June 2024

Drew's Letter

Hi! This is Drew’s Letter, a monthly summary of interesting reads, PR advice and recommendations from the mind of our Strategic Communications Director Andrew Williams.

My brother recently reached out to me to ask for romantic comedy recommendations as he was looking for a new rom-com to watch with his partner.

Being the slightly scary personality I am, I sent him my top ten all-time rom-coms within about three minutes.

The one he ended up picking was arguably the least rom-com-like of all the recommendations, but they loved it regardless – the 1987 James L. Brooks romantic comedy-drama Broadcast News.

Starring Albert Brooks, William Hurt and the incomparable Holly Hunter, Broadcast News is a wonderful movie about the changing face of broadcast journalism (when is it not changing) and the everpresent push and pull between what people might want to know and what people need to know.

Aside from being an excellent character study, it got me thinking about journalism movies – (maybe my favourite film sub-genre alongside underdog sports movies), so here’s a non-exhaustive list of ten favourites.

(Honourable mentions: The Paper, She Said, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, and it’s not a film, but Frontline.)

10. Almost Famous (2000)

A fantastic movie that is only this far down on the list because journalism is not really the first thing on its mind, Almost Famous is (very loosely) based on the early career of director Cameron Crowe, when he was a writer for Rolling Stone Magazine.

It follows young teenage writer William Miller as he tours with the fictional band Stillwater and has to grow up extremely quickly. It’s a fantastic movie, with possibly the greatest singalong scene of all time.

It also marks a bit of a turning point for Crowe’s career, as he has made nothing but vastly inferior films after this. Before Almost Famous, he’d made Say Anything and Jerry Maguire. After it, he made Vanilla Sky (divisive), Elizabethtown (extremely divisive) We Bought a Zoo (divisive) and Aloha (absolute dreck.)

But we’ll always have Almost Famous.

(Almost Famous is available to Stream on Foxtel Now)

9. Shattered Glass (2003)

Probably the most underseen film on this list, Shattered Glass is based on the story of Stephen Glass, who was a rising journalistic star for the New Republic until it was discovered that some of his stories should have been filed in the ‘fiction’ section.

Watching the walls close in on Stephen Glass  is at times both thrilling and painful, but what does come through in this movie is the high regard in which it holds quality journalism. Director Billy Ray studied journalism, and his respect for the profession comes through every frame, as well as the distaste for anyone who would sully its name.

(Shattered Glass is available to stream on Stan.)

8. The Insider (1999)

An incredible movie that really does need to be seen by more people, The Insider adapts the true-life story of Jeffrey Wingand, who was a whistleblower for the tobacco industry, and the 60 Minutes segment where he told his story.

Al Pacino plays the CBS producer in charge of the story, and the two have to navigate attempts by both the industry and the network to discredit or suppress the segment.

Pretty much every movie about journalism subscribes to one core idea – truth is the most important thing. But The Insider reminds us that truth can also be painful, stressful and even dangerous.

(The Insider is not currently available to stream)

7. His Girl Friday (1940)

When we think of the ‘screwball’ comedy, we’re generally thinking of movies like His Girl Friday. Cary Grant plays the editor Walter Burns, who suggests working on one more story with the ace reporter he’s about to lose to a rival.

Complicating matters is the fact this ace reporter is also his ex-wife. Cue a bunch of rat-a-tat dialogue (seriously, this movie broke the record at the time of the fastest film dialogue ever), shenanigans, surprises and jokes.

It’s probably the only film on this list that makes journalism seem fun, but even His Girl Friday reflects the obsessive nature of the profession – the last scene is a bittersweet testament to that.
(His Girl Friday is available to stream on Prime Video)

6. Network (1976)

Responsible for one of the most famous movie lines of all time and to this day a satirical masterpiece that resonates.

One of the most common themes of the films that are about news media, as opposed to just featuring news media, is the balance between news and entertainment. Network’s take on this is absolutely incisive, using a classic satirical tool of taking things to just enough of an extreme that they are bleakly funny and also queasily believable.

Two men have won Oscars for acting posthumously, and both men are Australian. Peter Finch won for his barnstorming performance in Network, and he was sadly succeeded in this by Heath Ledger, for his portrayal as the Joker.

Which has nothing to do with journalism, but is an interesting fact.

(Network is not currently available to stream in Australia.)

5. Zodiac (2007)

Hands down the scariest movie on this list (and I think, also, the longest) Zodiac, directed by David Fincher, covers the long manhunt for the Zodiac killer. In part, it’s a really interesting examination of the intersection between media and crime, the way journalism can both help solve and encourage criminals by feeding the public’s natural inclination towards fear.

But what it’s really about is the way that a passing interest in something can rapidly become an obsession and how good intentions can lead to poor choices.

If you’ve got a stronger stomach for the scary stuff, this (like a surprising number of films on this list) is in the conversation for one of the best films ever made. It’ll stay with you. 

(Zodiac is available to stream on Binge)

4. Broadcast News (1987)

Broadcast News doesn’t get mentioned in the same breath as most classic rom-coms because it’s not particularly rom and it’s not particularly com. It has moments of both –

Although the two movies have very different tones, both Broadcast News and Network trace the progress of news from information to entertainment, but Broadcast comes ten years later, once the metamorphosis has really started to take effect.

All the actors are brilliant, the dialogue sparkles – it is absolutely worth your time.

(Broadcast News is available to stream on Disney+.)

3. Spotlight (2015)

Spotlight was the little film that could, an unglamorous story of an investigation into abuse in the Boston Catholic Church that went on to upset favourite The Revenant at the Academy Awards.

With an ensemble cast in which nobody really steals the, um, spotlight, the film is a process story, tracking the Boston Globe’s (fictional, although derived from several real reports) long, frustrating investigation.

Despite its industrious vibe, it does manage a few breathtaking moments, particularly towards the back end, where both the journalists – and the audience – can’t believe what they’ve uncovered. A worthy Best Picture winner.

(Spotlight is available to stream on ABC iView.)

2. Good Night, and Good Luck (2005)

This is such a small film compared to most on this list. It had a budget of 7 million dollars, a running time of 93 minutes, and was shot in black and white. But the names attached to it – Clooney, Strathairn, Clarkson, Downey jr., Daniels and more – gives you an idea of how important this story would have been to everyone involved.

(It should be noted that Good Night and Good Luck came out in 2005, when Robert Downey jnr. was still largely persona non grata

Edward R. Murrow is one of the most famous names in journalism history, someone for whom integrity came above everything else. He represents the need for journalism to stand up to political pressure, personified here by the anti-communist vitriol of Joseph McCarthy.

He is magnificently played by David Strathairn. The story is simple, effective and resonated with audiences and critics alike. If you haven’t seen it and you have any interest in journalism and the media, it is a stirring piece of work.

(Good Night, and Good Luck is available to stream on Stan and SBS On Demand.)

1. All The President’s Men (1976)

This came out the same year Network came out, which might give you an insight into how America was going right about now.

From a storytelling perspective, journalism is quite a lot like police work. It’s a lot of process-driven tedium that eventually (hopefully) leads to a significant result. No film has captured this process better than All The President’s Men, the famous film adaptation of Woodward and Bernstein’s Watergate investigation.

One of my favourite things about All the President’s Men is how it underplays and is realistic about the difference between the two primary journalists. Other films would have overplayed the gap between their respective philosophies and approaches, but this film keeps things nicely rooted in reality, as it should be.

And in the end, the news story very much needed the different approaches to happen at all. It’s a great film about journalism, a great film about politics – but it’s also a fantastic movie about teamwork, and even nearly fifty years later, the best of the genre.

(All the President’s Men is available to stream on Netflix.)

Cinematrix

This one is only for the cinephiles but I’m assuming if you’ve read this far you may well be one, so read on, Macduff.

‘Grid’ games have become increasingly popular over the last few years and one of the best is Vulture’s Cinematrix.

In cinematrix. You have nine boxes in a 3×3 grid. Each row and column will have a category, like ‘films about journalism’ and ‘films with Meryl Street in them’.

Players need to find a film that fits both these categories, so you might put in The Post. Once you’ve filled up all nine squares (without repeating a film) you win!

It’s good fun, but a word of warning – it’s really hard, even for film fans. So beware!

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