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Apocalypse Now: 'Let's have narration'


Apocalypse Now: Editing the opening scene
Walter Murch Film-maker
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The irony of that situation is, that scene is arguably one of the crazier scenes in the whole movie, so... and yet I who was dubbed the sanest person was assigned to cut this. And that's not illogical. If you want to produce something that gives the impression of insanity, you don't have to be insane to actually produce it. In fact probably being insane would be counterproductive.

So, here I was, the new kid on the block editorially, cutting the beginning of the film and trying to come up with something that fit all of these parameters. Technically it was a challenge because that was in the days of film, not computers. Today we would be... it would be very easy to have these images, to do dissolves and to see what the dissolves look like. In those days, there was no way to do that. I had to modify the KEM editing machine, I had to have three screens and then build rolls of each element that I wanted to superimpose and run those so that they would run in sync. And I had to kind of look with three eyes left, centre and right and imagine what those dissolves might look like. The one advantage to visualising that we had was that Francis [Ford Coppola] had bought and installed, by today's standards, an extremely primitive linear editing console up in his office. So once I'd gotten things roughly in the shape that I thought would be good I could telecine each of those rolls, turn them into video, then take those video tapes up to Francis's office, and run them together and do these dissolves like you would do a television dissolve, fading one shot to the other live. And then learn something as a result of that. Make notes and then go back down, make some modifications and do the process over, and over, and over again until it looked something like we wanted it to look.

Born in 1943 in New York City, Murch graduated from the University of Southern California's School of Cinema-Television. His career stretches back to 1969 and includes work on Apocalypse Now, The Godfather I, II, and III, American Graffiti, The Conversation, and The English Patient. He has been referred to as 'the most respected film editor and sound designer in modern cinema.' In a career that spans over 40 years, Murch is perhaps best known for his collaborations with Francis Ford Coppola, beginning in 1969 with The Rain People. After working with George Lucas on THX 1138 (1971), which he co-wrote, and American Graffiti (1973), Murch returned to Coppola in 1974 for The Conversation, resulting in his first Academy Award nomination. Murch's pioneering achievements were acknowledged by Coppola in his follow-up film, the 1979 Palme d'Or winner Apocalypse Now, for which Murch was granted, in what is seen as a film-history first, the screen credit 'Sound Designer.' Murch has been nominated for nine Academy Awards and has won three, for best sound on Apocalypse Now (for which he and his collaborators devised the now-standard 5.1 sound format), and achieving an unprecedented double when he won both Best Film Editing and Best Sound for his work on The English Patient. Murch’s contributions to film reconstruction include 2001's Apocalypse Now: Redux and the 1998 re-edit of Orson Welles's Touch of Evil. He is also the director and co-writer of Return to Oz (1985). In 1995, Murch published a book on film editing, In the Blink of an Eye: A Perspective on Film Editing, in which he urges editors to prioritise emotion.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is an independent documentary producer who has made a number of films about science and scientists for BBC TV, Channel Four, and PBS.

Tags: Apocalypse Now

Duration: 2 minutes, 32 seconds

Date story recorded: April 2016

Date story went live: 01 March 2017