​"Spotlight" director Tom McCarthy's investigative reporting


The Oscar-nominated writer-director conducted his own boots-on-the-ground journalism to research film about a newspaper probe into the Catholic Church's abuse scandal.

Open Road

The movie "Spotlight" has SIX chances to win an Oscar when the call goes out for THE ENVELOPE, PLEASE... in three weeks' time. Lesley Stahl of "60 Minutes" talks with the film's director, Tom McCarthy:

It was a big day for Tom McCarthy ("Oh, my God!" cried his mom) when, last month, he celebrated all the Oscar nominations for his film, "Spotlight." His family gathered at his mom's home in New Jersey.

"Just another morning with a camera crew," he quipped.

They had good reason to be happy -- six good reasons. The film earned a half-dozen Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture. McCarthy was nominated for co-writing the screenplay and directing the film.

Stahl asked, "Why do you think it's struck such a chord? It doesn't have any shooting. It doesn't have any violence. It doesn't have one single love scene."

"I know!" said McCarthy.

"There aren't monsters."

"No ... well, there are monsters, of sorts."

"Spotlight" is the true story of how reporters at the Boston Globe uncovered the scandal of Catholic priests preying on young children.

Phil Saviano: "When you're a poor kid from a poor family, and when a priest pays attention to you, it's a big deal. How do you say no to God?"

The story was broken by the Spotlight investigative unit of the Globe. In good, old-fashioned shoe leather style, they knocked on doors ... worked the phones ... and dug through dusty archives.

"We really kind of geeked out on the specifics of it, on the details [of] good, solid investigative reporting," said McCarthy. "We shot in the Boston Globe library, which looks exactly like that. And going through the old clips, and pulling clips, and paper, paper, paper, paper, paper. Directories published by the Catholic Church. And then devising a way to work backwards from them to locate priests.

"And as they said, it was very tedious and hellish work that they had to do. But it proved incredibly fruitful. Boots-on-the-ground journalism."

Brian d'Arcy James, Michael Keaton and Mark Ruffalo in "Spotlight." Open Road

To write the screenplay, McCarthy put his own boots on the ground for three years travelling to Boston with his co-writer Josh Singer, interviewing everyone involved in the original 2001 investigation that won the Boston Globe a Pulitzer Prize.

"You really did do reporting -- you did an investigative reporting job to write the screenplay," said Stahl.

"We did," said McCarthy, "'cause we really had no source material, which is important to remember. The reporters hadn't written a book about their investigation. So we had nowhere to go to."

"Like 'All the President's Men' -- you didn't have the blueprint," said Stahl.

"Yeah. I'm still angry at those guys for not doing it! It would have made the job a lot easier. We could turn to chapter 20!"

The real head of the Spotlight team, Walter Robinson, says McCarthy was as thorough as a star reporter. "They did, I swear to God some days, I think, as much or more research about what we did, than we actually did back in 2001," Robinson told Charlie Rose.

McCarthy said it was exciting, and surprising. "And we thought, 'Wow, this little bit of buzz we're feeling right now, this is what reporters feel.'"

He kept reams of his research in a cramped, unglamorous office on the Lower East Side of New York, including transcripts of interviews he conducted with survivors. Do not call them "victims."

"That's something that they corrected us on early on," McCarthy said, "'cause the victims are the ones that don't survive."

Survivor Joe Crowley was raped by a priest when he was 15 years old. "It was one of those interviews that, as I was getting ready to go downstairs and meet with him, I started getting nervous," McCarthy recalled. "I just didn't know what to expect."

In his interview, McCarthy relaxed Crowley by asking about his first meeting with Spotlight reporter Sacha Pfeiffer: "Talking about this stuff with someone you've never met before, so the more I told her, the more questions she had."

The Spotlight investigation ultimately exposed more than 200 priests as molestors, and led to the resignation of the cardinal in charge of the Boston Archdiocese.

Attorney Mitchell Garabedian: "If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse one".

The movie suggests that plenty of people in Boston knew something terrible was going on, and did nothing.

"Everybody conspired, not just the church, the community," said Stahl. "Because people knew, lawyers knew."

"Yeah. Families knew, parishioners knew, teachers knew," said McCarthy. "And I think this is what our movie's about, to ask the questions: 'What did we know? Why did it take us so long to stand up and say something?'

Look, I'm a big fan of the Catholic community. My family's very Catholic. I'm very connected to the Church. The Catholic Church does a lot of wonderful things. And I think the question is, 'How does this happen? How do so many good people allow this to happen?'"

McCarthy describes himself as a lapsed Catholic. But his mom, Carol McCarthy, goes to mass every Sunday. She showed Stahel a picture of her greeting Pope John Paul II. "I used to call that my Pope dress!" she laughed.

McCarthy made a special trip home to tell his mother what he was working on.

Stahl asked her, "Did you try to discourage it?"

"No, I didn't discourage him. I just said I hope you think about it a long time," she replied. "I think it was a little bit of a worry for me in the beginning."

"And when you finally saw the movie?"