Good Night, And Good Luck: Clooney Vs. Senator McCarthy

For George Clooney, still better known as a movie star than as writer-director, the fascination with the famed broadcast journalist Edward R. Murrow (played by David Strathairn) proved the inspiration for Good Night, And Good Luck, a chronicle of one of the most important political upheavals in American history.

Clooney’s father had been a news-anchor for 30 years, and Murrow was a hero to his family, a professional every news-journalist aspired to be.

Accuracy of Text

Grant Heslov (co-writer) and I wanted to create an accurate portrayal of the time, so verisimilitude was the key. We made a conscious effort to incorporate many of the speeches made by the people at the time, including McCarthy and Murrow.

Portraying Senator McCarthy

Although most of the real-life people in the film are portrayed by actors, we decided to divert from the norm and portray McCarthy through the use of real footage. It was also a practical decision: We realized that whomever we got to play McCarthy, no matter how good they were, nobody was going to believe it. They were going to think that the guy was over-acting, so we decided to use the real footage.

Murrow’s Speeches

In regard to Murrow’s speeches, here was all this great writing, so why not use it We just felt very strongly that his speeches were so beautiful. If we could come close to delivering some of Murrow’s ideas as cleanly as possible, then it would be an accomplishment.

Casting David Strathairn as Murrow

At one point, I considered playing the role myself, but as soon as we met Strathairn, the contest was over. We knew he was a great actor, but you still can’t tell, particularly when it’s playing somebody as iconic as Murrow. However, the second he was in front of the camera, and started doing some of these huge speeches, he was transformed. It was uncanny but he’s brilliant.

It was vital to get the right look. We didn’t want an impersonator but someone who captures the essence of the character. The one thing you knew about Murrow is that he always felt like he had the weight of the world on his shoulders. David is the kind of actor that always feels like he has the weight of the world on his shoulders. The minute we realized how much David could look like Murrow, just by looking at old pictures and the gravitas and sadness he can carry, he was the perfect guy to cast.

When we began rehearsing he had long hair and a beard, but then he shaved it and he slicked his hair back and started talking. We all just sat there with our mouths open.

Shooting in Black-and-White

Shooting in black and white was a choice we made, but it also proved, in terms of production design, to be a lot more forgiving than color. We had to film Joe Wershba, played by Robert Downey Jr., and then play that back on a TV screen and then film that. We basically took the Joe Wershba from the 1950s and replaced that with old footage back and forth.

Recreating Reality

The focus on the reality of the events as they played out is exemplified through the use of actual footage and documented speeches. The film is specifically about a television event. And I wanted only the moments that played out on television. We stayed away from most of the exploitative facts, and we just tried to stick with basics.

Creating the Sets

During the shoot, the “See It Now” set was authentically replicated, and designed so the camera could move freely in an direction. It was almost like going back in time to the CBS studios of the 1950s.

I wanted to create a space that would incorporate three different locations in order to follow the actors around from one place to another. Production designer Jim Bissell had the mandate to try to create depth to the sets with very little money, make it feel big without really spending anything because we had strict budgetary limitations. One way was by incorporating the glass end, so you see through and you would have the depth and be able to rack focus to see different activities going on at the same time.

Capturing the Atmosphere

We wanted to capture that frenetic, live energy feeling the show used to have when it was broadcast. We decided to foster improvised situations on the set. People don’t wait, in general, for other people talk, and that happens a lot in movies. Grant and I, after making the improvised HBO series, “Unscripted,” really fell in love with multiple cameras and people talking on top of each other, and all the things that I like from the films of the 1970s.

Guiding the Actors

It’s a very tricky thing, though, because were playing in 1953 and 1954, and it’s a very different aesthetic and we had to find that happy medium of feeling. People don’t improvise the way they talked in 1953, so we would give actors newspapers and everything they could possibly need to get prepared to shoot for 30 minutes for a minute and a half scene. That, to me, was the exciting part.

Film’s Message

There’s an opportunity that one in a hundred young kids actually might learn who Murrow is and have some discussion and have some understanding of what and how dangerous a democracy can be, if fear is used as a weapon.