Why 'Spotlight' Eschewed Scenes Featuring Reporters' Personal Lives

Though the best picture nominee finds drama in The Boston Globe's Catholic Church exposé, film editor Tom McArdle trimmed away the journalists' own secrets.
'Spotlight,' Courtesy of Kerry Hayes/Open Road Films

This story first appeared in the Feb. 5 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Critics have applauded best picture nominee Spotlight for effectively dramatizing the relatively undramatic business of inves­tigative journalism as it tells how The Boston Globe's Spotlight team in 2002 exposed a cover-up of widespread pedophilia in the Catholic Church. The movie sticks to the facts, basically ignoring the reporters' personal stories. But that, reveals the film's Oscar-nominated editor Tom McArdle, was a decision that ultimately was made in the cutting room.

"We took out about five scenes with the reporters' personal lives because we wanted to focus on the investigation," he says, citing a scene between Spotlight editor Robby (Michael Keaton) and his wife in which they talked about how the church meant a lot to the community and another in which reporter Mike (Mark Ruffalo) and his estranged wife speak by phone. "We found that the point in the story where people got invested was the scene that introduces the first survivor, Phil Saviano [played by Neal Huff]," explains McArdle. "Our goal became to tighten everything before that scene, so we could get to it a little quicker."

In contrast, in the case of one character, the Globe's deputy managing editor Ben Bradlee Jr. (John Slattery), a scene was added to humanize him because in early screenings, some audiences wondered whether the patrician editor was withholding infor­mation. "We added the scene that takes place after Ben visits Mike," says McArdle. "We did a shot of Ben walking out to the vesti­bule of Mike's building. Mike follows him and asks him a few questions, and Ben says that it took Spotlight to break the story." In the movie's low-key terms, it's Ben's way of giving his team a high-five.

The $20 million Spotlight, which has grossed $32.3 million, is the fifth film that McArdle has edited for director Tom McCarthy, who says editing is "a lot like rewriting. You're reengaging, not just with the film, but on some levels the script. It's sometimes then that you see gaps or mistakes or even shortcuts. Tom's attention to detail is tremendous."