People go to the movies to be entertained. The emerging screenwriter should rule out writing scripts for any other reason than that. Like Spotlight.
This film should not have been made. Even with its impressive cast, at the time of writing it only grossed about $40m, which is barely what you would expect the production budget to be.
Why Spotlight Should Not Have Been Mad
Let’s look at all the reasons you should not write a film like this:
- The topic is a no-no.
It deals with child abuse. Nobody wants to hear about this when they sit down at night to relax. Give me a story about a superhero (like Birdman!).
- It’s been milked in the news
We’ve heard enough about priests abusing children in the news. After all, that’s where it belongs. In cinemas, we need escapism.
- It was a long time ago
We have more pressing matters today, things we can do something about. Let’s not waste our time on the past.
- It’s about journalists
Who is interested in journalists? They’re not cool. Bad hero material. All they do is talk and write. Totally un-cinematic.
- There is no clear protagonist
Who is the main character in this movie? Good luck figuring that out. It’s easier to care about one character than a whole bunch of ’em.
- There is no real jeopardy
Unlike the victims of child abuse, the journalists are never in danger. They’ve got a tough time finding the truth, but hey, my job is tough, too!
- Boston is not sexy
Boston? Really? Why not a photogenic city like New York or L.A.? And haven’t we seen enough of Boston’s darkness in the stories of Dennis Lehane?
Of course Spotlight won Best Picture.
And Best Original Screenplay.
So the arguments above are moot.
One of my writer contacts recently emailed me, saying
What has brought a middle-aged man like myself into the whole writing game is my disappointment with the ideas presented in so many of the Hollywood or Australian films made films we often waste our time watching. Some of these are critically acclaimed and yet – what do we get at the end – an empty pop-corn bucket and we are 2 hours older….
Spotlight proves that – yes – you can pick a topic you really care about, and pretty much break every ‘rule’ in the book.
(Except perhaps the one about active characters – with tremendous willpower…)
Karel Segers wrote his first produced screenplay at age 17. Today he is a story analyst with experience in acquisition, development and production. He has trained students worldwide, and worked with half a dozen Academy Award nominees. Karel speaks more European languages than you have fingers on your left hand, which he is still trying to find a use for in his hometown of Sydney, Australia. The languages, not the fingers.
Subscribe to our YouTube Channel!
18 thoughts on “7 Reasons Why Spotlight Shouldn’t Have Been Made”
Oh Karel, where to start? ‘Only grossed $40m’ – Box Office Mojo says $63m (on a budget of $20m), so it’s already made its money back. The Oscar win can only increase the box office, and drive interest in other media. And anyone reading this who’s made a movie that grossed even $40m, please come straight to the front of the queue now with their complaints about this film.
‘Topic a no-no / milked in the news / happened a long time ago’. It’s a DRAMA, not a genre film, and so can work with subject matter that you might avoid if working with genre. It might not be your cup of tea, but audiences clearly take a wider view of what constitutes entertainment. By my count, dramas have won 14 out of the last 20 Best Picture Oscars. Oh, and the Holocaust happened a long time ago too.
‘It’s about journalists / no clear protagonist or jeopardy / Boston is not sexy’. It’s an ensemble drama, based on a true story (not true events, for once haha), set in Boston, so you’re kind of stuck with those things. In dramas, the jeopardy is frequently moral, not physical. If the full story doesn’t come out, the danger is that the abuse could continue into the future.
At least you held back on saying that journalists are not sexy! And a big shout out to all my friends in sexy Boston.
A rather unimaginative post. I have a few responses. First, I agree that the movie was unremarkable in most ways, but it is the first major motion picture to get audience recognition on a topic that concerns millions. So, it was an important motion picture.
1- No one wants to hear about child abuse? Probably no one wants to know why the mortgage banks failed. It seems a good notion, but one can never cover, or make sense of, all the facts and all the players. So, there’s two movies marked off the list. Between the two–The Big Short and Spotlight–The Big Short was a lousy script.
2, 3, 4- It’s not just the story itself. It’s about the courage of a Boston paper to tackle the biggest thing in Boston (outside of sports): The Catholic Church. The courage for a journalist to honestly write and tackle a big story is a good story. I am certain that the ensemble–however good–was distracting from allowing one journalist to really “Stand out.” But Ruffalo’s character did a good job. Good acting.
5- no real antagonist except the Cardinal and lawyers of the Boston Diocese. Them ain’t no small potatoes. No true protagonist except Ruffalo’s character. So what? This movie never pretended to be Sunset Boulevard.
6- I grant that this was barely touched upon, but a journalist who goes after the jugular and comes up with nothing is often finished–at least with a major paper. They risk everything-family, friends, relationships with kids- to hunt a story and nail it. The movie Kill The Messenger is an example. Maybe All The President’s Men was a stupid and unnecessary film. If it had been shown the they were lying, they would have been crucified and sent to live on a rock. So, I think there’s a secondary story that got edited out.
7-Films move different people in different ways. Spotlight was not The Best Picture, But it was a well-crafted and well-acted movie. Maybe your writer friend should realize that the canvas against which motion pictures are judged (or viewed) is called variety. Not every film can be Deadpool, or Lillies Of The Field.
While writing, did anyone think that Rylance drove the secondary pulse of Bridge of Spies? Compared to Hardy in Revenant, Rylance was a third level figure. What is driving the movie? What fact, act, comment or emotion is keeping us engrossed. Does the acting of the character support the direction or suspense. Rylance did not rise to the test or the mark. But he won. So, blame the academy.
I am very critical of films that do not rise to their purpose or possibilities. Then again, I get entertained by Sharknado.
FINAL COMMENT: I’m assuming that the title of this article should have bought one more vowel….. at the end. Thank you.
Karel, I want to ask a couple of clarification questions about your ‘film has got to be about entertainment’ principle here:
1) Are you seriously going as far to say that films ought not deal with heavy, real-world, contemporary issues at all … Ever?
2) Are you suggesting that there is no place for non-spfx drama films such as “Kings Speech”, “Margin Call”, etc … Ever?
Karel, I can agree with you about the practical commerciality issue that a topical drama ain’t going to have the box office takings of a superhero film. (Which does not automatically mean it will never make a profit. But does mean that production budgets have to be capped.) But I would not be prepared to say that these films are not worth making.
Secondly, I, myself, do not buy into the view that a big bang tentpole film NECESSARILY needs to be vacuous in thematic content and/or in thought-provoking material/ideas. Now, I’m not presuming that you are in opposition to this view (you’re not, right?), but would we agree that such a feat requires serious writing commitment on the part of the producers and/or studios? Commitment that may be lacking in most cases.
Steven, you make excellent points; we both know you’re right. Unforgettably, however, the politics of a project like “Spotlight” flew right over Karel’s head: “Spotlight” got made because it casts old stones at the Holy Catholic Church, which is “fair game” in a town run by Zionists like Hollyweird.
Where’s the movie about all the children raped by Jewish Rabbis’ in New York’s Hasidic community?
How about this:
When mild-manner newspaperman Clark Kent uncovers a sinister plot by evil priests to indoctrinate little children into an irrational faith-based love cult, he must unleash his super powers and challenge their champion, Jesus Christ, to a battle to the death, in Tahiti!
I’m done with posting
On screenwriting. But say this
No rules. Just techniques.
Perhaps just not on my articles. LOL
It seems your sarcasm was not picked up by some of the commentators..
They think you are really saying the film shouldn’t have been made..
Aahh, to hell with subtleties! Let’s keep making movies purely for entertainment without the need to pay attention. Why pay attention if you are not getting paid!?
Yeah, if readers can’t see the sarcasm I feel sorry for them, it’s not like it’s subtle point your making.
Such as I possess will now
Remain in the vault
Needs to be clear on the page
Not just in your head
Unless, of course, it’s intentional…
I’ve been following Karel long enough to pick up on the irony. And he makes points and distinctions I have, uh, “discussed”, with aspiring screenwriters of my acquaintance. In vain.
“Spotlight proves that – yes – you can pick a topic you really care about, and pretty much break every ‘rule’ in the book.”
UNLESS you’re speaking out against the bloodshed of Zionists! “Spotlight” got made because it casts old stones at the Holy Catholic Church, which is “fair game” in a town run by Zionists like Hollyweird. You know there’s more cases where Jewish Rabbi’s have molested children, right?
Where’s that movie on Zionwood’s production schedule?
People can only write about what they know.
If you have the evidence – or experience – of the horror you speak about, why don’t you write it? If it is well-written, I’m sure there will be tons of producers OUTSIDE of Hollywood willing to produce it. Perhaps you should start by calling Icon Entertainment.
I\’m developing a script so different from what I\’ve done before…Enjoy reading your take on things as well as comments from others in the industry.