“The Imitation Game,” which bows Friday, marks the first produced screenplay by Graham Moore. The project came together relatively quickly, he was in the loop on major decisions, nobody else was brought in for rewrites, and the awards buzz has been steady since Telluride.
“It still sort of stuns me,” Moore told Variety with a laugh. “Things are very surreal.”
It sounds like a dream come true for a young writer. But, like all Hollywood success stories, the path wasn’t so simple.
Like many classic showbiz stories, the project took shape just as he was about to give up. He banged around as a writer, finally landing a six-month gig on the ABC Family series “10 Things I Hate About You,” but freely admits, “I was not a successful TV comedy writer.” He had a better time writing novels, such as his 2010 “The Sherlockian,” about Arthur Conan Doyle, which tapped into his love of research and history. He told his manager, with sad matter-of-factness, “This movie-TV thing hasn’t worked out.”
Then in summer 2010, he went to a party thrown by TV producer Nora Grossman. “I heard her talking about optioning her first book, so I asked what it was about and I heard those fateful words ‘Alan Turing.’ I freaked out. I had known about Alan Turing since I was a kid; I heard about him at space camp or maybe computer-programming camp. Turing was always a legend among computer/geeky kids. He was such an outsider in his own time and because of that, he was able to see things differently. It was a story that had been well told in books, onstage and on TV, but never on film.”
Moore didn’t know Grossman, but he pursued her and the project. “I begged her to let me write it. I’m sure she thought I was a psycho.”
He adapted Andrew Hodges’ book “Alan Turing: The Enigma.” The film was at Warner Bros. for awhile, but they let it lapse. So producers Grossman and Ido Ostrowsky went shopping elsewhere.
It was financed independently by Teddy Schwarzman and his Black Bear Pictures, “so there was no corporate structure around us,” says Moore. Schwarzman sold the film to Weinstein Co., a much better fit than a major studio, based on footage from Berlin. The three producers and Moore were on the set every day. The film was directed by Morten Tyldum and stars Benedict Cumberbatch (who is himself a Sherlockian) and Keira Knightley.
Moore is not the only first-time scripter in the Oscar race; the list also includes Gillian Flynn, “Gone Girl”; James Lapine, “Into the Woods”; and Jon Stewart, “Rosewater.” All of them are aware that their experiences are rare for newcomers.
As Moore says, “I have writer friends who go to the premiere of a film with their name listed as the writer, but they are shocked: ‘That’s not what I wrote!’ So I know how lucky I am.”