Forty years before "Spotlight" reminded movie-goers what reporters actually do, "All the President's Men" was the film making college students want to work for newspapers. In a fun piece for the Los Angeles Review of Books, associate producer Jon Boorstin — who came on to the project as an assistant to director Alan Pakula — recounts how the movie got made and how the production achieved its still-memorable look and feel.
Here's an excerpt:
IF YOU HAVE WORKED in the movies, you know that a picture as good as All the President’s Men is a miracle. An impossible conjunction of talent and opportunity, collaboration and ego, trust, power, and luck. And then more luck.
As the critic Pauline Kael said, Robert Redford liked to make “how to” pictures: how to be a political candidate, a mountain man, a downhill skier. Smart, credible low-key films, free of Hollywood bluster and pretense. Captivated by Woodward and Bernstein’s Watergate articles in the Washington Post, he wanted to make how to be an investigative reporter, to bare the dogged reality, enshrine their relentless drive. Perhaps he wouldn’t even act in it.
Back when thick bricks of wood pulp were dropped on our doorstep, the highest praise for a movie star was “so powerful he could get the studio to make a picture from the telephone book.” If ever it applied to anyone, it was Robert Redford in 1974. But when he told the studios he wanted to make All the President’s Men, most of them said they’d rather film the phone book. It came down to Warner Bros.
Even Warner Bros. had its concerns. It pointed out that everybody knew how Watergate ended. Redford replied that the story wasn’t a whodunit but was really about two mismatched guys, a Republican WASP and a radical liberal Jew, on an impossible mission. After all, he’d made the ultimate buddy pictures of the decade, The Sting and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and the quintessential WASP/Jew mismatch The Way We Were. But that had Barbra Streisand, Warner Bros. said. Where’s the girl? Where’s the gun? “Newspapers, typewriters, telephones, un-unh, Washington, un-unh.” So the man who’d made the CIA nail-biter Three Days of the Condor told them it was a procedural thriller: how two relentless cub reporters slipped the grip of the most powerful man in America to bring him down.
Still, Warner Bros. wasn’t convinced.
Jon Boorstin is the author of Making Movies Work: Thinking Like a Filmmaker and Mabel And Me: A Novel About the Movies.