TheWrap Screening Series: ‘Imitation Game’ Filmmakers on Casting Benedict Cumberbatch and Going Indie (Video)

Director Morten Tyldum, screenwriter Graham Moore and the film’s producers discuss doing it on their own after a Warner Bros. deal fell apart

Last Updated: November 21, 2014 @ 3:34 PM

When audiences see “The Imitation Game” starring Benedict Cumberbatch as British mathematician Alan Turing, it will be a very different film than the one originally imagined.

“We kinda had this lost year at Warner Bros.,” screenwriter Graham Moore recalled after TheWrap‘s Awards Season Screening Series presentation of the film at The Landmark Theater in Los Angeles on Thursday. “We kind of had this year in the desert of trying to make this little movie in a place that is not very little.”

During a Q&A moderated by Editor-in-Chief Sharon Waxman, the filmmakers explained how a studio film ultimately became an indie and became exactly what it was supposed to be.

Producers Nora Grossman and Ido Ostrowsky, along with Moore, had set the film up at Warner Bros, where Leonardo DiCaprio once considered starring in the film to play Turing, the British mathematician who solved the Nazis’ Enigma code to help the Allies intercept messages and end World War II. Ultimately, Turing would be convicted of indecency for being a gay man, which was illegal in Britain at the time, leading to his suicide.

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It’s a fascinating story that demanded to be told, but when DiCaprio fell out, the filmmakers and studio parted ways.

“The idea of going independent was that we could cast anyone we wanted, we didn’t have to do any foreign sales,” Moore said of all the logistics usually associated with a bigger budgeted studio picture. “It could just be whatever we wanted. It was great, it was this sort of intimate little team of the five of us going to London and making this movie the way it felt like it should be.”

It was probably also a blessing in disguise that DiCaprio moved on from the project, because when the filmmakers hooked up with direct Morten Tyldum, he already knew exactly who he wanted to cast: Benedict Cumberbatch. This might have been serendipitous because the British actor was dying to play Turing.

“He read the script and he was trying to convince me he should be part of the film,” Tyldum recalled. “He said, ‘What can I do to convince you that I should be Alan Turing?’ and I was thinking, I’m trying to convince you that you should be Alan Turing.”

Tyldum also stressed how lucky he was that everybody he wanted to be part of the film — from co-star Keira Knightley to composer Alexandre Desplat — agreed to do the film, for “a fraction of their usual salaries,” he said. “Everybody I wanted said yes.”

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The filmmakers also stressed that it was the story and the theme of the story — a genius being “pushed into the shadows of history because he was a gay man,” as Tyldum described — that made everyone involved really passionate about being on board and taking jobs for less money than they usually would.

The relatively small budget of the film — about $15 million — meant that the 8-week long production was a pared down, no frills sort of thing.

“We didn’t have craft services, we couldn’t afford it,” Moore insisted. “And we didn’t have snacks, we only had lunch, which was a British lunch, so it was like porridge.”

The studio they shot in didn’t have heating or Internet, either, but it worked out for the best because as Tyldum said, “We wanted to put every cent on the screen.”

The movie came together in exactly the way it was supposed to, everyone agreed, and the producers learned a lot about collaboration with other filmmakers in their first go.

“It’s really about selecting the right team,” Ostrowsky said. “And then letting them do their thing.”