READ MORE: JOURNALISTS AND POLITICIANS: CASTING THE PRODUCTION/ CAMERAS AND COSTUMES
In the chess match of Beltway politics, there is constant maneuvering between two worthy teams: politicians who seek to retain their positions of influence and journalists out to uncover corruption that accompanies unchecked power. What binds the opponents is their need for each other. And assassination--whether of a character or a life--is sometimes a means to their endgame.
Oscar winner RUSSELL CROWE (Gladiator, American Gangster) leads an all-star cast in a blistering thriller about a rising congressman and an investigative journalist embroiled in a case of seemingly unrelated homicides. Crowe plays Cal McAffrey, a veteran D.C. reporter whose unyielding determination leads him to untangle a mystery of murder and collusion among some of the nation's most promising political and corporate figures in State of Play, from KEVIN MACDONALD (One Day in September, The Last King of Scotland).
Ambitious, unflappable U.S. Congressman Stephen Collins (Oscar winner BEN AFFLECK, Hollywoodland, Gone Baby Gone) is the future of his political party: an honorable appointee who serves as the chairman of a committee overseeing defense spending. High hopes are pinned to this rising star to become a leading national figure--until his beautiful young staff assistant dies tragically and buried secrets come tumbling out.
McAffrey has the dubious fortune of having both an old friendship with Collins and a tough-as-nails editor, Cameron Lynne (Oscar winner HELEN MIRREN, The Queen, Gosford Park), who has assigned him to investigate the story. As he and novice partner Della Frye (RACHEL MCADAMS, The Notebook, Red Eye) try to uncover the killer's identity, McAffrey steps into a cover-up that threatens to shake the nation's power structures. In a town of spin doctors and wealthy politicos, he will discover one truth: When billions are at stake, no one's integrity is beyond question.
Joining the lead cast is an accomplished team of performers including ROBIN WRIGHT PENN (Beowulf; New York, I Love You) as Stephen Collins' loyal wife, Anne; JASON BATEMAN (Hancock, The Kingdom) as manipulative public relations executive Dominic Foy; and JEFF DANIELS (Good Night, and Good Luck.; The Lookout) as George Fergus, a powerful senator with the reputation of his party on the line.
State of Play is based on the BBC television series created by PAUL ABBOTT (The Girl in the Café) and from a screenplay by MATTHEW MICHAEL CARNAHAN (The Kingdom, Lions For Lambs) and TONY GILROY (Duplicity, Michael Clayton) and BILLY RAY (Breach, Flightplan).
The political thriller STATE OF PLAY is the ultimate makeover: a two-hour movie, set in Washington that used to be a six-part BBC mini-series.
The original "State of Play," a popular and a critical success when it was broadcast in Britain in 2003, started with the murder of the girlfriend of a married member of Parliament, and went on to discover corruption and betrayal in government, in the press and even on a personal level. The story bristled with class tension of a sort that exists only in England, and wrung a lot of mileage from the habits of Fleet Street, with its cutthroat competition and checkbook journalism.
"State of Play," in short, seemed so British -- and so unshrinkable a story, with characters of unusual depth and complexity -- that a number of people involved in the film version weren't sure at first that boiling it down and moving it to the United States made much sense. For a start the class issues had to go. And to replace the cynicism and sleaziness of Fleet Street the filmmakers had to come up with a new story about the beleaguered state of the American newspaper business. The new "State of Play" winds up turning Russell Crowe, of all people, into a defender of the journalistic faith.
"I loved the series, but it never crossed my mind you could make it into a film," the movie's director, Kevin Macdonald, said in late March, talking on his cellphone from the back of a London taxicab. And even when he was shown a script, he added, he had a lot of reservations. "It's sort of like what they say about books," he said. "You know, good books make bad movies, and it's better to make a movie from a bad book. This was a very good series, and I worried that we would just let down all the people who loved the original."
What changed his mind, he added, was his realization that the emotional core of "State of Play" involved themes of friendship and loyalty that could be translated anywhere. And that very few Americans knew anything about the series was actually an advantage.
Translating some of the details proved to be easy, said Mr. Macdonald and Andrew Hauptman, the American producer who bought the rights to the series. The member of Parliament became an up-and-coming congressman. No problem. One of the villains in the British piece, a shadow oil company, became a Blackwater-like military contractor, which is even better. Black helicopters could buzz spookily around. And transferring the Fleet Street tabloid wars into the newsroom of a struggling paper, The Washington Globe, riven between journalists of the old school and the new, was probably a plus as well.
Much harder was shrinking the story to two hours. Mr. Hauptman and Matthew Michael Carnahan, the film's original writer (whose credits include "The Kingdom" and "Lions for Lambs"), mapped out the entire series and then began eliminating things that didn't seem essential. They were encouraged by Paul Abbott, creator of the BBC's "State of Play," who told them the amount of new information added over the six hours wasn't as much as they thought. "In some ways the series is just a great piece of six-hour tap dancing," Mr. Macdonald said.
But Mr. Carnahan's script was still very long, and when Mr. Macdonald ("The Last King of Scotland") came on board, he hired two new writers, Tony Gilroy and Billy Ray, to simplify it.
Entire characters were dropped, like a brash young journalist with father-son issues, played by James McAvoy in the original. "That was gut-wrenching," Mr. Hauptman said. And one of the last things to go was an affair between Cal McAffrey, the lead journalist and a friend of the accused member of Parliament, and the M.P.'s wife. It was probably the single strongest story line in the original, because of the way it moved some of the story's larger themes into the bedroom. But in two hours, Mr. Macdonald said, there wasn't room for it to be a believable relationship, so it became part of the back story instead, something that had happened in the past.
Eric Fellner, of Working Title Films, which co-produced the movie, also insisted that the resolution at the end be clearer. "You can have all sort of loose ends in a six-hour series that you can't have in a movie," he said. "Television and movies are ultimately very different. In TV it's the beginning that counts. With movies it's the last 15 minutes or so."
Getting the movie made was "like a rodeo," Mr. Hauptman said. At one point the producer Scott Rudin swept in, and then out again. Edward Zwick was supposed to direct but lost interest. Brad Pitt was supposed to play Cal McAffrey (now the Russell Crowe role), but he split because of the proverbial "creative differences." Edward Norton, who was supposed to play the congressman, ran into scheduling problems and was replaced by Mr. Affleck. And who was going to be the imperious, crafty newspaper editor leading the investigation, the part so memorably played in the original by Bill Nighy?
Ms. Mirren was Mr. Macdonald's idea.
"For a while I thought of using Bill again," he said. "He completely owned that role. But then I began worrying about the anxiety of influence. I was afraid I'd always be thinking, 'Now, how did he do it in the series?' I even thought of Robert Redford. Then I had a brainwave: we have to have a woman, an acerbic Brit, and it dawned on me. Helen. She's strong, acerbic, witty -- like Bill, very British. The idea of Tina Brown was very much on my mind too."
For the newspaper scenes Mr. Macdonald built a newsroom in Culver City, Calif., that is even messier than the real thing. He spent a lot of time at The Washington Post, and hired its metro editor, R. B. Brenner, as an adviser. "My idea was, what if you took the newsroom of 'All the President's Men,' clean and crisp, with that '70s architecture and bright primary colors, and imagined that it hadn't been cleaned up in 30 years?" Mr. Macdonald said. "That sort of reflects the difference in how journalists are perceived now."
He added that he was particularly pleased at the way the movie beefed up the character of Della, a young Scottish reporter played by Kelly Macdonald in the original, and turned her into a blogger (played by Rachel McAdams) who is somewhat at odds with Mr. Crowe's old-school, shoe-leather character. "You've the blogosphere versus the print media," Mr. Macdonald said. "If 'All the President's Men' was what it was like in 1974, this is the way it is now."
Praising Mr. Crowe's performance, he said: "The great thing about Russell is that he's so unvain. I explained to him that this guy is a bit of a schlub, a bit of a loser, he lives in the kind of apartment where you would never have people over, and Russell got that right away."
"The interesting thing," he added, "is that Russell had such contempt for the press to begin with. He hates reporters. It took him a while to acknowledge that there could be such a thing as journalists who were idealistic and incorruptible."
ADAPTATION TO ACTION: STATE OF PLAY BEGINS
From securing the film rights to finalizing the cast, the road to putting State of Play cameras on the streets of Washington, D.C. took as many twists and turns as a political thriller. It began with brilliant source material from writer Paul Abbott, the creator of the enormously successful and critically acclaimed 2003 miniseries that aired on the BBC. The persistence of producer Andrew Hauptman--joining with Working Title's producers Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner--ensured the adaptation would make it to the big screen.
The BBC broadcast its premiere episode of State of Play in May 2003. Audiences and critics alike were held rapt by the intertwining stories of Stephen Collins, Cal McAffrey and their associates in politics and journalism. Soon after the series aired, Hauptman began negotiating with agents in London for feature film rights to Abbott's work.
His tenacity led him to a meeting with Abbott at his home in Manchester. There, Hauptman convinced the writer that he would be the right man to produce a movie of Abbott's work that would be faithful to the spirit of the source material. He closed the deal to adapt State of Play in November 2004 and began the long process of working with writers to morph Abbott's complex six-hour miniseries into a feature film that would shift the actions to the corridors of American power: Washington, D.C.
Reflects Hauptman on his interest in the long-gestating project: "The original series was such a rare find in source material. It was a riveting series that grabbed you and didn't let go; it resonated with me in so many ways. I always thought that by moving the setting to Washington D.C., its scope could be even more powerful and combustible, but just as intelligent.
"The opportunity to get inside the world of the newsroom and feel the drama associated with running a paper, chasing a story and the pursuit of the truth and all of its implications brought a lot of relevance to the story," he continues. "What made the miniseries work so well was that on the surface it was about the dance between politics and journalism--the state of contemporary news media, corporate espionage and conspiracy. But then you realize it was also about individuals and their choices and was deeply personal. It tackled issues of conflict and compromise, loyalty and love, and power and career aspirations. That made it incredibly intriguing."
Abbott was naturally keen to ensure his carefully constructed series not fall into the wrong hands for translation. "In my initial conversations with Paul, he was concerned about how we were going to turn a six-hour drama into a feature film," continues Hauptman. "We were both concerned about making a movie that lived up to the quality of the series."
Hauptman spent the next several years developing the project before bringing it to Universal Pictures, which then brought in Working Title Films--where producers Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner have made a name building the most successful film production company in Britain. Offers Fellner of Working Title's desire to tackle the project: "Like everyone else, we were transfixed when we watched the miniseries several years ago. Paul created this universe that exposed the darkest side of humanity and its worst traits of greed, corruption and unyielding ambition. Tim and I knew it would be a huge challenge to distill that much material and draw a story from the series that would be engaging…as well as one smart enough to stand alone. We felt with Andrew and Kevin at our side and the right team of writers, we could do it justice."
Finding the correct director for the project was equally painstaking. The producers made an unorthodox choice when they selected an Academy Award-winning (and two-time BAFTA-winning) Scottish documentarian who was little known to the feature-film world until his explosive first feature, The Last King of Scotland, took audiences by storm.
Recalls Hauptman of the decision: "We undertook a worldwide search looking for the right individual, and we were really lucky to come across Kevin--a guy who has a lot of integrity. He had seen the series and was moved by the themes that the work covered. As a documentarian, a lot of the themes uncovered in day-to-day news resonated with him, as did exploring those issues in the U.S."
"When I saw State of Play on TV, I absolutely loved it," remarks Macdonald. "Like everybody in Britain loved it, and it won every award going. Five years later, I was sent a script. I was intrigued by it, but initially suspicious, as I loved the series so much. I thought: 'It's six hours long. How can I make it into two hours?'"
Macdonald had no interest in simply re-shooting the work of the miniseries' creators. "Part of the way we got around that was that we changed it rather radically," he says. "Although the basic story is the same, there's a lot that's very different about it. You realize you can't make another version of something that was good. You have to reinvent, and that's what we've tried to do."
The filmmaker was particularly intrigued by how the script for State of Play took a relevant look at the declining state of print journalism and the death to dailies in certain markets. He saw Cal McAffrey as one of the few remaining in a dying breed: a traditional journalist who scours each lead until he's satisfied…and a newsman who files his story the night before it is made available in the printed edition of the paper. McAffrey's editor shoulders the corporate demand to publish scandal or perish, and Della Frye comes from a new school of reporters who are more comfortable with multitasking and instant access to information. In her world, the blogger first to publish an opinion is often the go-to expert (and frequently cited source) on the subject for future stories.
Before filming was set to begin, State of Play suffered a setback that affected productions across the United States: the Writers Guild of America strike of late 2007 and early 2008. The original two leads opted out of the production. But the producers believed they had a brilliant script, as written, with which they should proceed. So they submitted it to two Academy Award® winners who would promptly give the project new life.
ABOUT THE FILMMAKERS
Director KEVIN MACDONALD (Directed by) began his filmmaking career in documentaries. In 2000, his first feature documentary, One Day in September, won the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature. READ AN INTERVIEW WITH KEVIN MACDONALD
MATTHEW MICHAEL CARNAHAN (Written by) was recently cited by the industry trade publication Variety as one of Hollywood's "Top 10 Screenwriters to Watch." The Kingdom marked his first produced script. Carnahan is currently adapting "The Forever War" for Ridley Scott and Fox 2000. The film will mark Carnahan's directorial debut.
Carnahan was born in Port Huron, Michigan. He spent his youth in the neighboring village of Shepherd before relocating to Northern California with his family, including older brother Joe, the writer/director of Narc and the black comedy Smokin' Aces.
The younger Carnahan graduated from the University of Southern California with a degree in international relations and political science, and intentions of going into the foreign service. A detour led him to a post as a spokesman for a D.C.-based think tank known as the Advisory Board.
Following the events of 9/11, and at the urging of his brother, Carnahan turned to screenwriting. He penned a contemporary police thriller entitled Soldier Field (set in his adopted town of Chicago, where he currently resides) for Ted Field's Radar Pictures. That original screenplay caught the eye of filmmaker Peter Berg, who commissioned him to write The Kingdom, based on Berg's idea.
In addition to these two scripts, Carnahan has also written TV (about the first live sports broadcast on television) for MGM; White Jazz, an adaptation of James Ellroy's follow-up novel to L.A. Confidential (which is to be directed by his brother for Warner Independent Pictures); and MGM's Lions for Lambs.
TONY GILROY (Screenplay by) made his feature film directorial debut Michael Clayton. An acclaimed screenwriter, Gilroy spent seven years working on the trilogy of Bourne films: The Bourne Identity, The Bourne Supremacy and the hit The Bourne Ultimatum. Most recently, he wrote and directed Universal Pictures' Duplicity, starring Julia Roberts and Clive Owen.
Gilroy has also written three screenplays for director Taylor Hackford: Dolores Claiborne, based on the novel by Stephen King and starring Kathy Bates and Jennifer Jason Leigh; The Devil's Advocate, starring Keanu Reeves, Al Pacino and Charlize Theron; and Proof of Life, starring Russell Crowe and Meg Ryan, which Gilroy also executive produced.
Gilroy's additional writing credits include Michael Bay's blockbuster Armageddon, which starred Bruce Willis, Ben Affleck, Liv Tyler and Billy Bob Thornton; Michael Apted's Extreme Measures, which starred Gene Hackman, Hugh Grant and Sarah Jessica Parker; The Cutting Edge, which starred D.B. Sweeney and Moira Kelly; and the television movie For Better and for Worse, which starred Patrick Dempsey and Kelly Lynch.
Raised in upstate New York, Gilroy is the son of Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and filmmaker Frank D. Gilroy. His brother Dan Gilroy is a screenwriter, and his brother John Gilroy is a film editor who also worked on Michael Clayton and Duplicity.
BILLY RAY (Screenplay by) was born and raised in Los Angeles, California. In 1985, he graduated with a BFA degree from UCLA. The first piece of writing he ever sold was an episode of The Jetsons, at age 19.
Ray's credits include 2002's Hart's War. In 2003, Ray wrote and directed Shattered Glass and co-wrote Flightplan. Ray also co-wrote and directed Breach in 2007, and is working on the DreamWorks project Motorcade, for director Len Wiseman, Ray is also attached to direct his screenplay Conjure Wife for United Artists, based on the 1943 novel of the same name by Fritz Leiber.
Born in Burnley, Lancashire (U.K.), PAUL ABBOTT (Based on the BBC Television Series Created by/Executive Producer) became a story editor on the television series Coronation Street in 1983, and graduated to the script team four years later. In 1988, he co-created the drama series Children's Ward with Kay Mellor, which ran for more than 10 years. In 1994, Abbott produced the second season of Jimmy McGovern's Cracker (ITV), for which he won a BAFTA TV Award for Best Drama Series. In 1995, he wrote two stories for the third season of the show. Abbott spent the next year working on the miniseries Reckless (ITV) and Touching Evil (ITV, 1997-99), and the television series Springhill (BSkyB). In 1999, he wrote the two-part telefilm Butterfly Collectors (HBO).In 1998, Abbott created the series that established him as a leading writer of contemporary television drama, Clocking Off (BBC, 2000). This award-winning series was followed by the miniseries The Secret World of Michael Fry (Channel Four, 2000), the television series Linda Green (BBC, 2001-02) and the two-part telefilm Alibi (ITV, 2003). In 2003, Abbott wrote the political thriller State of Play (BBC miniseries), which received rapturous critical reception. In 2004, he created the semi-autobiographical Shameless, now in its sixth season.
Abbott has won various awards for writing and producing, including BAFTA's Dennis Potter Award for Outstanding Writing for Television, international Emmy awards and the Peabody Award. He is a visiting professor at the University of Salford, an honorary professor at Manchester Metropolitan University and a passionate supporter and mentor of new writing. In 2008, Abbott established Abbott Vision, which incorporates his Manchester-based writers studio into Abbott Productions (formerly Tightrope Pictures).
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