Editing Spotlight as a Journo Procedural

Tom McCarthy certainly made the right decision to make the buzzy Oscar contender Spotlight a procedural. It turned out to be the most authentic and involving way to explore the Pulitzer Prize-winning coverage of the Catholic sex abuse scandal by the Boston Globe’s special investigative unit. But such structural complexity required clarity to navigate the web of conflict and deception. That’s where Tom McArdle’s invaluable editing skills elevated Spotlight, the duo’s fifth collaboration.

“We tried to stay focused on the investigation,” McArdle recalled. “We felt it was important to keep the film moving, to keep the scenes tight, and to make sure things were clear for the audience. We had screenings every three weeks and tried to track what information people were following and what they were missing. We would then make adjustments to the cut to help with clarity.

“After taking numerous passes through the film, we ended up dropping five scenes from the movie. Also, fragments of other scenes were cut. In some scenes, we would just cut out a line or two of dialogue, just to make the scene a little bit tighter.”

At least the investigative objective was clear from the outset: to prove that widespread sexual abuse was the object of a systematic cover-up by the Catholic Church. “It was important to get the details right, to make their work seem real on the screen,” added McArdle. “In the middle of the edit, we dropped a few scenes about the reporters’ personal lives. The reason was that we wanted to keep things focused on the investigation.”

The challenge was juggling shifting points of view between Michael Keaton’s editor and his three Spotlight reporters played by Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams and Brian d’Arcy. But even so, a protagonist with a character arc must emerge.

“It’s an ensemble drama and shifting between the four [members] kept things fresh, and kept things moving,” McArdle explained. “And it was true to the investigation. This was boots-on-the-ground reporting and four hard-working journalists chasing after the truth. Robby (Keaton) was the most experienced and he had some influential contacts in Boston who ultimately became key players. Toward the end, Robby had to choose to ruin some close friendships in order to get the information he needed to complete this story.”

Read the rest at TOH/Indiewire.

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Below the Line, Crafts, Editing, Movies, Tech, Trailers

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