Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Movies to get your reporting mojo back

Many of us take solace in our favorite movies and TV shows, though of late Hollywood hasn't offered much. I have my own collection of favorites, which are generally played in response to what's going on in my career. "Die Hard" was my favorite after a bad day (one News Director wore out my first copy), "Rudy" got cued up when I needed inspiration, and you just can't beat "It's a Wonderful Life" when you tend to look back at your life choices.

But if you've been in the television business for any length of time, you know that the day-to-day grind can put you on auto-pilot, and sometimes make you forget the magical lure that got your into the career in the first place. If you've lost your spirit, just need to get back on the ethical path, or want validation that the business is just more interesting than any other, here's a good way to spend a few hours.

All the President's Men. Not just a great movie, but the best movie about reporters who got their story the old fashioned way. The sequence with Robert Redford working the phone, doodling on his pad between important notes, is so dead on for any reporter. The scene with Redford and Hoffman going thru thousands of slips in a library is a classic. And for those of you who don't know much about history, you can learn a ton about Watergate from this film.

Absence of Malice. A great expose on the ethics, or lack thereof, in our business. Why you'd rather be right than first. Any why you should be careful in your reporting.

The China Syndrome. Jane Fonda & Michael Douglas use a whistle blower to get the story. How a story can change the world and save lives. And why a smart photog is any station's best asset.

Broadcast News. An excellent look at both the journalistic and cosmetic sides of the business. (If you look like William Hurt and have the soul of Holly Hunter, you'll go far.) The layoff scene is particularly timely these days. Albert Brooks flop-sweat anchoring is a classic.

The Big Carnival. You might have to look hard for a copy of this one. Kirk Douglas is a down on his luck reporter who manipulates a story and turns it into a media circus. Hence the title. Great expose on what's wrong with the business.

Wag the Dog. Yet another satirical look at media manipulation taken to the extreme.

Good Night and Good Luck. The story of Edward R. Murrow. Good historical piece for those of you too young to remember the guy, and nice to look back at when TV News was a lot simpler.

The Year of Living Dangerously. If you want to be a foreign correspondent, watch this first.

Kolchak, The Night Stalker. You gotta be kidding me; a vampire movie made this list? You bet. This 1970's horror gem features Darren McGavin as a dogged, old fashioned reporter with ink in his veins. While his techniques (bribing sources with bottles of scotch) would be frowned upon today (bean counters wouldn't approve the expense), his nose for news is something sadly lacking in today's newsrooms.

Lou Grant. I stumbled across an old rerun the other nite on something called American Family Network, (Wednesdays, 9pm EST) and I'd forgotten how good this TV series was. A great look at different styles of reporting and how a news team working in harmony can bring great results.

The Ratings Game. A laugh out loud Danny DeVito movie about the mob fixing the ratings. Fuhgeddaboudit.


turdpolisher said...

yeah, China Syndrome is a coo flick, but Michael douglas going live from inside the plant's control center with no wires and no live truck is a hell of a stretch. All these years later, we can barely manage a skype.

-The Grape said...

I'd forgotten about that Hollywood trick. Wish I could remember the movie where the photog had the cable from the camera tucked into his back pocket.

Anonymous said...

One other movie, or rather, a British TV miniseries, is "State of Play". It's an excellent and intriguing story that looks at not just the behind-the-scenes of a newspaper, but the importance of the media as truthseekers. There's an American remake... I haven't seen it yet, but I highly recommend the original British version.