Podcast

Sunday, September 06, 2020

Episode 20: The Man Who Won the War

Oh dear god, people, it’s a new episode of the podcast just one week after the last one! Is this new normal? No, it isn’t! There almost certainly won’t be a new episode next week. But hey, it’s kinda fun, isn’t it?

In this episode we ask a basic question: Do writers lose something when they actually learn to write like a professional?  To answer it, we delve into my tragic origin story.  We spend this episode discussing my 2004 biopic-script about Alan Turing, The Man Who Won the War, and comparing it to the unrelated 2014 biopic that actually got made, The Imitation Game. If you want to read my script, you can download it here, but I think you can enjoy the episode just fine whether or not you do so.

Meanwhile, let me say a word about the ads. I joined the IFH podcast network with the understanding that we would have two ads at the very beginning and two ads at the very end, but the deal has unfortunately changed. It’s not Alex’s fault: just this week, he was as surprised as I was when our host Spreaker announced that, from now on, they’ll demand one ad for every ten minutes of podcast! For our shorter episodes, those ads at the beginning and end have it covered. For most of our episodes, which are 50-something minutes, I’ve added an ad between the ending music and the closing spiel, but for our longest episodes, like Laika, I’ve had to add a ton of ads interrupting me and James. I’m sorry about this and Alex is sorry about this. This was not supposed to happen.

(This is why they were inserting a random ad interrupted us at the 2 minute mark on some epsiodes. Well, those ads are gone, but only because I’ve replaced them elsewhere.)

Right away, this is an issue, because this episode is 74 minutes, and I really don’t want the ads to interrupt us. So I recorded a version of this spiel at the beginning and then pause for two more ads before we get started.

9 comments:

J Friday said...

Can't wait to dig into this episode because when I saw The Imitation Game ages ago, I remember being highly annoyed at the (shoehorned-in) heterosexual romance. And now that's all I remember about the film. So first, I'll rewatch and read the script.

I also wanted to add that I'm personally not put out a bit over a few minutes of ads for over an hour of content. You guys should be compensated for time and value.

Robert K S said...

This script must have been a labor of love for you, so I can imagine how hurt you must have been not only to see a different script produced but one so much less deferential to the history than yours and then to see it garner Academy recognition. How much research did you do for the script, aside from reading the three published Turing biographies? How much time did you spend writing it? How long from when you wrote "Fade Out" to when it first started to get noticed? How did you decide which characters to keep from history, which to discard, and which to make up? Aside from (ha) turning Turing into House to create more conflict (which I don't think you'd really do), what else would you do differently?--not necessarily with the hindsight of Moore's script but with the hindsight of everything you have learned since as a professional screenwriter, both craft-wise and business-wise? Thanks for posting this, it made for one of the best shows yet.

Matt Bird said...

How much research did you do for the script, aside from reading the three published Turing biographies?

As much as I could do in America. I wish I could have gone to the UK and visited Bletchley but I just couldn't afford it.

How much time did you spend writing it?

Maybe three months on research and two months writing? Something like that. Then another six months or so rewriting after the first award.

How long from when you wrote "Fade Out" to when it first started to get noticed?

I wrote it under the deadline of the Sloan contest, then it won a few months later, at which point I did a major revision, then it won "Faculty Selects" at Columbia a few months later, which caused it to get into the hands of some managers, who also asked to read my modern scripts, then based on that package I got to choose between two management teams who wanted me.

How did you decide which characters to keep from history, which to discard, and which to make up?

With difficulty. My first drafts had everything and the kitchen sink. There are still too many characters.

Aside from (ha) turning Turing into House to create more conflict (which I don't think you'd really do), what else would you do differently?--not necessarily with the hindsight of Moore's script but with the hindsight of everything you have learned since as a professional screenwriter, both craft-wise

I'd combine more characters and incidents. Knowing what I do about writing and the business now, I would feel a lot more pressure to cut Cambridge and Wittgenstein, but I'd still hate to do that.

and business-wise?

I would option the main biography. Owning IP is everything. If I was able to glean this story from available sources, then anybody could, so why buy my screenplay? If I "owned" it in some way, then people would have to deal with me.

Thanks for posting this, it made for one of the best shows yet.

Glad you liked it!

Robert K S said...

But what, for example, would have stopped a competing producer from optioning one of the other biographies and telling you to sue or piss off?

Robert K S said...

Or, e.g., A. Rey Pamatmat's play "Pure", which may have been written around the same time as "The Man Who Won the War".

Matt Bird said...

There were lots of bios, but Andrew Hodges was the definitive one, and anybody who had that one optioned (as "The Imitation Game" eventually did) would be hard to get around.

Harvey Jerkwater said...

The final scene between Turing and Joan in The Imitation Game irritated the hell out of me not because I interpreted it as "showing the tragedy that these two would never get together," but because it was the purest Hollywood pandering. The core of the movie was "Alan Turing was right about everything but the world couldn't handle it" (which, to be fair to the movie, was true). The viewers were made to identify with his outsiderness. We empathize with Turing and see ourselves in his shoes. Doing so flatters us by playing at our vanity - that we too are right about everything but the world can't handle it. Our Hero has his struggles and the world crushes him.

And then this goddamned movie does THAT THING. The key supporting character shows up at the very end to tell him point-blank that You Were Right, The World Was Wrong, We Should Always Have Listened To You. Which in Turing's case was accurate, but sweet merciful chicken-fried Christ, the movie wants us to luxuriate in a powerful vicarious moment of I Told You So, You Are Right, You Are Wonderful and Your Haters Are Just Haters.

Cue orchestra, Cumberbatch quietly emoting, and the coda. We are Uplifted and Vindicated.

I may or may not have flipped off the screen in the theater.

Also: I have a slightly similar story to Matt's with The Imitation Game: Years ago, after seeing a show's pilot episode, I realized that the novel I had been working on for a long time was very close to that show, Orphan Black, only not as good. Someday I might try it again with a new approach, but man, that was quite the boot to the crotch of my pride. Not because the stories were similar, but how much better OB was at telling it. [shakes fist at Canada] Ah well. It was instructive, at least.

Matt Bird said...

I thought every writer had a story like that. I was surprised when James said he didn't!

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