‘Spotlight’ Director Tom McCarthy Remembers Steve Golin as ‘A Warrior and a Mensch’

Steve Golin The Revenant Spotlight Producer Credit Dan Doperalski
Dan Doperalski for Variety

It was a brutal process to get “Spotlight” made. The movie was dead at least three times before we shot it because of financing problems, studio problems, deadlines, actors’ availability and the time of year we could shoot. There were moments when Steve and I were just going at it. We’d have hilarious late-night correspondence. I’d ask him, “Whose side are you on?” and he’d respond, “Yours, but you don’t know it yet.”

The first time I met Steve, at a café in Beverly Hills, with “Spotlight” producers Blye Pagon Faust and Nicole Rocklin, I remember immediately feeling like this is a person who knows what he’s doing. He had such experience that was born in the trenches because he’d come up as a line producer. For Steve, it was always about putting it together. His attitude helped make the process easier in a business that is never easy. He was always very realistic about the goals and what we needed to do to get the movie made.

Steve was a warrior and a mensch, and that’s a rare combination. He was one of those producers who loved movies and knew how to make them. Steve for me was the voice of reason and experience. You could feel that he’d been through the wars. He knew when it was time to push and shove, and he knew when it was time to keep marching.

Something we talked about early on in the casting of “Spotlight” that left a big impression on me was the way he opened up our thinking. When Steve was giving notes, you could always see the logic behind it, and the reality behind what he was trying to tell you.

“Spotlight” was such a big ensemble, and there were so many moving pieces. Directors have specific ideas when considering actors for roles. I remember him saying that more often than not you don’t get your first choice for a role, and more often than not you can’t imagine it any other way when it’s done.

I also appreciated that when he would get forceful, if I pushed back, he ultimately understood and respected the voice of the director. He would never dig in his heels. He was supportive, opinionated and intelligent, but he would always defer to me.

When he came to New York to see “Spotlight” for the first time at the producers’ screening, I remember he came up to me, very low-key, and said, “I think it’s a pretty good movie. You’ve just got to lose that one shot of Liev [Schreiber] at the top and we’re good.” He was talking about a shot of Marty Baron in a hotel room overlooking the city of Boston. We argued about it on and off for a month. Ultimately, we realized that we didn’t need it, and the shot came out.

I’d been speaking to Steve a lot during the past six months because we were working together on a new movie. I talked to him on Friday  and we went through a checklist of items, and we talked a little bit about his health, but he would never dwell on it. He was determined to work. He had one of those minds that made you think that he’s going to figure this out. Because that’s what Golin does when things go wrong. In the back of my mind I kept thinking, he’s going to figure this out with his health. The reality of it now is stark and painful.

What Steve accomplished in the movie world was incredible. He was smart. He had great taste. He was supportive and opinionated. He loved the game. Even as his television business was really taking off, I remember him telling me, “I’m back in the movie business. Now more than ever, we need to make good movies.”

Writer-director Tom McCarthy won Oscars for best picture and original screenplay for his work with producer Steve Golin on 2015’s “Spotlight.” Golin died April 21 after a long battle with cancer.