EXCLUSIVE: In what I am told will go down as the highest price paid ever for U.S. rights on a movie at the European Film Market, The Weinstein Company has locked a deal to pay $7 million for The Imitation Game, the Graham Moore Black List script that Morten Tyldum directed with Benedict Cumberbatch playing Alan Turing, the genius British mathematician, logician, cryptologist and computer scientist who led the charge to crack the German Enigma Code that helped the Allies win WWII. Keira Knightley also stars in a film that will be shaped as a major release for the next awards season.
CAA brokered this deal based on a promo reel that had five bidders going after it hard before TWC just took it off the table, with the feeling that it has one of its major Oscar hopefuls for the next race. TWC currently has Philomena in the Best Picture race that will be decided next month.
Compared to the small sales of Sundance, this is a whopper. Harvey and Bob Weinstein and their team headed by COO David Glasser bested five competitors that sparked to a 15-minute compilation of scenes on a picture that has just gone into postproduction. The film also stars Mark Strong and Matthew Goode, and it’s produced by Nora Grossman, Ido Ostrowsky and Teddy Schwarzman. It was Schwarzman’s Black Bear Pictures label that took the risk on the film after Warner Bros let it go. The TWC acquisition team of Robert Walak, Negeen Yazdi and Dan Guando chased this script for a year. TWC’s Michal Steinberg closed the deal.
While the temptation is to liken this to TWC’s last period Best Picture winner The King’s Speech, Turing’s tale doesn’t end happy. After WWII, Turing was rewarded for his heroism by being prosecuted for being a homosexual. Disgraced and forced to choose chemical castration or else imprisonment, he eventually took his own life.
Harvey Weinstein confirmed the deal and said he was blown away by the footage. It was the same sum that TWC paid the last time there was a title with this much heat, when the John Carney-directed Can A Song Save Your Life? sold at the Toronto Film Festival last fall. That one also has Knightley starring.
“Teddy Schwarzman and Morten Tyldum took a script that Bob and I loved but were worried about its tone because if you got it wrong one inch to the left or one inch to the right, you would have major problems,” Weinstein told me. “These guys got it so perfect, they did a better job than I ever could have. Benedict is unbelievable, and this is going to be a big year for Keira. Between this and Can A Song Save Your Life? she is going to be a major star. We look at this as a major release and we’re thrilled to have it.”