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Double-entry bookkeeping and its dangers


Reducing 'water content' in a film
Walter Murch Film-maker
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In addition, Anthony in particular, was... He had what I would call a 'very low water content.' What I mean by that is: it's an analogy with the grape harvest, in the sense that sometimes, there is a rain late in the season and the grapes soak up a lot of moisture. And then they're picked, and so now you have grapes that are full of water, that has to be kind of boiled off to give you a good wine. You have to condense it, otherwise it's going to be too weak. And Anthony's material was very rich, there was not a lot of water content. So that he might shoot, let's say, he would shoot... [Talented Mr.] Ripley, I think, was 340,000 feet of 35mm film, and the first assembly was four hours and a half. And if you kind of do the math, you can see what the ratio is.

Whereas Tetro, Francis Coppola's film that I edited, was... He shot the equivalent of 800,000 feet for that film, and the first assembly was three hours, so in that case, there was a big disproportionation between the amount of film shot and the first assembly. What meaningful stuff out of that... There was a lot of material in Francis's... I mean, it's a wonderful film, but there was a lot of material where you would just say, 'Well, that's not going to be in the film. That's the extra camera shooting the same thing', or something, whatever it happens to be. Whereas Anthony's material is very dense. He didn't shoot a lot of time, but it was very meaningful and dense, and it made for a very interesting... I mean, these first assemblies were fascinating things. They weren't like, 'Okay, that's four and a half hours, I'm bored.' They were fascinating films, but it was clear that you couldn't release a four and a half hour version of Ripley. It had to be cut down. So that puts you in the awkward position of finding ways to cut out material that is really very good and interesting, but at a certain point, it just becomes too much. It's like, you know, a 12-course meal, each course is delicious, but by the eighth course, oh, another delicious meal, you know? Another kind of fatigue sets in.

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: The Talented Mr. Ripley, Anthony Minghella, Francis Ford Coppola

Duration: 3 minutes, 2 seconds

Date story recorded: April 2016

Date story went live: 29 March 2017