Study Guide

All the President's Men Behind the Scenes

  • Director

    Alan J. Pakula

    Aside from the stifling humidity, Washington D.C. and Alabama seem like two totally different worlds. But these two states are linked by Alan J. Pakula, who produced the film version of To Kill a Mockingbird and directed All the President's Men, two movies that could not seem more different on the surface.

    After the success of Mockingbird in 1962, Pakula directed a series of films in the 1970's that dealt with paranoia and scandal. Throw in some disco, and you have a perfect image of the mood of the 70's.

    These films included Klute, The Parallax View, and All the President's Men, which is arguable the most successful of the three, although Klute cemented Jane Fonda's status as a serious actress.

    Pakula worked closely with star and producer Robert Redford, even rewriting the film with him after they deemed William Goldman's script inadequate. Although the film lost Best Picture to Rocky, Pakula took home a trophy for Best Director. Pakula died in a car accident in 1998. Considering how obsessed Pakula was with paranoia, maybe it wasn't an accident after all. (*cue suspenseful music*)

  • Screenwriter

    William Goldman

    They should have titled this film All The President's Meta, because All the President's Men is…meta. Mega meta.

    It's a story about two no-name reporters exposing a scandal. By doing so, the reporters become famous, maybe even more famous than the stars portraying them. And the newsmakers become the news.

    But it's a miracle the film was any good, because the writing process was about as far from smooth as it can get. William Goldman, who wrote Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, turned in a script that one journalist called "appalling."

    Redford asked Bernstein for suggestions, and Bernstein had then-girlfriend Nora Ephron re-write the script. (Alternate title: Sleepless in the White House.) Redford called it "sophomoric." (Source)

    This led director Alan J. Pakula and Redford themselves to re-write the whole script. The two men didn't mention they performed the re-write, likely because that would cause people to be nervous about the shaky nature of the film. Because of this, Goldman is not just credited with writing it—even though his entire script was thrown out—he won the Academy Award for it.

    Redford was "blown away" that Goldman actually accepted it. It's like if you were doing a group diorama for school, and your diorama was so bad that the rest of the group threw out everything but the shoebox, but you still got an A. (Source)

    However, Goldman would go on to actually write (as far as we know) many more films, including Misery, Chaplin, and Maverick. He also wrote The Princess Bride novel and screenplay. His success makes the drama around All the President's Men seem inconceivable.

  • Production Studio

    Wildwood Enterprises; Warner Bros.

    The 2015 film where Robert Redford plays that old grump grousing his way along the Appalachian Trail could have been renamed to A Walk in the Wildwoods. That's not because it's particularly wild, but because Wildwood Enterprises, which also produced A Walk in the Woods, is Robert Redford's production company.

    Basically, if Redford is in it or directing it, Wildwood produced it. In the 1970's, he produced Three Days of the Condor. In the 1980's, he produced Ordinary People. In the 1990's, he produced Quiz Show, A River Runs Through It, and The Horse Whisperer. And the 2000's saw Legend of Bagger Vance and A Walk in the Woods.

    All the President's Men is one of the earliest pictures in Redford's producing career, and the production story is almost as interesting as the film itself. Redford approached Woodward and Bernstein to produce a film about their investigation of the Watergate scandal. After a series of clandestine meetings with Woodward that wouldn't be out of place in the movie, Woodward told Redford that he and Bernstein were writing a book, and didn't want to do a movie.

    Redford influenced Woodward to make the book less about the crime itself and more about he and Bernstein, the young reporters working to uncover it. The book was published in 1976, and Redford paid $450,000 for the rights to it. Because the book was a bestseller, a budget was set at $8.5 million, and Warner Bros. mandated that Redford to play the lead, which forced him to turn down the lead in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, a role that would go to Jack Nicholson. (Source)

    If Hollywood needs an idea for a new film, we don't think they should remake this, but they should do a film about the making of it. All the All the President's Men's Men is a catchy title, don't you think?

  • Production Design

    Washington, D.C.

    When your movie is based on a non-fiction novel, you want it to maintain as much realism as possible.

    Alan J. Pakula filmed as much as possible in Washington D.C., showing us exterior shots of the Watergate Hotel and the U.S. Capitol. Pakula even enlisted actual Watergate guard Frank Wills to play himself discovering the break-in. (Side-note: someone should make a movie on Wills' life.)

    Any non-D.C. locations (like Miami) were actually shot in Los Angeles. And the Washington Post's offices had to be re-created because the Post wouldn't allow the filmmakers inside. Even with these locations, though, the filmmakers strove for authenticity. Trash from the actual Post newsroom was shipped to the soundstage in Burbank to put in prop trashcans. (Source)

    One man's trash is another man's movie prop. Now that's attention to detail.

  • Music (Score)

    David Shire

    A lot of news is boring. Who cares about local town hall meetings bickering about waste pick-up, or property line disputes, or a zombie Jesus on the lawn? (Okay, that last one sounds interesting.)

    And most of the time, a reporter's job can be pretty dull, even when he's uncovering a political scandal that goes all the way to the president of the United States. There's a lot of phone calls, a lot of going through lists and other paperwork, and lots of typing.

    The typing is a soundtrack of its own, but when the men aren't typing, David Shire's soundtrack keeps the film going.

    David Shire (then-husband of Talia Shire, Adrian from Rocky), worked in musical theatre and served as Barbra Streisand's pianist for a few years. However, his soundtrack for All the President's Men isn't anything special. There are no iconic theme songs or memorable tracks. It's mostly utilitarian: music to do research by.

    So if you need to rifle through the library records of hundreds of people, scroll through dozens of names on, or basically anything that doesn't have to do with photographing zombie Jesus, pull up the All the President's Men soundtrack to stay motivated.

  • Fandoms

    Political movies are typically movies specifically for their times. Wag the Dog (1997, also starring Dustin Hoffman), was closely tied to the Clinton administration. Primary Colors is…also about Bill Clinton. And Babe: Pig in the City is about communism.

    You know what they say: you can take the pig out of the city, but you can't take the communist out of the pig.

    In other words, you can't separate political flicks from their ideologies, making these movies very divisive. A movie with Democratic ideology will turn off Republicans, and vice versa. But by making All the President's Men less about politics and more about uncovering corruption, the film was a success, and one that is still respected today for its story of two underdogs exposing a national scandal. (Source)

    The film helped further the celebrity status of reporters Woodward and Bernstein, whose book was already a national success. Woodward still writes about the scandal, publishing The Last of the President's Men in 2015. At least until he finds another president's man and publishes The President's Barista: One More President's Man, the Last One, I Swear.