One scene involving Robert Redford on the phone is a continuous six-minute single take with the camera tracking in slowly. Towards the end, Redford calls the phone caller by the wrong name, but as he stays in character. It appears genuine, and the take was used in the final cut.
On Tuesday, May 31, 2005, in advance of a revelatory July 2005 "Vanity Fair" article written by his attorney and spokesman, 91-year-old Mark Felt acknowledged publicly for the first time that he was "Deep Throat," a fact corroborated by Bob Woodward and The Washington Post. At the time of the Watergate break-in, Mr. Felt was the Deputy Director of the FBI, the second-in-command.
The two lead actors memorized each other's lines so that they could both interrupt each other in character. This unsettled a lot of the actors they were playing opposite, leading to a greater sense of authenticity.
Hal Holbrook was the first and only choice to play the informant Deep Throat. During the casting process, Bob Woodward, while looking at various actors photo head shots and resumes, but not revealing Deep Throat's true identity, told and insisted to director Alan J. Pakula that Holbrook was the best choice to play Deep Throat. (Holbrook, in fact, bears a strong resemblance to Mark Felt).
When Kenneth Dahlberg tells Bob Woodward on the phone, "I've just been through a terrible ordeal! My neighbor's wife has been kidnapped!", he is not lying. On July 27, 1972, a few days before Bob Woodward called Dahlberg, Virginia Piper, wife of a prominent Minnesota businessman and a close friend of the Dahlberg family, was kidnapped from her home in Minneapolis. She was released two days later in Duluth, after her husband paid a $1 million ransom.
To prepare for their roles, Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman hung out in the Washington Post newsroom for several weeks, observing reporters and attending staff meetings. Once, when Redford was standing in a hallway, a group of high school students came through on a tour of the newspaper offices. The students immediately started taking pictures of Redford with their pocket cameras. At that point, Bob Woodward walked by. Redford told the students, "Wait a minute! Here's the real Bob Woodward, the guy I'm playing in the movie! Don't you want to take a picture of him?" The students said no, and walked on. Hoffman also recalled that he had been asked by the paper's science reporter to fetch a new typewriter ribbon. Due to Hoffman's long hair and casual dress, the science reporter had mistaken him for a copy boy.
The furious volley of typewriter hammers striking paper in the opening scenes was created by layering the sounds of gunshots and whiplashes over the actual sounds of a typewriter, accentuating the film's theme of words as weapons. This is also why the closing scene has a teletypewriter printing headlines with the sound of cannon fire from a 21-gun salute in the background.
In real life, Judy Hoback was the bookkeeper who gave Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward crucial information about the slush fund payouts at the Committee to Re-Elect the President (CREEP). Jane Alexander met with Hoback to prepare for her role in the film. Also, the filmmakers rented out Hoback's former home in Georgetown, D.C., and shot the scenes with Alexander and Dustin Hoffman in the actual living room where Hoback had first met with Bernstein.
Robert Redford was in contact with Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein before their book had been written, and encouraged them to write more about how they conducted their investigation and less about the events they were reporting. (Vanity Fair article, 04/2011.)
The film was originally rated 'R' for its explicit language, likely due to the infrequent use of the F-word (a total of ten utterances). It was subsequently re-rated 'PG', likely due to the historical significance of the subject matter.
Frank Wills, the security guard who discovered the Watergate break-in, was fired without explanation a few days later. He was out of work for three years until he played himself (one day's work) in this film. He never had a full-time job again, and died in 2000, at the age of 52.
Screenwriter William Goldman had to tone down the dialogue from editor Harry Rosenfeld. In real life, Rosenfeld was so hilariously funny that Goldman didn't think that people would believe someone could be so spontaneously witty.
Screenwriter William Goldman was called to an impromptu meeting with Robert Redford, Bob Woodward, and Carl Bernstein. At the time, Goldman's draft of the screenplay had been accepted and they were waiting to hear from Woodward and Bernstein. At the meeting, they presented Goldman with a new screenplay, written by Bernstein and then-girlfriend Nora Ephron. Goldman refused to read the screenplay and walked out of the meeting. Only one scene from that screenplay was in the final version of the film, Bernstein outsmarting a secretary to get in to see someone. This scene was pure fiction. Woodward was allegedly unhappy with Bernstein's script because it depicted Woodward as a naive novice reporter who worshipped Bernstein's superior talent. Woodward later called Goldman to apologize, saying "I don't know what the six worst things I've ever done in my life are, but letting that happen, letting them write that, is one of them."
During filming, Jason Robards, Jr. decided that it was important for Ben Bradlee to always be "in the newsroom", so his presence would always be felt in the film. On days when he wasn't shooting scenes with the other actors, Robards came to the set and hung out in Ben Bradlee's office, usually sitting at Bradlee's desk and reading a book, so Bradlee would appear in the background of shots that featured Woodward, Bernstein, and other reporters.
In 2005, during television news coverage of the true identity of "Deep Throat"/Mark Felt, Robert Redford said that they tried to film in the actual Washington Post newsroom, but many Post employees were too aware of the camera, and some even tried to "act". Some employees would disappear into restrooms and apply make-up. The production team re-created the facility at a Burbank studio in Los Angeles for a reported $450,000. The Post cooperated with the production's quest for authenticity by shipping several crates of actual newsroom refuse, including unopened mail, government directories, Washington telephone directories, wire service copy, calendars, and even stickers from Benjamin C. Bradlee's secretary's desk.
Robert Redford bought the rights to the source book of the same name by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward in 1974, the year it was first published, for $450,000. Adjusted for inflation, this amount would be equivalent to $2.15 million in 2014.
Director of Photography Gordon Willis shot the scene where Bob Woodward talks on the phone to Kenneth H. Dahlberg in one unbroken 6-minute take. He used a diopter, like a bifocal lens turned on its side, with the separator line positioned vertically against the pillar behind Redford so as to better conceal its presence. During the take Redford had to be careful not to move or reach into the left side of the frame, and thus risk parts of himself being both in and out of focus simultaneously. The entire sequence ensured that Redford and the newsroom staff to the left in the background were in focus throughout. The shot shift is so subtle it's almost unnoticeable, unless one speeds up the sequence.
The interior Washington Post newsroom set was built on a stage at Warner Brothers Studio in Burbank, California. Production designer George Jenkins was a former New York Broadway scenic designer. Designing the newsroom based upon the actual newspaper's newsroom, George's plan layout utilizes false perspective in the rear set area to increase the depth and scale-size for camera. As the newsroom desks recede, the construction coordinator's prop makers cut each prop desk down in size to fill in, and match the reduced scale for each line of desks. Shelving was also reduced in size. When filming the set's front action area, the extra actors filling in the background set's scale, were selected related to their height fulfilling the perspective scale set dressing relationship. Viewing the film, the false perspective of the studio set accomplishes the size and scale of the actual Washington Post newsroom.
The Washington Post boss Katharine Graham, who was initially very apprehensive about the film using the paper's name, loved the film, and later wrote a letter of praise and approval to star and co-producer Robert Redford. As a condition of her sanctioning the production initially, Graham had begged Redford not to include her as a character in the film, but after viewing the finished product, Graham admitted that she wished she hadn't made that request of him.
Chris Carter often quotes this movie as one of his bigger inspirations for The X-Files (1993), wherein a prominent character used the Deep Throat codename. Perhaps not coincidentally, one of the names on Woodward and Bernstein's list of CREEP employees is "Scully".
Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein offered to write the screenplay. Unfortunately, they were very poor screenwriters. They also included a lot of reporters' gags and in-jokes, and a subplot about each of them trying to score with women during the investigation. The only remnant of it is the early scene in which Bernstein talks to Sharon Lyons at the outdoor café.
Except for a few scenes, there movie has barely any score. Even in the closing credits, the music starts after the main actors, actresses, and guest star credits were over. While the score by David Shire starts 28 minutes in, most of the music can be heard in the last half of the movie.
According to "Adventures in the Screen Trade", Alan J. Pakula drove William Goldman crazy asking for re-writes for scenes with the constant rejoinder "Don't deny me any riches!" Goldman goes on to say that if he could have his career all over again, he wouldn't go near this film.
The movie ends with various news articles being typed up on-screen. The reports are shown out of order, running all the way into 1975, but end with the key report from August 1974 that "President Nixon resigns."
Claims that Alan J. Pakula and Robert Redford re-wrote the screenplay have been debunked, however, after an investigation into the matter by Richard Stayton in Written By Magazine. Stayton compared several drafts of the script, including the final production draft, and concluded that Goldman was properly credited as the writer and that the final draft had "William Goldman's distinct signature on each page."
When Bernstein is rifling through his pockets, seeking notes written on scraps of paper, he pulls out a matchbook with a "G" on the cover. It was the logo of the largest supermarket in the District at the time.
When Woodward meets Deep Throat in the underground car park, the story Deep Throat tells him about the guy putting his hand over a flame and claiming the trick is not to mind, was the same one that Lawrence of Arabia did in Lawrence of Arabia (1962). It is also repeated in Prometheus (2012).
Benjamin C. Bradlee, who was managing editor and then executive editor of the Washington Post, realized that the film was going to be made regardless of whether he approved of it or not, and felt that it made "more sense to try to influence it factually". Bradlee was portrayed by Jason Robards, Jr.
The phone number that Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) dials and reaches a man who speaks no English is 305-374-1299, the usual 555- prefix was not used. It is a real number, used by Net Capital Mortgage in Miami, Florida.
Robert Redford met Richard Nixon. When he was thirteen, Redford was presented an award for athletic prowess by the man who would go on to be President. Even then, Redford said he found the man to be rather creepy.
The film was nominated for eight Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Director - Alan J. Pakula, Best Film Editing, and Best Actress in a Supporting Role - Jane Alexander, and won four Oscars - for Best Sound, Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Best Actor in a Supporting Role - Jason Robards, Jr., and Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium - William Goldman. Both of the later films about former President Richard Nixon, Nixon (1995) and Frost/Nixon (2008), which were each Oscar nominated for four and five Academy Awards, respectively, and did not win an Oscar in any of their categories in which they were nominated.
The work area for the reporters at the Washington Post is dotted with Washington Redskin memorabilia. Carl Bernstein's work space is decorated with a popular period piece of a cyclist. A Baltimore Bullets button is pinned to a bulletin board next to his typewriter. Washington DC didn't have an NBA team at the time, but Baltimore is close by.
The quote pinned by Woodward's desk is from a letter Winston Churchill wrote to Lord Rosebery in 1901. "My own idea is that it does not matter how many mistakes one makes in politics, so long as one keeps on making them. It is like throwing babies to the wolves: once you stop, the pack overtakes the sleigh. This explains why it is that the present administration prospers."
In 1988, Jason Robards, Jr. became the eleventh performer to win the Triple Crown of acting: Oscar, Tony, and Emmy. Two Oscars: Best Actor in a Supporting Role, this movie, and Best Actor in a Supporting Role, Julia (1977). Tony: Best Actor, Play, "The Disenchanted" (1959). Emmy: Best Actor, Miniseries/Special: Inherit the Wind (1988).
James Karen worked on Nixon (1995) and this movie, playing Bill Rogers in Nixon (1995), and Hugh Sloan's lawyer in this movie. Karen is the only billed cast or crew member to have worked on both movies.
During one scene in the background, a newscaster can be heard talking about the 1972 World Chess Championship in Iceland, in which American Bobby Fischer was a participant. Fischer's story was retold in Pawn Sacrifice (2014) with Tobey Maguire as Fischer.