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Three different administrations at Disney Studios


David Watkin and the mirrored throne room
Walter Murch Film-maker
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There was a wonderful example of David, his approach in shooting on the location of the mirrored throne room. And this is a main location in the film. And the walls are mirrored, the ceiling is mirrored and the floor is mirrored. So, from a cinematographic point of view, this is a nightmare because, where do we put the camera so we don't see the camera? Well, there are ways to do it. The mirrors on the wall were flexible so when we had the shot lined up, there was moment where we said, 'I see the camera in panel eight.' And all you had to do was move panel eight by five degrees and the camera would disappear. And you couldn't tell that it was shifted five degrees. So there was that kind of procedure.

But Freddie Francis's style of lighting... and he tried to light the throne room and he had difficulty because of his point-source lighting, made it impossible to hide all of these, the lights that he was using. And the result, which... We did shoot one day with his lighting and it looked unfortunately kind of dreary. And that set has to be really alive and sparkling. And so I was I very nervous when I took David Watkin onto the set and said, 'Well, here it is.'

And he looked around and he said, 'Marvellous, I've been waiting all my life for this kind of a set.' 'What do you mean', I said. 'Well, here's what I'm going to do: I'm going to light this whole set with one light.' 'How are you going to do that?' 'It's simple; you're shooting over here in this direction. I will put a 10k, which is a very big light, over there and I will angle the light to bounce off the mirrors and the floor and the ceiling, so that it caroms perhaps seven times before it, the light hits the set, the action. By the time it hits the set, the mirrors' surfaces will have diffused the light so that the light is not a searchlight kind of a light. It's got this beautiful glow to it because of... Every time the light reflects, it, there's a spill that happens. And I'll be able to light this set in five minutes flat. And then I can go off and do something else or take a nap.' And that's in fact what happened and the results are what you can see in the film. But it's a fantastic illustration of the problems presented by certain kinds of very difficult sets and the solutions that different cinematographers come up with to solve these problems.

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: David Watkin, Freddie Francis

Duration: 3 minutes, 4 seconds

Date story recorded: April 2016

Date story went live: 29 March 2017