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Spotlight: A Wolf In Sheep's Clothing

By Karel Segers

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Spotlight is the perfect example of a movie no emerging screenwriter should ever consider to write. It deals with child abuse. Nobody wants to hear about this when they sit down at night to relax. In cinemas, people seek escapism. The film is also a period piece, and some people may argue that we have more pressing matters to deal with today.

The heroes are journalists, and since All The President Men, they have hardly ever been hero material. All they do is talk and write, which is not particularly cinematic.

Who is the main character in Spotlight? Hard to say… as it’s really an ensemble piece. These films usually struggle, as audiences care more easily about one character than a whole bunch of ’em. Finally, none of them ever really gets in trouble, let alone fear of their lives.

The Best Picture Award for Spotlight is an encouraging reminder that inspired filmmaking can break lots of rules, and still be noticed.


Spotlight may not be a masterpiece; in the company of recent Best Picture winners, it holds its ground. I prefer it to most of the winners of the past decade. Despite  a divers ensemble cast, the film feels strongly cohesive. Josh Singer’s TV experience may have come in handy on this front.

Most importantly, I truly respected that the film didn’t try to paint the issue of the child abuse by clerics in black and white. As American politics are increasingly overshadowed by slogans and lies, the danger exists that this would seep into political storytelling. Spotlight cannot be blamed of oversimplifying.

And even if the story deals with events that happened 15 years ago, they are still acutely fresh in the minds of many. Perhaps as entertainers we have the duty to ensure we – and our audiences – stay cautious.


Initially I wondered “how are they going to make this work”, but as the story built momentum, I loved how each character took to it in their own way.

The new editor Baron (Schreiber) sees an opportunity and a duty to take on the challenge, while old-timer Robby (Keaton) is reluctant. Staffers Sacha (McAdams) and Mike (Ruffalo) are the pit-bulls, attacking the case, without ever relenting. They’ll provide the forward-motion to get us deeper into the case.

Then, just past the mid-point, a scene appears of merely ninety seconds, that makes this film truly special. It goes into brave territory, and reminds us of the complexity of child abuse. Rather than demonising the perpetrators and appealing to the audience’s primal lust for revenge, it shows us how difficult the issue really is.

Sacha visits a former priest named Ronald Paquin (Richard O’Rourke), who lives with his sister (Nancy E. Carroll). The elderly gentleman who opens the door, radiates a child-like innocence. A wolf in sheep’s clothing. Then, the conversation gets a totally unexpected, chilling twist, leaving both Sacha and the viewer speechless.

About Karel Segers

Karel Segers wrote his first produced screenplay at age 17. Today he is a story analyst, script editor and producer with experience in rights acquisition, script development and production. His screenwriting classes have trained writers in Australia, Europe, Asia and the Middle East, and his clients include international award-winning filmmakers as well as three Academy Award nominees. Karel is the founder of The Story Department and!, and he ranks in the world's Top 10 of most influential people for screenwriting on Twitter.


Screenwriting Article by Karel Segers

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