Why Oscar-Winning Spotlight Director Tom McCarthy Made A Kids Movie

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It’s both weird and makes total sense that, after winning Best Picture for 2015’s Spotlight, Tom McCarthy’s next directorial effort would be a movie made for kids. Namely, Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made (which premiered here at the Sundance Film Festival and is based on the book series by Stephan Pastis). It’s weird because most directors whose movie wins an Oscar for Best Picture don’t follow it up with a movie made for kids. But, then again, once you win Best Picture, you know, why not just do whatever the hell you want to do, right?

It’s actually quite hilarious to listen to McCarthy talk about his two strangely separate careers that very few people realize belong to the same person. There’s obviously McCarthy the director, but there’s also McCarthy the actor who starred in Meet the Parents as Dr. Bob. But, as McCarthy says ahead, when he’s recognized on the street, it’s not as the guy who directed a Best Picture winner, it’s usually as Dr. Bob. Then, after McCarthy explains he’s been more focusing on writing and directing the last few years, the unsuspecting Meet the Parents fans wish McCarthy luck that this whole directing thing works out for him.

I met McCarthy at a condo up a winding hill near the side of a mountain here in Park City, Utah. Most notably, this condo had a home theater (where I waited for about 15 minutes) which had five movie posters decorating the room: Casablanca, The Wizard of Oz, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, and for some reason … How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days autographed by Matthew McConaughey with the inscription, “jk livin.”

Tom McCarthy: Welcome to my condo.

Wait, is this really your condo?

Oh no. One of our producer’s is in another condo, which is equally nice. Not this nice, but it’s nice.

Because if it was your place, I had so many questions.

You’d wonder why…

Why Matthew McConaughey signed a How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days poster to you? Have you seen that in the screening room?

[Laughs] No.

It says “jk livin.”

What does that mean, jk livin?

Just keep living.

Oh, right. Right.

Mike Ryan

It’s the same amount of syllables. It doesn’t really save any time.

It’s McConaughey. That’s makes sense, it’s McConaughey.

I talked to you once before. A piece on Spotlight. The premise was, can a movie itself be journalism?

Yeah, I do remember that.

I emailed Marty Baron and he crapped on the idea a bit.

Yeah, that’s probably, because journalism, I think, we would have to take it probably a few steps further.

But you could have just accepted the Boston Globe version of the story. But then the plaintiff attorney tells you and Josh Singer he sent them the names and it changes the dynamic of the story.

It gave us, it really played into a theme that we are really leaning into there, which is complicity and deference. That, to me, is what made the movie worth making. Because it gave us a theme, which was more relevant beyond that story. Certainly relevant now.

Do you think movies have a duty to get the story right? I understand there will always be a dramatic license…

Well, keep in mind, and look, I think there’s both sides of that argument. It is still movies. It’s cinema and people are going to take liberties. And it’s depends on the kind of story you’re telling. So I feel with Spotlight, it was a journalism story based on fact. And we knew we had to get that. We knew we had to be really precise. I think sometimes people can go down the rabbit hole. As a writer, I know this. Research can become a trap. Right?

You can get lost in the weeds if you go too far.

Right. And we start asking, what’s our story here? We still have to get there. I feel like that’s always a tricky question, especially when you’re dealing with the historical. You know? But it wouldn’t be the first time people have misrepresented history. If viewers want to take the time, if they care enough to actually do a little bit of research, they’ll suss it out. And look, there’s a lot of movies like that. Some great movies who misrepresented history for purposes of telling a story. And I think it’s our job as viewers to engage in that way.

So after Spotlight, if you made me guess what’s next for you, I would not have guessed this.

[Laughs] You would have guessed this.

No, I promise I wouldn’t have.

Yes, you would have.

Right, it was either this or a Judy Blume novel.

Yeah, man. I don’t know. I think once you make a movie that wins an Academy Award for Best Picture, everyone’s then like, now what’s next? I know after I made The Visitor, they weren’t saying that. After I made Station Agent or Win Win, they weren’t. But I started developing this with staff seven, eight years ago. So it wasn’t like I finished Spotlight and I’m like, “Get me Failure.” I love trying to crack a kids novel. Because I’d never done it! And I never made a movie for kids. And quite honestly, the world is such a shitty place right now. It’s a nice place to spend my time.

Very true. I did enjoy watching this, forgetting about the impeachment trial, or whatever.

Totally. We were working in Portland and we were just having a good time and a lot of smart people were trying to make it. And as the guy who has kids and watching what they’re watching, there’s not a lot of great stuff in live action. And a lot of the stuff is very classical and it’s formal. And I feel the reason we’re here is because Timmy owes a lot more to independent cinema and my tastes. And I wanted to expose young people to that. I wanted them to see, hey, this is what it can feel like. Speaking of, the movie I’m showing tonight blew my mind. I’m showing a clip from Repo Man.

Really?

I wasn’t a film kid. And I was 17 or 16 when I saw that. And it fucking, I just had never… It was an older dude that I worked with was like, “Oh, you have to come over. I have a VHS.”

I literally watched that movie six months ago, and I had not seen it in a long time.

I just re-watched it too.

As a kid I’m like, “Oh, this is crazy.” And then re-watching now I’m like, “Oh, this really is a legit insane movie.”

Legit insane and really well-executed. And, I don’t know, I remember it blowing my mind. And I’m like, “I want kids to have that.” When we were test screening Timmy the audiences were really into it. Afterwards the host was like, “Well, so what does this remind you of? What movie?” One kid finally goes, “Up?”

Which you worked on.

The kid’s either a savant or he’s like…

How old was this kid?

He’s like 10.

Maybe he’s just a fan of your whole catalogue.

“It’s obviously McCarthy’s imprints.” And truth be told, I was going to make Stillwater, the movie I’m editing now, and then Timmy. But Stillwater, I bumped.

Did they overlap at all?

It was back to back. But there was definitely a point where hen I was editing Timmy, I was working a lot on Stillwater.

From what I understand, very different movies.

Completely different. So, when people look from the outside and they’re like, “Whoa, you did 13 Reasons Why, and then did some other stuff, and then you did Timmy and now you’re doing this.” It doesn’t make sense. But, for me, living it…

As Matthew McConaughey said, jk livin…

Jk, man! It doesn’t occur to me till I get here and I’m like, “I guess it’s weird.” I said that to my wife last night. Because every interview, it started with that question. And I’m like, “Man, it is definitely the question that they want to ask right now.”

Well, it’s weird. But it also strangely makes sense.

Okay, you know what’s weird about it, and I probably haven’t thought about it until right now: but there’s a part of going through that Oscar process. You don’t have to win, even being nominated or even being one of those final 15 films that’s deep in rotation. So you’re going to three or four months of events. It’s so traumatic, in some ways. And you feel bad ever complaining about it, because you feel lucky to be there. But at the same point as, artistically speaking, they’re a little bit traumatic. And I would argue even damaging.

I’ve been told at first it’s really nice when people like what you’ve made. But by the end you’re numb. Is that accurate?

Very accurate. But I even think beyond that, which is just the pounding of it, it can be dangerous. Because you hear people talk about your movie as a product. Especially when you get really down to the actual, “what makes this an Oscar movie?” I’ll go where they tell me, talk to where they tell me to, but I don’t want to think about it or hear about it outside of that. I don’t read that shit. And it’s damaging. And my concern was, with Timmy, I didn’t bring any of that baggage into it. I wasn’t thinking, “What are they going to say about this scene where Timmy confronts Molly Moskins?”

So with Stillwater, I forgot all that. No outside voice is telling me what the movie needs to be or should be or what’s important or what kind of scene you need to make in an Oscar movie. You’re just thinking, I just want to make a really good movie. And so I think with Timmy, it was a nice little escape from the adult world.

It’s remarkable you’re a director who’s had the success you’ve had, who is also a successful actor who has separated that so much where people have forgotten. You’re in one of the most famous comedies of all time, Meet the Parents. And a lot of people do not realize that.

I’ll be on the street and people just know me from the stuff I’ve been in. And then they’ll be like, “So why haven’t you been acting?” I’m like, “Yeah. I’m just doing other stuff.” Then I feel like a weirdo.

Well, yeah. How do you drop in, well, I wrote and directed a movie that won Best Picture?

Yeah, I decided to say, “Nah. I’ve been sort of like doing more writing and directing stuff.” And they’re like, “Oh, cool. I hope it goes well.” [Laughs] Thanks!

Now, that’s hilarious. You’ve got to want to say, “I made Spotlight.”

If we’re having a conversation about it, I never mind engaging, but it is a bit of a public life. We were just sitting at breakfast and talking movies. And these people behind me were just, not only talking about me, but using my name in it’s entirety the entire time. “Well, Tom McCarthy and Tom McCarthy.”

Wait. In the spot randomly behind you?

Behind me, in another booth. And I was like, “Oh man, I just, I can’t. I don’t want to hear any of this.”

Were they saying nice things?

It wasn’t bad. And I couldn’t really even hear it completely. But I was like, can you just like not use my whole name so I can enjoy my conversation? But look, my point is, I’m at a film festival and I’m here with the films, of course. But it’s a public life. So in terms of the acting stuff, I still love it. I just haven’t had time to do it, really.

Yeah, you’ve just been dabbling with some writing and directing on the side.

[Laughs] Yeah.

You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.

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