Spoiler alert: Superheroes are regular people

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Hollywood is currently enjoying a summer spectacle of superheroes. We can’t seem to get enough of them, because they transport us to places beyond human reach. But guess what? Iron Man began as a pencil sketch from a human hand. Batman grew out of a doodle and a daydream. 

To put it another way: Superheroes represent the yearning of mortals because they are made by mortals. Take away the masks, remove the armor, lock away the lasers and gadgets, and underneath it all, you’ll find a human being. This is why we care about them so much.

{mosads}With that in mind, I would argue that “Spotlight” is a superhero movie. In fact, it is also a film made by superheroes. 

Let me explain.

If you happened to catch the Oscars this year, where our film, “Spotlight,” took home the coveted award for Best Picture, you saw a group of well-dressed, possibly overexcited adults, and maybe wondered, “What’s the big deal? It’s just a movie.” If you happened to be one of those people, I’m here to tell you that you’re right. But you’re also wrong.

Great films make it look easy, but there’s a reason why there are so few of them. So many variables arise over the course of a film’s production that it’s quite literally a miracle when they work, let alone succeed commercially, and on top of everything else win awards that recognize that miracle. By the time a movie hits theaters, it’s nearly impossible to imagine that it all began with a single idea, a suggestion, or in the case of “Spotlight,” a series of newspaper articles. It’s our job to make you forget about all of that the minute the theater goes dark. I think we did that with “Spotlight,” but it wasn’t easy.

Jan. 6, 2002: the date The Boston Globe’s Spotlight team first published its series of stories uncovering the scandal that shocked the city of Boston and shook the very foundation of the Catholic Church, reaching as far as the Vatican. If you’ve seen the film, or followed the story as it unfolded in real time, you don’t need me to provide a recap here. 

However, what you should know is that the 14-year span between that first Globe article and the Academy Award for Best Picture was not an easy path. If you remove any part of the puzzle — the producers obtaining the rights; deciding to focus on the reporters who broke the story; getting the script written; finding a director; convincing industry folks, still wild about superheroes, that a film about this topic would find an audience; casting; interviewing the journalists; getting the story right — if one piece goes missing, the whole thing collapses. 

After a decade of development, “Spotlight” is great storytelling about the real people who find the stories that change the world. That is the miracle. That is the big deal. That is why the event being held this week on Capitol Hill, Anatomy of a Film: From Script to Screen, hosted by CreativeFuture, the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, the Motion Picture Association of America, and the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, in partnership with the Creative Rights Caucus, is so important. 

To our own detriment, sometimes we make it look too easy. With the U.S. Copyright Office recently holding roundtable sessions about Section 512 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, the current battle over the Federal Communications Commission’s set-top box proposal, and the ongoing epidemic of piracy, it is more important than ever to show our lawmakers what it takes to bring a film like “Spotlight” to life. 

The real-life journalists portrayed in “Spotlight” are superheroes. The filmmakers and crewmembers that made this film possible are superheroes. That is why I consider our film to be its own kind of superhero movie. But it is also a story about a fading segment of our culture: print journalism. 

Great films about true events can become a part of the historical record. If I have any grand ambitions for “Spotlight” beyond accolades and awards, it’s that this film will preserve for all time the era of investigative journalism that appears to be slipping away in the face of technology that promises quick and easy fixes for virtually everything. 

Something else is slipping away: the ability to get films like “Spotlight” made. In the face of widespread piracy, smaller films become even riskier to produce. Without the financing to provide a cast and crew with the means to make their art, films like “Spotlight” will simply disappear. The threat is real — there are several examples of smaller but important films that have had more pirate views than legitimate views — and should inspire everyone who loves and values movies to let it be known that we will not stand by and let pirates profit from theft.

Here’s a secret: There is no quick and easy way to tell a great story. Making great films is not quick and it is not easy. But stealing them is. So I will leave you with this thought: Who will tell our story if the pirates win? 

Ortenberg is the CEO of Open Road Films and an executive producer of “Spotlight.”

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