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Contender – Editor William Goldenberg, The Imitation Game

December 9, 2014 08:57 | By

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William Goldenberg

William Goldenberg

“I find it fascinating when there is a little-known true story set against a story everybody knows,” said editor William Goldenberg of The Imitation Game, his fifth film based on a true story. Of the other four, the editor took home an Oscar for Argo and garnered nominations for Zero Dark Thirty, Seabiscuit and The Insider, racking up quite an impressive track record.

Telling the story of English mathematician and logician, Alan Turing, as he helps crack the Enigma code during World War II, the film is Goldenberg’s first collaboration with Norwegian director Morten Tyldum (Headhunters), who makes his English-language directing debut. At a party, when the director originally approached Goldenberg about working on the film, the editor was unavailable, but he loved the screenplay and was excited that Benedict Cumberbatch had signed on for the lead. Fortunately, his editing schedule opened up around the time the film went into production and Goldenberg joined the team.

One of the structural challenges in editing the film was the way the script cut back and forth between three different time periods – the ’20s, the ’40s and the ’50s. “Making those flow cinematically and narratively was a challenge,” shared Goldenberg. “There were a few sections we moved around a bit for bigger dramatic impact and for more story flow and continuity. You are always relying on your instincts in those situations, hoping the audience is coming along with you for the ride.”

The Imitation Game

The Imitation Game

Similar to Argo, the film contains a lot of humor, which had to be inherently born out of Turing’s character, such as his awkwardness or his inability to communicate with others. If the humor played too slapstick, the filmmakers took it out. “We wanted to make sure those funny elements played as organic in the film. We didn’t want funny for funny’s sake,” commented Goldenberg.

Turing had a number of peculiar character traits that might be construed in different ways. Goldenberg had many discussions with Tyldum as he was watching the dailies and cutting the film as to how self-aware the character was. “Was he being rude on purpose? Knowing he was the smartest guy in the room, was he purposely being the way he was being or did he have Asperger’s? Was he completely honest and didn’t know any other gear, so that’s the way he was?” Goldenberg explained. “That’s kind of what we landed on. It was about his single-mindedness and not really being able to assimilate with others.”

Although Goldenberg has worked with actors who varied their performance of the same line from “a whisper to a scream,” generally Cumberbatch was much more consistent and controlled. “He gave me a lot of subtle color and subtle shades of performance that I was able to work with,” Goldenberg said. “He is such a phenomenal actor and so focused and clear-minded about what he’s doing, he made it easier for me. He gave enough shades that we were able to modulate up and down as needed.”

The stakes in the film’s story were high. People were dying as the characters raced against the clock to crack the code, so the editor concentrated on keeping up the tension. “That was what I had in the back of my mind with the material. To make sure that the pressure on them was unrelenting,” revealed Goldenberg. “My style is telling a good story and staying out of the way while letting the actors act.”

By focusing on the storytelling and performances, Goldenberg kept true to the story.