Directors come to their films in many different ways. Director Morten Tyldum was sent the script for The Imitation Game, which told the story of how mathematician Alan Turing cracked the German enigma code, saving millions of lives by shortening World War II, only to be persecuted for being a homosexual post-war. Although the film involves a consequential historic event, it is primarily a personal story portraying a genius outsider, who is able to come up with amazing ideas because he sees the world in a different way.
It was not the type of story that the director was looking for at the time, but the screenplay grabbed his interest. “As a filmmaker, you don’t pick your project, you fall in love with it. You find something and become obsessed with it,” shared Tyldum, who noted that filmmakers find stories that are personal to them. “I think it is impossible to hear the story of Alan Turing and not be fascinated, and outraged.”
Tyldum admitted that the underdog story might have been attractive because he feels bit of an underdog himself. The Norwegian director came to Los Angeles, “trying to figure out what I am doing here and how do things work. There were a lot of relatable things.”
Tyldum spent six months with screenwriter Graham Moore, “fine-tuning,” the character arcs because they wanted the movie to be a puzzle and unraveled like a mystery. The director also wanted to raise the stakes by bringing the war into the story, which was difficult since Turing and his team were in the countryside, far from the carnage, fighting an internal war; a war against time.
The filmmakers focused on the machinery of war – “the unrelenting tanks that crush everything, the submarines, the planes that bomb you to pieces” – and how a machine that was one of the first computers helped win the conflict. “This is the fascinating thing. This machine is so much more to Turing. He was obsessed with recreating a consciousness. It is impossible to have a machine that can create its own decisions,” explained Tyldum.
The decryption machine in the film is based upon what the real device looked like, but the filmmakers wanted it to be more like a person. “We added the red cabling, the blood veins. So, it became very organic. Maria Djurkovic, [production designer] is very lovely. All these wallpapers are Morse codes — all these beautiful details that give it a sense of color and texture,” Tyldum revealed.
According to Tyldum, costume designer Sammy Seldon put “nerds in tweeds and knitwear.” All the characters were approximately the same age and from the same background, but subtly differentiated by their individual clothing.
The director had not previously collaborated with any of his key crew, who were an international collection of artists — a Spanish cinematographer, a French composer, British production and costume designers and an American editor. “I had a brilliant crew that I was able to handpick,” said Tyldum. “Maria, I wanted after I saw Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. She has such a sense of period. Her philosophy is that if you are making a movie from the ’70s, you should use more things from the ’60s, ’50s and ’40s, which was her whole philosophy for the period here, which is really smart.”
After he saw The Impossible, the director wanted to work with cinematographer Óscar Faura. Considering there were going to be a lot of interiors with five or six people talking, it was important that the film did not look like a television show. The movie was shot on film. “Óscar has this great sense of realism and poetry in his way of shooting. He lights so beautifully. He paints with light,” stated Tyldum. “He is such a dedicated and smart D.P.”
Tyldum originally met editor William Goldenberg in a brief encounter at BAFTA. As a big fan of the editor, when he was assembling his crew for the film the director just called to ask if Goldenberg would be interested in editing the film. “What’s the worst thing? He could say no. He was the hottest editor in Hollywood right off of his Argo win and Zero Dark Thirty. His first movie was Heat, which I think is phenomenally edited.”
Goldenberg was not on location in London, so during production the two communicated via phone and Skype. “We met properly for the first time when we screened the assembly cut. I hate that moment. It is the most terrifying moment,” shared Tyldum. “Billy is so good. He is always so sure when to let go and when to hold back. His sense of storytelling is so precise. I couldn’t be happier.”
Because the editing works so well, Tyldum thinks most people are unaware of the complexity the film’s structure. Flashbacks in time are always a bit tricky to edit, but the film contains flashbacks within flashbacks that are not even in chronological order.
“The editing just flows. We created different story arcs and gave them a title. This story arc is about the spy or two loves or the secret or something like that. Then we could pick between the storylines.” Tyldum further described the process, “We kept notes. There was a lot of moving things around. A big part of this was actually to find when to reveal things and when not to reveal things.”
Tyldum worked intensely with the actors to get “the moment.” He was pleased that despite inevitable noise during production and the tendency to not consider sound issues on set, there was very little ADR needed. “I am so happy. I had this amazing sound recordist [John Midgley],” said Tyldum. “The dialog was so good, I could keep the performances. I didn’t have to recreate it.”
Andy Kennedy worked as sound designer and Lee Walpole as supervising sound editor. The director felt it was important to bring sound into the post process very early because when a scene is too quiet, there can be a tendency to edit too quickly and not hold on the shot for the optimal amount of time. “You chicken out. You think, I’m holding on too long to this,” stated Tyldum.
Because it is a character in the film, a great deal of time was spent figuring out how the decryption machine was going to sound. The team went back and forth many times trying out the sound design. That back and forth was also part of the process for finding the sound for the whole movie.
Another important aspect of postproduction was color grading. The filmmakers wanted the scenes to flow seamlessly while at the same time have each scene be distinct. Tyldum elaborated, “Manchester is wet and grey. For me Bletchley Park is the innocence. It’s the pastels, the white pants. The war is the intense part.”
Tyldum thinks the big challenge a composer faces in scoring a picture is to not have his own ideas take over the film while at the same time not disappearing. He worked with Alexandre Desplat in Paris. “Nobody believes me, but he did the score in two-and-a-half weeks. I still have no idea how he did it. It was remarkable. Alexandre has the unique gift that he will take your vision and your ideas of a scene and enhance it. At the same time, he has an original voice that adds to it.”
The film was made on a modest budget. Tyldum marveled, “I get all this top talent to come on board because it’s a good story and an important story. If you do something with your heart that you believe in, then it becomes important and you attract talent. These are artists that want to be part of something that is important to them. I feel very privileged.”