How The Weinstein Co. Turned 'Imitation Game' Director Into an Oscar Contender

Following a playbook they wrote and successfully applied a dozen other times in the past, Harvey Weinstein and his team have turned a virtual unknown from Norway into one of this awards season's most omnipresent figures.
Morten Tyldum accepts the Hollywood Director Award at the Hollywood Film Awards

There are a lot of very famous directors competing for a best director Oscar nomination this year — among them Paul Thomas Anderson, Wes Anderson, Tim Burton, Clint Eastwood, David Fincher, Alejandro G. Inarritu, Angelina Jolie, Mike Leigh, Richard Linklater, Rob Marshall, Bennett Miller and Christopher Nolan. But one of them may well end up being bumped out of a spot by a 47-year-old Norwegian with a distinctive hairstyle named Morten Tyldum, who was a virtual unknown to most in Hollywood before awards season began.

How is it possible that Tyldum has a chance of being nominated for — and even winning — an Oscar? He did make a very fine film, the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game. But just as important is the fact that Harvey Weinstein has put the full muscle of The Weinstein Co. behind the movie's release and campaign — and his own.

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The film, which opened in limited release on Nov. 28 and then began expanding on Dec. 26, has grossed a promising $32.5 million to date. It landed Tyldum a spot on THR's Director Roundtable. And it is now heading into the Golden Globes with five nominations and is looking to pick up even more noms when the Academy announces its nominations Jan. 15.

The fact that Weinstein and his associates have turned Tyldum into a real contender shouldn't come as a surprise, though. First at Miramax and then at TWC, Team Weinstein has created something of an art form out of attracting Oscar attention for filmmakers who were little-known in America prior to the release of their Weinstein-distributed movies. Their list of successes includes My Left Foot's Jim Sheridan, The Crying Game's Neil Jordan, The Piano's Jane Campion, Three Colors: Red's Krzysztof Kieslowski, Il Postino's Michael Radford, Life Is Beautiful's Roberto Benigni, Shakespeare in Love's John Madden and City of God's Fernando Meirelles — as well as The English Patient's Anthony Minghella, The King's Speech's Tom Hooper and The Artist's Michel Hazanavicius, who each won. (The Weinstein forces also successfully raised the profiles of American directors like Quentin Tarantino, who got a best director nom for his second film Pulp Fiction, and Rob Marshall, who was nominated for his first film, Chicago.)

How does the Weinstein game plan work? It's a multipronged approach:

1. For starters, Team Weinstein gets a filmmaker's movie seen — at traditional industry screenings, of course, but also at as many film festivals as possible — and that generates buzz and confers prestige. The Imitation Game played at 48 film festivals in 2014, more than any other film, as far as I can determine — they ranged from the major fests like Telluride and Toronto to smaller, local festivals like Asheville and Key West to far-flung events in Capri, Italy, and Dubai. (Tyldum and his wife, Janne, attended many of them.)

2. They make sure the filmmaker is seen — at countless post-screening Q&As on both coasts, of course, but also in as many other contexts as possible that reinforce the image of that person as nomination-worthy. For example, TWC landed Tyldum the Hollywood Director Award at the nationally televised Hollywood Film Awards, the first high-profile awards show of the season (possibly by offering up The Imitation Game's stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley as honorees, as well). He also posed on the red carpet before the Academy's Governors Awards, made it out to the recent Palm Springs International Film Festival to present that gala's Ensemble Award to his Imitation Game cast and will soon appear on a directors panel at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival. These events build upon one another to create a sense of momentum: In Palm Springs, Tyldum was introduced as "the Hollywood Award-winning director of The Imitation Game."

3. They emphasize the filmmaker's overall credentials. Weinstein, for instance, recently told me during a Q&A that I moderated in front of an audience at the PGA's Produced By ... conference in New York that Tyldum will be working on the highly anticipated TWC-Netflix collaboration Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon 2. In the near future, I also would expect TWC to schedule some sort of screening or tribute to Tyldum that would include the Norwegian film Headhunters, the critical and commercial success that landed him the opportunity to direct The Imitation Game. That would reinforce the idea that Tyldum is not a lucky newcomer but an established and internationally recognized auteur.

4. And they establish clear talking points for the filmmaker to hammer home during every interview, Q&A and acceptance speech. Tyldum never misses an opportunity to say that he was attracted to The Imitation Game in part because he, as a Norwegian in Hollywood, feels like an outsider, just like Turing, but that outsiders clearly have something to offer, too. (That thought is a clear echo of the movie's tagline that reads, "Sometimes it is the people no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine.") Moreover, Tyldum and all of his Imitation Game collaborators make sure to emphasize, whenever possible, that, despite making incredible contributions to the world that have benefited all of us today — i.e., helping the Allies to win World War II and inventing things like the first computer — Turing wasn't recognized or appreciated in his own lifetime. The implication, of course, is that Turing was an incredibly special man — and also that it's not too late to accord him some measure of overdue recognition by voting for the talent that brought his story to the screen.

Harvey Weinstein sums it up, telling THR: "Morten Tyldum is that rare director who is magnificent when it comes to narrative. He really understands the story no matter how complicated it is. The wonder of this movie is how, for the $14 million budget, he got everything he did — from the brilliant CGI to the ensemble cast with a controversial story — and made it entertaining at the same time. He is a unique talent and a helluva good guy."

Twitter: @ScottFeinberg

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