This time last year, film producer Blye Pagon Faust was preparing to show her first feature, Spotlight, at the Mill Valley Film Festival. The film, about a team of Boston Globe reporters who blew the lid off the cover-up of rampant child abuse by the Catholic Church, would go on to win best picture at the 2016 Academy Awards — not a bad debut for the Belvedere resident, who had been fighting to make the film since 2009.
How did the Spotlight project get started? I was on my StairMaster in our garage in Santa Barbara and reading Entertainment Weekly, and I read about this book called Hartsburg, USA by David Mizner [about a political battle in a small town]. We took the book to Alexander Payne, who loved it, but felt it was too close to Election. He asked, “What else have you got?” David didn’t have another novel, but he said, “I have this incredible story about these journalists.” David had done a case study on them for the Columbia School of Journalism, so he put us in touch. In early 2009, I flew to Boston and met them.
How difficult was it to get the financing for a movie with such a serious story? It was hard. It’s not Fast & Furious 7, you know? It’s a movie about pedophilia and the Catholic Church, so it did not scream blockbuster. I think people understood it was important, but it was still difficult to get it made. Lots of fits and starts.
You managed to line up a terrific cast — Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams and Stanley Tucci, to name a few. What was it like to come to set on your first big production and see those great actors there? It was magical, just the most surreal thing — you almost have to pinch yourself. To see them at work on set, and to get to know them as people. You would have Mark Ruffalo or Stanley Tucci come onto set and literally make life better for everybody. When you get to work with people like that, you get spoiled, especially in a first production.
Spotlight is a perfect example of a movie that builds word of mouth at film festivals before hitting the general public. Where did you show the film first? We premiered at Venice. And then Telluride, Toronto and Mill Valley. You never know how people are going to react. So, it seemed like a bit of a gamble to take it to Venice, because we were going to the most Catholic country to premiere our film about the Catholic Church. We played to a packed house, and it was such an emotional moment — when the credits ran at the end, we had a standing ovation literally through the entire end credit roll. And I was standing next to members of the cast and the director (Tom McCarthy), and at that moment, I thought, “We may really have something here.” I was not thinking about the Oscar, but [thinking] that we had a movie that can be compelling.
What was it like to show it at the Mill Valley Film Festival? It was great, to have it right here in my backyard. To invite friends and have them witness that culmination of those years of hard work. It was really special.
One of the fun things about this year’s Oscars was that the best picture race was wide open right up until the moment Spotlight was named as the winner. What was it like to hear Morgan Freeman announce the title of your film? It was so exciting, because nobody knew [which film would win]. If you listened to all the pundits and critics and all the predictors from years past, nobody knew. Throughout the night, Mad Max started winning all the technical awards, which made it seem like The Revenant might not be the front-runner. So we thought, we might have a chance.
Do you have the next project lined up? [My producing partner and I] have a lot of things going, both in film and TV. We’re pretty much focused on these kind of inspired-by-true-stories dramas and thrillers. We’ve tried in the past to develop comedies, but now we’re really focused on dramas and thrillers.