It terms of cinematic comeback stories, there are few quite like the narrative spinning around writer/director Tom McCarthy at the moment. About this time last year he was still reeling from the from the critical reception of his Adam Sandler-starring fantasy/comedy “The Cobbler,” which premiered at TIFF to savage reviews. It was major misfire from a filmmaker whose swung and connected with this previous three pictures, “The Station Agent,” “Win Win,” and “The Visitor.” Now, he’s back and in the thick of the Oscar race with “Spotlight,” and stopping by to chat with Brian Koppelman on The Moment podcast, he reflects on how things went down with “The Cobbler.”
“The Toronto Film Festival didn’t want the movie, granted, it’s a unique movie,” McCarthy admits. “And I gotta say, for the record, I love the movie, and I stand by the movie. They sort of stuck that movie at the end of the festival, they didn’t know what to make of it. Quite honestly, a lot of people didn’t. It’s not what I usually do, and that was the point of it. And they did a press and industry screening at the very beginning of the [festival], and it didn’t go so well.”
“But we hadn’t screened the movie [for the public], and we didn’t screen [until] four or five days later at the very end [of the festival]. Sandler was also up there, he was working on ‘Pixels,’ and we were having dinner one night, and just kind of talking about it, and realized no one had seen the movie but this room full of critics, and how unique that was. As you probably know, the press loves to go after Adam, they just have this thing for him, and he handles it very well,” the director added.
Well, it’s actually a common occurrence for festival movies to screen for critics first before the public gets to see it, but that aside, McCarthy reveals that he saw significant change in perception when he finally got to see the “The Cobbler” with a regular audience.
“Shortly after this happened, in those three or four days between the press [and public] screening….I started feeling, if not liberated, emboldened by this, and I can’t quite explain why. And then we got the screening and I sat in this big theater with 1200 people, and the film played great. You can just feel a film as a director. I remember we’re all kind of looking around, me and my team — who was a bit shellshocked by this point, [they’re] the same team I’ve made three good films with — and we went onstage for Q&A and it was really fun, and lively, and the audience was really engaged, and I felt if not validated, it furthered my sense of either liberation or feeling emboldened by the process, and realizing, all I can do is keep telling stories. Like literally, all I can do is go back to work, and sometimes they’re gonna love you, and sometimes they’re gonna hate you, and sometimes it’s in between…You do learn a lot from it. All those cliches about [how] you learn more in failure, I think are true.”
It should be said, that at least in my experience, festival audiences tend to be fairly easy to please, as they are already excited to be in the presence of stars, and attending a splashy premiere or gala screening. But on a larger level, McCarthy sees “The Cobbler” experience as one that’s reflective of the worrying state of journalism. Certainly, it has been hard times lately for the kind of long form and investigative reporting celebrated in “Spotlight,” and McCarthy thinks there is a trickle down effect to film criticism.
“The industry has been obliterated, and of course that affects arts and entertainment, and course that affects editors and reporters of arts and entertainment. And what does it do? For one, the response time is…you come out of a screening, and people are tweeting about it and blogging about it [right away]. How thoughtful is the analysis any more? Where they take a moment, pause, [and ask] ‘What did he do? What didn’t work? What did work? Let’s break it down.’ I feel like in both victory and defeat, everything seems very definitive, and at times, even one note, and I feel like that’s something to look at,” he said. “Because, there’s a lot to learn from a really thoughtful analysis of a film, good or bad, and more often than not it fells that maybe in the bigger picture now, we’re losing even that.”
It’s a fair point, and finding that kind of in-depth study of cinema is harder and harder, and most would agree that in a era when web analytics and traffic trump all, being first does sometimes take the poll position over deeper insight and coverage.
Let us know what you think about McCarthy’s thoughts in the comments section and check out his full talk with Koppelman, plus a new clip and TV spot from “Spotlight,” which opens on November 6th.