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'Captain EO, your ship is about to take off'


Captain EO – $1 million a minute
Walter Murch Film-maker
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And what was I going to do next? And I clearly had to think about it because I hadn't anticipated quite such a critical and commercial flop as this. And in the interstices of that I was asked by George Lucas to come in and help to take over a film that he was making with Francis [Ford] Coppola. Both of whom had supported me throughout my career, but particularly on Return to Oz, when I had been fired. They came to keep me on the film.

So naturally, I said, 'Of course, I will do this.' And this was the film, Captain EO, with Michael Jackson. And it is a science fiction film made for Disney. The same people who had made Return to Oz. 20 minutes long, and it was a three-dimensional film as a kind of a ride, an experience. They were dubbing it 4D, meaning not only was it optically in 3D, but there were special effects in the theatre, explosions and lights going off. So that it was to use a phrase that had not yet become current, it was a very immersive experience.

And for a while – I think, it's been surpassed – but for a while, minute by minute, it was the most expensive film ever made. For 20 minutes, and it cost $20 million, I forget. But $1 million a minute. At that time, in that budget, I don't know what the math would be today. And I got out of that three or four experiences, learning experiences. Working with 3D – that was the first and only time that I had worked on 3D. And I not only edited the film, but also directed some second unit stuff. So you're looking at somebody who has a fairly unique experience of directing Michael Jackson in a 3D 70 mm scene.

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: Captain EO, Michael Jackson

Duration: 2 minutes, 27 seconds

Date story recorded: April 2016

Date story went live: 29 March 2017