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Broad-based vs. pin-point lighting


'Shoot the master shot'
Walter Murch Film-maker
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And in discussions with George [Lucas], just between him and me, the question was, what can we do to speed things up and he made a suggestion which I followed, which made all the difference. And... because I'm an editor and because I know how films are constructed out of bits and pieces. And because the film was full of visual effects and robots and puppets, many scenes in the film had to be storyboarded very carefully to make it most efficient. So, what I was doing was shooting the storyboards. So, at the beginning of the day there would be a board with these storyboards on it. Okay, we're doing this and now we did that, now we're doing the next one. And this is well and good up to a point.

But what he suggested is, 'Yes, of course, you have the storyboards but shoot the master shot.' And I said, 'George, I can't shoot the master shot.' 'Why not?' 'Well, because there's a chicken in this scene and I can't tell the chicken what to do in a master shot.' And Tik-Tok can only be in... the person inside Tik-Tok can only be inside Tik-Tok for two minutes and this is a four-minute scene. And Jack Pumpkinhead cannot move around convincingly if he's a puppet because he's operated by six different people, and so on.

And he said, 'I know, I know, I had the same problem on Star Wars with R2D2, who didn't work and there was somebody inside.' But he said, 'Shoot it anyway. It will not work. Much of it will not work. Some pieces you find might work against all expectations. But the real value of it is that, at the beginning of the day, the whole crew will see what it is that you are shooting. And even though it's full of mistakes, you are imprinting on everybody, this is what I'm doing today. This is the scene.'

And when people have actually seen it, rather than looking at storyboards, they have enough experience, for instance, in... The head of the painting department will say, 'Okay, I know that I don't have to be here during... when they're shooting this scene. I will leave my first in command and I will go to the next set and start doing that because there's not going to be any painting issues as far as I can tell from... If there's an emergency, yes, I'll come back.'

When I didn't shoot the master, everybody would stay on set all the time because they never knew what this crazy director was going to ask for next. And so they were always on alert, which meant that the project slowed down and things being prepared for the next day's shoot were not being done so everything got slower.

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: Star Wars, George Lucas

Duration: 3 minutes, 27 seconds

Date story recorded: April 2016

Date story went live: 29 March 2017