Movies for Writers: State of Play

Saturday, September 05, 2009
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?


Margo Dill said...

A creepy writer movie is one with Johnny Depp(Okay, maybe I like it so much because it has Johnny Depp whom I have loved since 21 Jump Street). The title is: Secret Window.

Then there's Stephen King's "Misery".

Okay, and I don't usually like creepy movies, but I guess I like creepy writer movies. Maybe I watch these to make sure I don't turn out like them. :)

Angela Mackintosh said...

I love Misery! Definitely creepy.

Some of my other favorite movies for writers are:

Naked Lunch
Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas
Henry Fool
Swimming Pool (this was a recent find--love it!)
Permanent Midnight
The Shining

I have some creepy ones in there too! LOL.

Kerrie said...

My first job out of college was copy editor at a medium-sized newspaper in the Seattle area. Then, I moved up to lifestyles/features editor. It was crazy busy. I worked way too much, but I wouldn't trade that experience for anything. I loved working in a newsroom.

My favorite writing movie is probably "Stranger than Fiction." But I also love "You've Got Mail." It's not about writing, but it centers around books!

Unknown said...

Movies for Writers: State of Play

Great review, Angela. Ironically, I just watched this movie with my husband last evening. It was a suspense yarn with shades of All the Presidents Men. The story had an extra appeal as a cautionary tale about the state of print media and information technology. Whither goest the news media? Our son is just starting out in the field of journalism--we will be recommending this movie to him!
As for writers movies in general, I would suggest these titles:
Il Postino
The Hours
The Shell Seekers

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