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Editor William Goldenberg, who won an Oscar in 2012 for Argo, is back in the Academy Awards race. Last week, he earned an American Cinema Editors’ Eddie nomination for The Imitation Game, a project he landed after he met its director, Morten Tyldum, at the BAFTAs when he won that honor for Argo. This year he also has a rare shot at a double nomination, as he co-edited Unbroken with two-time Oscar nominee Tim Squyres (A double nomination would also be an unusual case of history repeating itself. In 2012, along with Argo, he earned a second editing nomination as co-editor of Zero Dark Thirty, working with Dylan Tichenor).
The Imitation Game is a historical thriller about mathematician Alan Turing, who led a team that built a machine to crack Germany’s said-to-be-unbreakable Enigma code during World War II. “I loved the screenplay,” Goldenberg said of what drew him to the project. “Something that really appeals to me are true stories that many people don’t know much about. I thought this was a story that needed to be told and I thought Benedict Cumberbatch was perfect to play Alan Turing. It was an incredible personal story and a page turner of a thriller — something I really wanted to be involved in.”
Goldenberg acknowledged some parallels that also attracted him to Argo, and said that — as with Argo — he wanted to keep the audience “a little off-center, jittery and nervous” while viewing The Imitation Game. One way was by adding more newsreel footage about the war “to create a ticking clock, so that the audience would always feel the pressure on the group because they were loosing the war. … This was a life and death situation. Every time it hit 12 o’clock and they didn’t break the code, thousands of people were going to die.” (Spoilers follow)
The Imitation Game cuts between three time-periods: The ’20s (flashbacks of Alan’s youth), the ’40s (WWII), and ’50s and ’60s (prior to Turing’s death). In the cutting room, Goldenberg further enhanced the story by moving scenes around. “In the original script, the ’20s and ’50s were more paired up, but we found it was too much time away from the main (WWII) story so we separated those and move in them around, finding places that drove the narrative.” That included the scene, late in the film, during which young Alan finds out that his love Christopher was dead. “We moved that later in the movie, because we wanted it to be the big payoff. It felt a little flat where it was originally, so we moved it so that it felt like the culmination of something, which informed his suicide.”
In Goldenberg’s favorite sequence, a revelation leads the team to race back to work and experience the elation of breaking the code — only to realize they can’t immediately act on their discovery. “Originally, there was a longer celebration, followed by a quiet period as they work through the night — but we felt like it was letting the air out of the movie,” Goldenberg said. “I came up with this montage of them putting the pins in the maps [as they process the information] so that as soon as Alan has a brief moment of satisfaction, they work through the night and it stops only when they realize they can’t tell anybody.
“I love the ups and downs of that section — the time pressure, the emotion. It was never letting the air out of it, charging forward.”
And since editing is now done on a computer, does Goldenberg have any final thoughts on what he took away from the project? “I’m very thankful to Alan Turing for being the father of computer science,” he responded. “Editing on a computer is way more fun and gives me a lot more freedom (than cutting on film). The process is really enriched. … It’s just unbelievable that his life was cut short. It’s such a tragedy.”
Incidentally, Goldenberg noted that Turing is said to have died from eating an apple laced with cyanide, and related: “Originally we had a shot of an apple with a bit taken out of it on his bedside table, and it looked very much like the Apple logo. There was a rumor that the Apple logo is in memory of Alan. I thought that was the coolest thing, so I went on the Internet but found that Steve Jobs said ‘if it was only true.’ It wasn’t true, so we had to take it out of the movie.”
Next up for Goldenberg is the Will Smith drama with the working title Concussion.
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