In Los Angeles it’s tradition for many in the entertainment industry to get up at 5:30 a.m. to watch the Oscar nominations announced live. But Tom McArdle ’91, editor of the movie Spotlight, decided to sleep in.
“Well, I noticed that I had fallen off of the top five on a lot of the Oscar prediction sites, so I wasn’t feeling very hopeful,” he says. “But around 6:30, I was turning over in bed and I thought, oh I will just peek at my phone. I looked at it and I saw I had 50 messages—the first from a friend saying, ‘Dude, wake up!’ And then there were a bunch of others saying ‘Congratulations!’ So, then I knew.”
This is the first Academy Award nomination for McArdle, who for 13 years has been editing critically acclaimed movies with Tom McCarthy, the director of Spotlight. Their previous work includes The Station Agent from 2003 and The Visitor from 2007. “The power of the story well told,” is what brings McArdle and McCarthy together, wrote Deadline.
Spotlight is nominated for Best Picture, Best Director (McCarthy), Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Mark Ruffalo), Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Rachel MacAdams), and Writing (Original Screenplay). The movie tells the story of Boston Globe reporters in 2001 uncovering a Catholic Church sex abuse scandal.
When the film was first released, some wondered whether it was possible to visually convey the heart-wrenching story through the lens of investigative reporters. “McArdle had his work cut out for him,” wrote Variety.
For the post-production process, the Dartmouth graduate spent eight focused months in a New York City studio, sometimes surrounded by eight people sipping wine–during edit room feedback screenings—and the director’s dog, Georgia. McArdle says he strove to convey the emotion of the story.
“We tried to make sure to show the reaction shots of the reporters often to convey how deeply affected they are by what is happening,” he says. “For me, Spotlight is a film about people doing good work. And I think the audience parallels the reporters in getting caught up in the story and wanting to solve the investigation. So, then, at the end of the film everyone feels emotional because of what all the reporters’ hard work achieved.”
The English major said that he learned to “make your points in a clear and organized way,” by writing term papers at Dartmouth, and he enjoyed classes on the history of film taught by Joanna Rapf, visiting professor of film and media studies; and Al LeValley, professor emeritus of film and media studies; and a class on documentary filmmaking by Mark Decker, former lecturer of film and media studies.
On Sunday, Professor Rapf will be among those tuning in to see if McArdle can turn his first Ocscar nomination into his first Oscar win. His significant other Beverly will join him and the Spotlight team at Hollywood’s Dolby Theater.
Rapf says, “I remember Tom fondly and when a former student does so well, it feels good. The editing was so good on Spotlight that I didn't even notice it—a sign of excellent work. Tom earned his success. Bravo!”