Last night, the writer Graham Moore won the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for his work on The Imitation Game. The movie is based on Andrew Hodges’ biography Alan Turing: The Enigma. It’s a war thriller about Turing’s work as a cryptanalyst during World War II, and his later prosecution for homosexuality, which was completely illegal in Britain until 1967.
When Moore took the stage, he gave a brilliant, thoughtful, and, given the emotion of the moment, surprisingly well-composed speech about the importance of believing in oneself despite enormous pressure to give up. And he meant “give up” quite literally: Moore began his speech by noting that, as a 16-year-old boy, he attempted suicide.
Moore, a native Chicagoan, said after the show that he felt oddly focused during his speech, in part because he wasn’t sure he’d ever get the chance to talk to such a vast audience again:
The cameras are little black circles. It’s not like a billion people out there when I’m looking around. It was really hard, but it felt, I’m a writer. When am I ever going to be on television? It was my 45 seconds in my life to get on television. I felt like I might as well use it to say something meaningful.
Moore elaborated on failure and his response to it during a lengthy interview he gave late last year. “Being bad at stuff is hard and we all deal with it every day,” he said, while discussing the fact that he nearly dropped out of college as a freshman, “because we’re all bad at stuff. I sat at my desk this morning, looking over all the things I’ve been working on lately. Just going over the really bad parts, thinking, Wow, I’m terrible at this.”
And, even after finding success as a writer on 10 Things I Hate About You, in addition to selling his first novel The Sherlockian–which would become a best-seller–Moore found himself plagued by the all-too-familiar sensation of failure, and thought daily about quitting his profession:
I still think about quitting. I still think, Maybe I’m not good at this. So no, I don’t feel like a real writer. I’ve never had any sort of binary experience where I went from feeling like I hadn’t made it, and then I had, or went from feeling like a failure and then I felt like a success. There’s no button for that, no on/off switch….Whatever I’m doing I don’t think is right. I am endlessly convinced that I have a terrible process and it’s not working out right, and it’s never as efficient as I want it to be.
Next up for the hottest writer in Hollywood is the film adaptation of best-selling nonfiction work The Devil in the White City, about a serial killer loose in Chicago during the 1893 World’s Fair. The project is in development, and Leonardo DiCaprio is set to play the lead.
(Photo credit: WENN)