“Spotlight’s” Best Picture triumph at the Academy Awards means the world to the actors, filmmakers and members of the Open Road Films team that marketed and rolled it out, but CEO Tom Ortenberg said Monday that he hopes it will matter most to another group.
“For sexual abuse victims to know that they can come forward, and survivors to know that they have have done nothing wrong or to be ashamed of, is probably the most significant and under-covered aspect of the film,” Ortenberg told TheWrap on Monday.
“Spotlight” details the Boston Globe’s Pulitzer Prize-winning coverage of the Catholic Church sex abuse scandal. It was directed by Tom McCarthy, who with Josh Singer co-wrote the script which won for Best Original Screenplay. Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, John Slattery and Stanley Tucci star.
Pundits established the R-rated drama as a Best Picture favorite even before its limited release in November, but by the time the Academy Awards rolled around this weekend, it had fallen back.
“We never wavered in our support for this film, or our belief that we had the best picture out there, the team that could market the best, and the team that would run the best campaign” Ortenberg said. “From the first time that I read the script I fell in love with it and knew that this was a project that we wanted to be a part of.”
That team included chief marketing officer Jason Cassidy, who oversaw the selling of the film, and executive vice president of publicity Liz Biber who, with consultant Lisa Taback, headed the Oscar campaign.
There was pressure that came with “Spotlight,” Ortenberg said, from the time producers Steve Golin and Michael Sugar of Anonymous Content came on board with Nicole Rocklin and Blye Pagon Faust of Rocklin Faust.
“We knew that we had to get it made and had to deliver the best possible movie we could, because we had a responsibility to audiences,” he said. “Our team took that ball and ran with it.”
In assessing “Spotlight,” Ortenberg said he had an advantage over the media, which was caught up in historical precedent. He’d learned that during his years at Lionsgate when “Crash” pulled off a stunning Best Picture Oscar win, but he had another edge with “Spotlight.”
“We had seen firsthand the emotional impact that it had on audiences,” he said. “We tested it once and only once, at the Arclight in Pasadena. It was easily the highest testing movie we’ve ever had, and we’ve had some good ones.
“After the movie, a woman came up to me in the lobby with tears running down her cheeks and said, ‘This is the best movie I’ve seen in 20 years,’ and I got goosebumps and started to cry a little too. I was certain at that point that we had something special here.”
The campaign was a bit of rollercoaster, but that was nothing new for Ortenberg or his colleagues at Open Road, which was founded less than five years ago by AMC Entertainment and the Regal Entertainment Group. Last year was very tough in terms of commercial success, and without “Spotlight” would have been dismal.
“Welcome to the movie biz,” Ortenberg said.
In 2011, the first for Open Road, it had one release,”Killer Elite,” which was a hit. In 2012, it had the Liam Neeson survival tale “The Grey” and the cop drama “End of Watch,” both artistic and commercial successes. The following year was “terrible,” Ortenberg said, “but 2014 was our best year ever, with ‘Nut Job,’ ‘Chef’ and ‘Nightcrawler.’ Then 2015 which, right up until ‘Spotlight,’ was looking terrible.”
It didn’t just look terrible. The company’s five releases, “Rock the Kasbah,” “The Loft,” “Little Boy,” “The Gunman” and “Dope” grossed less than $45 million combined domestically. Then came “Spotlight,” which had taken in just under $40 million in the U.S. and another $22 million overseas on a $20 million production budget.
Ortenberg didn’t think that the “Spotlight” win would change the way Open Road is viewed by the industry.
“I would think it is more of an affirmation of our approach. People know that if they come to us with a quality film that we can market effectively, the sky is the limit,” he said.
Open Road has over the years been behind just about every kind of movie imaginable — dramas, comedies, spoofs, seemingly everything except a big-budget superhero movie.
“We like to think of ‘Spotlight’ as our superhero movie,” Ortenberg said.
For as long as the Oscars glow lasts, it will be in Hollywood. And for the victims of sexual abuse that Ortenberg cited, it should be for some time as well.