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Who has final cut on the film? The projectionist!


Apocalypse Now: The final mixing
Walter Murch Film-maker
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The mix, once we actually settled down to do the final mix. We started mixing in December of 1978 and we were essentially done in... at the beginning of April. So whatever that is... December, January, February, March. So it was about 16 weeks of mixing. Then we had a number of previews of the film. We took the film to Cannes and showed that version at Cannes at the middle of May. The film won; it split the first prize with The Tin Drum, I think.

And then we came back and did another month of mixing because now we had the final music for the film. Before we'd had quick mix-downs but now this was the finished music for the film. And we were mixing actually right up until the release of the film. A few days... We were still mixing a few days before the film hit the theatres. And we were able to do this because the initial release of the film was in 70 mm, which is magnetic film. And we had stockpiled everything except the final reel and so we were there mixing the final reel on Tuesday, knowing that Thursday it had to be in front of the theatres.

When we finished that final reel, we sent that to Los Angeles to have the magnetic stripes on the edge of the film sounded, where you transfer the mix to the magnetic. And then I collapsed and fell asleep for probably 36 hours. The longest I've ever slept and woke up in a daze. Flew to New York, arrived Thursday afternoon, went to the Ziegfeld Theatre, which is where we were, the film opened. And sat in the empty theatre and said, 'Okay, run it.' Just see what, how it was, what was going to happen, what had we done.

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, 24 seconds

Date story recorded: April 2016

Date story went live: 29 March 2017