Spotlight Movie Behind the Scenes
Courtesy of Open Road

The year's critics awards champ is struggling for recognition below the line, if only because it's not screaming for it.

Tom McCarthy’s “Spotlight” shot out of the Venice and Telluride film festival circuit like a cannon, a satisfying drama expertly paced on the page and acted with precision by an organically in-tune ensemble. Below the line, however, it has faltered in the awards race, perhaps owed to its lack of frills and manner in the face of the ornate and more overtly wrought stylings of other films this year.

But that was the intention. “For ‘Spotlight,’ the marching order was really to be true to what happened, the reality of it,” says cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi, who transitioned from the more baroque framing and lighting of Scott Cooper’s “Black Mass” to the much more casual visual style of McCarthy’s journalism drama, which was designed to put the viewer right there on the beat with reporters breaking a landmark story.

“There was nothing I had to impose,” he continues. “It was like we could almost just bring the camera in and capture it. And when we visited the real Boston Globe, it kind of hit me. It was the first time for me to go into a newsroom where the reporters work, and it’s kind of fascinating to see them work the phones and how much information would go in, but they’re very calm.”

Takayanagi and McCarthy didn’t get bogged down in discussing the film’s visual identity with referencing and such, though they did take a look at French filmmaker Maïwenn’s 2011 film “Polisse,” about the Child Protection Unit of the Paris Police. “That was not specifically visual, though,” Takayanagi says. “It was how blunt those conversations about child abuse happen among the characters.”

Most of the early discussion centered on the emotional elements of the story, which really landed for Takayanagi when he first read the script. He was drawn to the fact that you don’t invest too much in any one character, and yet “for some reason, there was really great emotional flow in it,” he says.

One visual decision of note revolved around the use of handheld photography. The film utilized handheld considerably everywhere apart from inside the actual Spotlight office, where it would more often settle down with locked-off tripod shots. This was to establish the focused work being put into the story in that space, deep within the bowels of the Globe, and the comparative chaos of gathering the information away from those confines.

When it came to post-production, editor Tom McArdle had his work cut out for him. Keeping material this potentially dry interesting and moving is a challenge, even if a lot of the heavy lifting vis-a-vis pace happened in the script stage.

“We spent eight months editing and we spent a lot of time thinking about pace and clarity,” McArdle says. “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.”

McArdle, who has edited each of McCarthy’s features to date, was in a position to see some added backstory for some of the characters that was ultimately dispatched, leaving a residue of a private life for each of them that is rarely plumbed by the narrative.

“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,” he says. “On [McCarthy’s] other films there were scenes we would have had a concern about losing, but not this one.”

A lot of his work in the micro was about clarifying things. Sometimes, he says, you don’t have to trim something, you just have to make it clearer for the viewer, and then it feels tighter, “because the audience is more involved with what’s happening,” he says. But there wasn’t much of an opportunity to experiment structurally, because this was a story based quite specifically on chronology.

The end result remains one of the most critically acclaimed films of the year, one that has reaped countless awards since the start of the season and will perhaps claim quite a few more before it’s all said and done. It may be struggling for recognition outside of a best picture/best director/best screenplay framework, but if anything, “Spotlight” is a reminder of subtlety in crafts, and how being refined and reserved can serve a story brilliantly, if the story calls for it.

Latest Predictions:

Spotlight Picture
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  2. "Spotlight" Michael Sugar, Steve Golin, Nicole Rocklin and Blye Pagon Faust

  3. "The Revenant" Arnon Milchan, Steve Golin, Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Mary Parent and Keith Redmon

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  2. Adam McKay "The Big Short"

  3. Tom McCarthy "Spotlight"

  4. George Miller "Mad Max: Fury Road"

  5. Lenny Abrahamson "Room"

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One of the year's most critically acclaimed films was also a major B.O. disappointment. After failing to gross $20 million domestically, "Steve Jobs" was pulled from U.S. theaters after less than three weeks. Actor
  1. Leonardo DiCaprio "The Revenant"

  2. Bryan Cranston "Trumbo"

  3. Michael Fassbender "Steve Jobs"

  4. Matt Damon "The Martian"

  5. Eddie Redmayne "The Danish Girl"

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  2. Saoirse Ronan "Brooklyn"

  3. Cate Blanchett "Carol"

  4. Charlotte Rampling "45 Years"

  5. Jennifer Lawrence "Joy"

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Oscar Nominations Reactions Sylvester Stallone Supporting Actor
  1. Sylvester Stallone "Creed"

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  5. Tom Hardy "The Revenant"

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  1. Alicia Vikander "The Danish Girl"

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  4. Jennifer Jason Leigh "The Hateful Eight"

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(Nov. 4, Fox Searchlight)
Fox Searchlight, the reigning back-to-back best picture champ, has an interesting pair of contenders in this and Paolo Sorrentino’s “Youth.” But John Crowley’s coming-of-age portrait of the immigrant experience is the warmer feel-good player. Adapted Screenplay
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  2. "Room" Emma Donoghue

  3. "Carol" Phyllis Nagy

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  5. "The Martian" Drew Goddard

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Walt Disney
Pixar’s family-friendly head trip is the sort of emotional powerhouse that, like “Up” and “Toy Story 3” before it, could crack the best picture race. A nomination for animated feature should be assured, but an original screenplay mention could also be in the cards (“original” being the operative word). Original Screenplay
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  2. "Inside Out" Josh Cooley, Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve

  3. "Ex Machina" Alex Garland

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Josh Brolin Sicario Cinematography
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  3. "The Hateful Eight" Robert Richardson

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Focus Features
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  2. "The Danish Girl" Paco Delgado

  3. "The Revenant" Jacqueline West

  4. "Carol" Sandy Powell

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Director: Adam McKay 
By Terry Gilliam 
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  1. "Mad Max: Fury Road" Margaret Sixel

  2. "The Big Short" Hank Corwin

  3. "The Revenant" Stephen Mirrione

  4. "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" Maryann Brandon, Mary Jo Markey

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(Dec. 25, Weinstein)
Quentin Tarantino (“Inglourious Basterds,” “Django Unchained”) offers an incentive to experience films in the theater, with a limited 70mm roadshow engagement that’s sure to seduce celluloid purists. Original Score
  1. "The Hateful Eight" Ennio Morricone

  2. "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" John Williams

  3. "Carol" Carter Burwell

  4. "Bridge of Spies" Thomas Newman

  5. "Sicario" Jóhann Jóhannsson

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Lady Gaga Best Original Song
  1. "Til It Happens To You" from "The Hunting Ground"

  2. "Writing's on the Wall" from "Spectre"

  3. "Earned It" from "Fifty Shades of Grey"

  4. "Simple Song #3" from "Youth"

  5. "Manta Ray" from "Racing Extinction"

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Touchstone
Steven Spielberg is never one to be counted out of the top categories, especially when there’s a resonant history lesson involved. Tom Hanks’ performance is as laudable as the film’s Coen brothers-polished script, but the revelation here is Mark Rylance, considered a lock for his richly understated supporting turn as a Soviet spy. Production Design
  1. "Mad Max: Fury Road" Colin Gibson; Katie Sharrock, Lisa Thompson

  2. "The Danish Girl" Eve Stewart; Michael Standish

  3. "The Revenant" Jack Fisk; Hamish Purdy

  4. "Bridge of Spies" Adam Stockhausen; Rena DeAngelo, Bernhard Henrich

  5. "The Martian" Arthur Max; Celia Bobak, Zoltan Horvath

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star wars the force awakens bb8 Sound Editing
  1. "The Revenant" Martin Hernandez and Lon Bender

  2. "Mad Max: Fury Road" Mark Mangini and David White

  3. "The Martian" Oliver Tarney

  4. "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" Matthew Wood and David Accord

  5. "Sicario" Alan Robert Murray

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Matt Damon The Martian Sound Mixing
  1. "The Revenant" Chris Duesterdiek, Frank A. Montaño, Jon Taylor, Randy Thom

  2. "Mad Max: Fury Road" Chris Jenkins, Gregg Rudloff and Ben Osmo

  3. "The Martian" Mac Ruth, Paul Massey, Mark Taylor

  4. "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" Andy Nelson, Christopher Scarabosio and Stuart Wilson

  5. "Bridge of Spies" Andy Nelson, Gary Rydstrom and Drew Kunin

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Golden Globe Nominees 2016 Reactions Animated Feature
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  2. "Anomalisa" Charlie Kaufman, Duke Johnson and Rosa Tran

  3. "Shaun the Sheep Movie" Mark Burton and Richard Starzak

  4. "Boy and the World" Ale Abreu

  5. "When Marnie Was There" Hiromasa Yonebayashi and Yoshiaki Nishimura

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  1. "Amy" Asif Kapadia and James Gay-Rees

  2. "Cartel Land" Matthew Heineman and Tom Yellin

  3. "What Happened, Miss Simone?" Liz Garbus, Amy Hobby and Justin Wilkes

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Son of Saul Cannes Film Festival Foreign Language
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  2. "Mustang" Deniz Gamze Erguven; France

  3. "Theeb" Naji Abu Nowar; Jordan

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  5. "Embrace of the Serpent" Ciro Guerra; Colombia

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  2. "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" Roger Guyett, Patrick Tubach, Neal Scanlan and Chris Corbould

  3. "Mad Max: Fury Road" Andrew Jackson, Tom Wood, Dan Oliver and Andy Williams

  4. "The Martian" Richard Stammers, Anders Langlands, Chris Lawrence and Steven Warner

  5. "Ex Machina" Andrew Whitehurst, Paul Norris, Mark Ardington and Sara Bennett

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