William Goldenberg on editing a complex puzzle for ‘The Imitation Game’ [Exclusive Podcast]

“I can always tell how much I like a screenplay by how fast I read it, and this was one of the fastest. It was over before I knew it,” says Oscar-nominated editor William Goldenberg about “The Imitation Game.” “And then you look at it, you take a step back and think about it as an editor, and you think, wow, there’s a lot of possibilities here and a lot of challenges as a film editor to tell this story clearly and engagingly and make these three time periods into one film. I’m always trying to challenge myself in the films I pick.”

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It’s been a busy year for Goldenberg, with credited work on “Transformers: Age of Extinction,” “Unbroken,” and “The Imitation Game,” for which he received his fifth Oscar nomination for Best Film Editing. The latter presented a unique challenge to the prolific cutter: juggling three different time periods in the life of mathematician Alan Turing, all out of chronological order.

In an exclusive audio interview with Gold Deby (listen below), he adds, “I know the reason why Graham Moore, our screenwriter, wrote it that way was because… he was looking for an angle on the script to just make it unique, and Turing was fascinated by puzzles… so he wanted to make the film like a puzzle and have the audience have to try and figure out what was going on and how things all fit together, and then obviously the whole thing comes together hopefully at the end, and you find out all the different motivations for everything that happened in his life, and it’s told in a sort of more complex way to make it more interesting and entertaining to the viewer.”

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When it came to putting the film together, however, Goldenberg found he needed to deviate slightly from the structure of the script to suit the narrative. “Once the film was shot and we put it all together,” he says, “it mostly worked, but Morten (Tyldum), the director, and I felt there were some instances where we had lost focus on our main story, which was the story of the ‘40s and the war.”

While the bulk of the film takes place during the 1940s, during which time Turing invented the world’s first computer in order to help crack the Nazi enigma code during World War II, the story flashes back to the 1920s, when Turing as a young man first met and fell in love with his boarding school friend Christopher, and flashes forward to the 1950s, when Turing was convicted of indecency and sentenced to chemical castration for being romantically involved with another man.

“Originally in the script,” Goldenberg say, “every time we flashed either forward or backward, the ‘20s and the ‘50s would follow each other, so you’d be in the ‘40s and then you’d go back to the ‘20s, then to the ‘50s, then back to the ‘40s. We found that was so too much time away from our main story, and we also weren’t getting the narrative drive we wanted to: one thing wasn’t informing the other. So we shifted things around slightly so we never went out of our ‘40s storyline for more than just either the ‘50s or the ‘20s – we never combined them – and we figured some newer places to make us feel one section informed the other a little more. That’s just sort of normal editing process.”

One area where Goldenberg and Tyldum deviated greatly from the script was in the ending: originally, a scene was shot in which Detective Nock (Rory Kinnear) discovers Turning (Benedict Cumberbatch) dead in an apparent suicide. The scene would have worked as a bookend to the beginning of the film, in which Nock discovers a break-in at Turing’s home, but according to Goldenberg, “we found it was making the end of the movie more about Detective Nock than it was about Alan, and the sort of cleverness of the bookend didn’t really work emotionally. So we decided to end the film…with Alan looking at the Christopher machine, turning off the light – signifying him turning off his life – and walking off into the darkness, as a much more elegant and emotional way to end with Alan and Christopher. That was Alan’s motivation for everything he did, to sort of make Christopher proud of him, and that felt much more emotionally true to the story we were telling. It wasn’t difficult to lose, in terms of it felt right when we did it, but it was bold to do it, because when you change the end of a film it’s a really bold and sometimes scary thing to do. But I think it was the right thing.”

Goldenberg won the Oscar for editing “Argo” (2012) and was nominated for his work on “The Insider” (1999), “Seabiscuit” (2003), and “Zero Dark Thirty” (2012). He’s currently ranked in fifth place amongst our experts with odds of 100/1. Check out our full interview below for more on how he pieced together the puzzle of “The Imitation Game.”

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