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David Watkin and the mirrored throne room


Broad-based vs. pin-point lighting
Walter Murch Film-maker
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The other thing that speeded us up was that... As sad as I was to lose Freddie Francis, who was a wonderful cinematographer, I got David Watkin, who is also a wonderful cinematographer. But about as far from each other as it's possible for English cinematographers to be. Freddie... They've both passed away now. Freddie was a kind of cinematographer who said, 'Show me the camera angle and I will light that shot. And I don't like having two cameras shooting the same shot. If you must do it, you can have a B camera, second camera shooting along the same axis as the A camera with a telephoto lens. But don't think about shooting here because I'm lighting for the A camera and this lighting will not look good from this angle and besides that, you'll see all my lights.'

So that was another reason that we slowed down, because I was not able to use two cameras under those circumstances. And his style of lighting, as beautiful as it is, took a long time.

David Watkin was of the ilk that he said, 'I'm not even going to be here when you shoot. I'm going to be on the next set pre-lighting that. I light the set and I don't care where you put the camera. If there's a problem, Gordon can fix it' – he's the camera operator. 'If Gordon can't fix it, then yes, drag me back and will do something. But my experience is: 95% of the time you can shoot with six cameras on my sets and I don't care.'

And it's just his style of lighting, which is a more broad-based, rather than pin-point sources. It's a more broad-based kind of lighting. And in fact, that is how it worked and it worked out... We sped up, both because I was now shooting masters and because we were... The lighting was simpler and the... We were allowed and encouraged to use multiple cameras where possible.

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: Freddie Francis, David Watkin

Duration: 2 minutes, 20 seconds

Date story recorded: April 2016

Date story went live: 29 March 2017