won the Golden Globe in both categories (drama series and supporting actor) was really thrilling. I never would have imagined that was going to happen.
What are you most excited about for the Oscars?
I’m really excited to hear Chris Rock’s monologue. I love Chris Rock. I think he’s really funny. I’m very curious to hear what he’s got to say. I think the whole diversity thing is a real, real challenge about how to do it in a just and fair way, but it has to be done. It’s extremely important, and I’m glad that things are going to change with the Academy and that they’re going to revamp the system. I hope that it’s done in a way that’s fair for people and that really opens it up and it’s not such a closed shop.