Cover art for podcast Based on a True Story

Based on a True Story

205 EpisodesProduced by Dan LeFebvreWebsite

We've all seen the movies that claim to be 'based on a true story', but have you ever wondered how historically accurate they are? That's what we'll find out as we compare Hollywood with history.



Tom McCarthy started his acting career with a short movie in 1989 called Roast Suckling. Although that's probably not something most have seen, he's one of those actors that you'd recognize when you see him. Probably because he's been in a lot of movies and TV shows you've seen.

He played a background character in Mel Gibson and Julia Roberts' 1997 thriller Conspiracy Theory.

In 2000, Tom has a recurring role on Boston Public as the character Kevin Riley. After more background character roles in movies such as Syriana and the Oscar nominated Flags of Our Fathers, Tom again had a recurring role on a TV show in 2008, this time for The Wire.

Some of Tom's more recent characters were Gordon, the loveable doctor who plays the new husband of John Cusack's ex-wife in the disaster movie 2012. Or as Dr. Bob in the comedy Little Fockers.

But Tom's career extends way beyond acting.

In 2009, Tom worked with Pete Docter and Bob Peterson to write the Pixar movie Up. In 2011, he directed the pilot episode for a little show on HBO called Game of Thrones. Unfortunately, HBO didn't like how it turned out, so they had to reshoot it.

Tom's career hit new heights when he wrote and directed the film that won the Best Picture at the Academy Awards.

Eight movies were nominated for the Oscar for Best Picture in 2016. While the writers for films like Room and Brooklyn were inspired by things that happened in history, their stories aren't based on those events. Still, that leaves four movies that were based on a true story.

They are The Revenant, which was a movie we already learned about in the first episode, The Big Short, Bridge of Spies, and last but not least, the movie that is the topic of our story today.

Spotlight ended up beating out the other seven nominees as it won two of the seven Oscars it was nominated for, including the coveted Best Picture and Best Writing, Original Screenplay for Tom McCarthy and his writing partner, Josh Singer.

Although Spotlight tells the story of corruption and cover-ups in the Catholic Church, Josh Singer explained in an interview with Creative Screenwriting that was secondary to the movie's plot. Josh said, "This story isn’t about exposing the Catholic Church. We were not on some mission to rattle people’s faith. In fact, Tom came from a Catholic family. The motive was to tell the story accurately while showing the power of the newsroom—something that’s largely disappeared today. This story is important. Journalism is important, and there is a deeper message in the story."

So if the cover-up was secondary to the movie's story, how much of the film was true?

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