Brandeis Alumni, Family and Friends

For Brandeis Alumnus, It's Time in 'Spotlight'

By David E. Nathan

These are heady times for Michael Sugar ’95: Premieres. Red carpets. Press interviews.

The 43-year-old is one of the producers of “Spotlight,” the critically acclaimed feature film that tells the story of The Boston Globe investigative team that uncovered the Catholic Church child abuse scandal in 2002. "Spotlight"opens on Friday, Nov. 6 in Boston and New York, and then expands nationwide in the following weeks.

“It’s the first time I've been involved as a producer on a movie that everyone is so excited about,” Sugar said in an interview from New York. “When I’m exhausted running around the world, I always try to remember how lucky I am to be able to tell stories for a living. I certainly feel blessed to be doing what I have always wanted to do.”

While “Spotlight” has had premieres at film festivals around the world in recent months, and in the last few weeks in Los Angeles, New York and elsewhere, the most nostalgic screening for Sugar came at the Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline last week.

Sugar, an American studies major/film studies minor at Brandeis, invited several of his college friends, along with Professor Tom Doherty, the faculty member Sugar credits with having had a major impact on his career.

“I always wanted to make movies, but he convinced me to make good movies,” said Sugar, who took three film studies courses with Doherty. “He was very influential, and it was nice to have a reunion with him.”

Doherty remembers Sugar as being among a cadre of very talented students enrolled in his film theory and criticism course, the senior-year capstone class for film minors.

Doherty was always struck by Sugar’s confidence and self-assuredness. Sugar was among the students in a special seminar led by Viacom boss Sumner Redstone, who at the end of his visit offered to meet with any of the students if they happened to visit New York. Sugar headed down the next week, and talked his way into a one-on-one meeting with Redstone. They have stayed in touch since and actually worked together on some projects.
“That’s Mike Sugar,” Doherty said. “When I saw his name on the screen on Wednesday night, I felt a lot of things – but one emotion I did not feel was surprise. I do admit to feeling some vicarious nachas (Yiddish for parental pride).”

At Brandeis, Sugar was active in the Student Union and worked at BTV, Brandeis’ television station. He graduated as the valedictorian of the Class of 1995. “I had a wonderful experience at Brandeis,” he said.

He went on to earn his law degree at Georgetown, and then returned to his native Southern California to pursue a career in the movie/TV industry. About 10 years ago, he joined Anonymous Content, where he manages an enviable list of filmmakers, writers, directors and actors, and also produces TV shows and movies. His credits include “The Knick” on TV and “The Fifth Estate” on the silver screen.

Sugar was recruited to “Spotlight” by fellow producers Nicole Rocklin and Blye Pagon. He worked with them to conduct research about the Globe’s investigative series; develop the screenplay; secure financing; hire director Tom McCarthy; and oversee casting, production and marketing. Shooting took place last fall in Boston and Toronto.

“I think that anytime anyone gets to make a movie is a miracle – it takes catching lightning in a bottle to make it happen,” Sugar said.

Sugar and the rest of the “Spotlight” team have high hopes for the movie, which features actors Mark Ruffalo (center in photo above, with Sugar and Boston Globe reporter Michael Rezendes), Michael Keaton and Rachel McAdams. McCarthy  and Tom Singer wrote the screenplay.

“On the surface, I hope it’s entertaining, but I also hope it will resonate with people,” Sugar said. “It puts a light on a dying art – true investigative journalism – and how these reporters gave voice to the survivors.”

“Spotlight” has been compared to “All the President’s Men,” the Oscar-winning 1976 film that chronicled the Washington Post’s pivotal role in investigating Watergate and the subsequent cover-up. The movie starred Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman.

“We would never profess to compare ourselves, but a number of critics have referenced ‘All the President’s Men,’” Sugar said. “This is sort of the unrelated sequel.”

Published On: November 2, 2015