a story lives forever
Sign in
Form submission failed!

Stay signed in

Recover your password?
Form submission failed!

Web of Stories Ltd would like to keep you informed about our products and services.

Please tick here if you would like us to keep you informed about our products and services.

I have read and accepted the Terms & Conditions.

Please note: Your email and any private information provided at registration will not be passed on to other individuals or organisations without your specific approval.

Video URL

You must be registered to use this feature. Sign in or register.


Martin Sheen on the loose in San Francisco


Apocalypse Now: 'Let's have narration'
Walter Murch Film-maker
Comments (0) Please sign in or register to add comments

One of the other things I was told as we... as I started working on the film was that there was no narration on the film. My last memory of having read the screenplay about a year earlier was that it had narration. And I asked, 'Well, why?' 'No, it's not going to have narration; we got rid of that idea.' So I went back to my editing room, looked at the schedule and thought if we had a couple of years maybe we could find a way to tell this story without narration. But it was shot from a script with narration, but not... it wasn't reinvented as if it did not have narration. So how can we do that in the time that we have left, which at that point was probably nine months to finish the film. And I thought there's no way; we have to have narration.

So on the spur of the moment, I got the old script, and a microphone and recorded this old narration with me speaking it. And then started putting it into the film, and I created a version of the first 30 minutes of the film with narration. And then called Francis [Ford Coppola] and everybody in, Richie and Gerry, and I gave my spiel. 'I think we have to have narration, and I think it will be good.' The thing I didn't say is that I had just finished the film Julia, which had narration, and so my mind was predisposed because of that experience of thinking about films with narration. I don't know what would have happened had I been working on another film that didn't have narration; I may not have come to that decision. Anyway, I was passionate about what I thought was right. I ran the film, and people thought, 'Yeah, okay, let's have narration.'

So we limped along with my narration for a month or so. And then Michael Herr, who wrote the book Dispatches and was a big influence on John Milius when he was writing the original screenplay. Michael Herr joined the team as the writer of the narration. He wound up living in San Francisco on and off for the next year or more with his wife, and he would be writing the narration. Then we'd screen that version of the film, then everyone would have new ideas, notes would be given and Michael would write another. And so it went through probably eight iterations of different narration for the film as the film went along with Marty Sheen coming in replacing me obviously and reading Michael Herr's narration.

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: Julia, Apocalypse Now, Francis Ford Coppola, Ritchie Marks, Gerry Greenberg, Michael Herr, John Milius

Duration: 3 minutes, 16 seconds

Date story recorded: April 2016

Date story went live: 29 March 2017