The first act of “RKO 281” revolves around Welles’ struggle to find a project ambitious enough for him and his growing reputation after successes on the radio and in the theater. While he surely made a big impression on the people of Hollywood with his glorious entry, Welles, played by Liev Schreiber, soon finds himself running out of time with nothing being enlightened by RKO and its current president George Schaefer (Roy Scheider ). But then, by chance, he was invited to the grand mansion of press magnate William Randolph Hearst (James Cromwell) in San Simeon, California. While getting a glimpse into the private lives of Hearst and his longtime mistress Marion Davies (Melanie Griffith), Welles comes to have a brilliant story idea for his first film, and then persuades Mankiewicz to write a script based on that. As the average jaded Hollywood writer, Mankiewicz, played by John Malkovich, is reluctant at first, but eventually agrees to work for Welles as it feels like the last opportunity in his declining film career that has been tainted by his alcoholism. . Having been one of Hearst and Davies’ regular guests for years, Mankiewicz surely knows some interesting personal facts about them, and he doesn’t hesitate to include a reference to the pet’s name for any part of the body. by Davies.
While he did his best to complete the script in a short period of time, as Welles demanded, Mankiewicz is also well aware of the great danger of what he and Welles are attempting to do. Hearst may not be as powerful as it once was, but he can still wield tremendous power and influence over the presidents and executives of these great Hollywood film companies, including Louis B. Meyer (David Suchet), and it’s only a matter of time before Hearst. just learned what Welles’ first film is about. Nevertheless, Welles decides to take risks mainly because he thinks his film will gain more publicity thanks to Hearst; Schaefer and RKO accept his decision despite understandable concerns.
What follows is a fairly brief but exhilarating passage that offers a closer look at the production of “Citizen Kane”. We see Welles studying and analyzing in depth John Ford’s “Stagecoach” (1939) with his cinematographer Gregg Toland (Liam Cunningham), and “RKO 281” then serves us a series of fun moments on set, including the case where Welles and Toland dug a hole in the ground to obtain an extreme low-angle shot exactly imagined by Welles. Because of this and many other incidents on set, the leaders of Schaefer and RKO have constant headaches every day, but they have no choice but to continue to tolerate Welles as legally bound to their contract with him.