Alumna produces award-winner about old-school journalism
THE SANTA CLARA
March 31, 2016
When Morgan Freeman ripped open an envelope and announced that “Spotlight” won Best Picture at the 88th Academy Awards, Santa Clara alumnus Blye Pagon Faust earned cinema’s highest honor.
Faust, who produced the film, went on stage with her fellow producers, sported a proud grin and tightly clutched her glittering gold Oscar statuette, before addressing the packed theatre and 34.3 million television viewers.
“We would not be here today without the heroic efforts of our reporters,” Faust said mere moments after winning the award. “Not only do they effect global change, but they absolutely show us the necessity for investigative journalism.”
Despite the adrenaline and the jubilation, the excitement was tempered by the knowledge that the Boston Globe, or any other publication for that matter, may never have the resources again to conduct an investigation as groundbreaking as what the “Spotlight” team did in 2001.
The film depicts the true story of how a group of investigative journalists, the Boston Globe’s “Spotlight” team, conducted a year-long investigation of priests accused of sexually assaulting children.
The journalists subsequently unmasked a massive, system wide coverup of child sex abuse within the local Catholic Archdiocese in Boston, rattling the entire Church and sending shockwaves straight to the Vatican.
“What struck us about the work that the Globe had done was that if they had not broke the story and had the time and the resources to work on the story, would we still be here today not knowing that all of this was going on,” said Faust, who produced “Spotlight” with Nicole Rocklin, Michael Sugar and Steve Golin. It received six Oscar nominations—also winning Best Original Screenplay
The film starred Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber and John Slattery, who played the team of Boston Globe writers and editors investigating the child sex abuse scandal.
“We just didn’t know what the outcome would be and it was unbelievable,” Faust said. “We are elated and completely caught up in the moment and the excitement.”
In “Spotlight,” one editor and four reporters spend all their time investigating sex abuse within the Boston Clergy, drawing attention to the unfortunate reality that teams like this that go after tough stories and hold major institutions accountable simply don’t exist anymore—a major detriment to the proper functioning of our democracy.
“They dedicated themselves full-time over the course of 6 months to put the pieces together and that’s extraordinary,” Faust said. “Newspapers just don’t have those resources anymore.”
Layoffs and pay cuts have rocked newsrooms across the country. Journalists that still have their jobs can only expect to make a modest income—the median reporter’s salary in 2016 was $38,000, according to PayScale. Local newspapers across the country are being shuttered due to lack of revenue or being consolidated.
These cutbacks aren’t just limited to local publications. In June, between 20 and 40 Wall Street Journal employees were hit with a round of pink slips due to a decline in advertising revenue, according to Politico.
As a result, reporters are overworked and focused on churning out stories under tight daily deadlines to cater to the vast platform of online readers, who get their fill of daily news by scrolling through facebook posts and twitter updates.
“Digital journalism is based on the metric that the more you click the more money you make, so there’s got to be a constant 24-hour push of content and its gotta be clickable,” said Barbara Kelley, a senior lecturer in the Communication Department.
Faust hails from Monroe, Washington, and now lives in Marin, California with her spouse of over ten years and her two children—one four-and-a-half year old and one 11-month-old.
While at Santa Clara, Faust enjoyed playing basketball and acting in theatre performances, and even penned a few articles for The Santa Clara.
Faust said English Department professor Diane Dreher was a “phenomenal,” teacher—she took Dreher’s Milton class in winter 1997. Dreher remembers Faust fondly as well.
“She wrote an A+ paper on Paradise Lost and received an A in the class,” Dreher said. “I remember her as a bright, inquisitive student who asked important questions in class. She’s still asking important questions, now about our culture, with her film.”
After graduating from Santa Clara, she moved to Los Angeles, acting in indie films, starred in commercials advertising products like Reebok shoes and the Barbie basketball doll, and also performed in films created by postgraduate students at the University of Southern California.
A year later, Faust entered the University of California, Los Angeles to study law, earning her J.D. in 2001. She began doing entertainment-related litigation, but then made the plunge and switched to producing. She partnered up with Rocklin, who also has a background in entertainment law.
Faust and Rocklin were working with an author on a completely unrelated project when he told them about the story of the Boston Globe reporters. They flew to Boston in early 2009.
“We had known about the stories of the clergy abuse but I don’t think we fully understood the emotional impact and turmoil that these survivors went through and how pervasive and widespread this had been within the church. It really hit us,” Faust said. “We just were blown away by the story and knew we had to tell it.”
Faust and Rocklin obtained the rights to the film in 2009, but had challenges financing the project after hopes of a co-production with DreamWorks fell flat. They struggled to assemble a team, but eventually partnered with Open Road Films, an independent studio known for releasing “The Grey” and “The Host”. Shooting finally began in Oct. 2014.
“Once Mark Ruffalo came on board, the rest of the cast came on,” Faust said. “There was a lot of stopping and starting until our full team came into place.”
“Spotlight” took the story of a group of weary reporters plowing through countless files and doing endless fact checking and transformed it into a heart-racing masterpiece.
“The process of reporting isn’t all that sexy,” said Michael Whalen, an associate professor in the Communication Department who has known Faust for about 12 years. “It’s a lot of phone calls, digging through archives and researching, and they made it this engaging, emotional story.”
Faust attributed this to director Tom McCarthy’s touch, and said that he is talented at making very slight moments resonate with the audience and keep them riveted.
“He’s so good at making these very subtle, very human performances leap off the screen,” Faust said.
The film also exemplified the pressing need for journalists to always question the word of established institutions rather than immediately accepting it as fact.
“They made it clear that one of the journalists roles is to question authority,” Kelley said. “They didn’t ever take an institutional word without questioning it and that’s what reporting is and should be.”
Lisa Davis, an academic year adjunct lecturer in the Communication Department, said the film portrayed the nuances of investigative reporting incredibly well, such as the constant arguments about when to publish a story, the process of filing a motion to unseal court documents and the challenges of managing sources who have their own unique viewpoints about how a story should be told.
She pointed out that in the film, Mark Ruffalo’s character, editor Marty Baron, breaks down from the psychological burden of knowing that so many children were abused for such a long period time and that nobody did anything about it.
“In reporting on child sex abuse, especially in a long process that is a big investigative project, you are living with these stories twenty-four-seven for a long period of time, and that’s challenging, and it’s going to get to people, and you are going to lose it from time to time,” said Davis, who wrote a book The Sins of Brother Curtis: A Story of Betrayal, Conviction and the Mormon Church, which is about systemized sexual abuse within the Mormon Church.
“Spotlight” was screened in the Vatican on Feb. 4 to a commission that Pope Francis organized in 2014 to prevent clergy abuse of children. On Feb. 26, Mark Ruffalo was on the front lines of a rally in Downtown Los Angeles calling for the church to release the names of known abusers and crack down on sexual abuse. Faust is proud of the film’s impact, but thinks that it should just be the beginning.
“Theres still clearly a lot of work to be done,” Faust said. “I think that our hope is that this is a fantastic start and that it just continues to work towards 100 percent transparency worldwide, which would be the ultimate goal.”
Faust will return to her alma mater next month—“Spotlight” will be screened in the Recital Hall on April 4 at 7 p.m. to a sold out crowd of faculty and staff, and she will participate in a Q&A following the screening to discuss how the film was made.
Looking forward, Faust and Rocklin are embarking on a project to immortalize true stories in various film and T.V. productions. Faust will also have to decide where to place her iconic eight and a half pound Oscar statuette.
“It’ll have to organically find its way to where it belongs,” Faust said. “Right now it’s sitting on my desk and it’s been passed around a lot. My older son is enthralled by it and he’s been playing with it, so eventually it will find its spot.”
Contact Sophie Mattson at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (408) 554-4849.