Saturday, September 05, 2009


Movies for Writers: State of Play

I just finished watching State of Play (2009) on DVD and found it to be an interesting study on the craft of newspaper journalism. Yes, the movie is "Big Hollywood" and full of the usual kick-butt action scenes you'd expect from screenwriter Tony Gilroy, who is best known for the Borne movies, but it goes much deeper than the typical crime and suspense thriller.

What impressed me most about the movie was the timeliness of the topics. The film touched on the dying newspaper industry and how many of them are turning to tabloid (gossip-style) reporting to sell paper. It also shed light on how online media and blogs are changing the industry. And yet another strong theme of the film was the tight relationship between politicians and the media, and the ability to slant and even dilute stories.

The editor of The Washington Post, R.B. Brenner, consulted for the film and added to its authenticity. The director, Kevin Macdonald, who has a background in documentaries, contracted Brenner to find out all the details of journalism. His questions included what journalists wear and what types of pens they use! Brenner even led a "boot camp" for extras, teaching them how to conduct phone interviews and type on their computers. The star actors who worked for the paper in the film--Russell Crowe, Rachel McAdams, and Helen Mirren--grilled Brenner on the details and ethics of reporting.

I'm not going to tell you the detailed plot or give away any spoilers--you can watch it or read the description on Amazon. But I will say that Russell Crowe does an excellent job as a seasoned old-school D.C. reporter, Rachel McAdams (love her!) plays the up-and-coming blogger for the paper, and Helen Mirren is great as the hard-nosed editor who is trying to keep her paper afloat after a recent takeover by a media conglomerate.

If you're a writer and are curious about how reporters get their scoops, this film is a good model. It shows the steps reporters take to research a story, how they develop their content, follow leads, verify information, and obtain permission from sources. Of course, not all scoops are this big, but it's a movie, after all.

Now, I want to know: What are some of your favorite movies for writers?

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