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The editor's early involvement in the film-making process


Different approaches to the film-making process
Walter Murch Film-maker
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So you're in the position of writing the film, but in postproduction. You are making these big writing decisions about the story at a very late date that adds a level of precariousness. And some people love that danger, Francis Coppola and, to a certain extent, Anthony. And some people are adverse to that. Hitchcock certainly didn't like that. He didn't... according to what he says, he endured the shooting process but didn't particularly like it, because of the danger. And he wanted to minimise the danger. 'I have it in my head, I just want to see it on screen in front of me, as close to what I have in my head as possible, and that's the perfect film.' Whereas the Anthony Minghellas and the Francis Coppolas are intrigued by the process of making the film, and what the process itself will throw up. Unanticipated things that were not in their mind to begin with. Chance, and the unbidden contribution and some member of the crew who came from breakfast and said, 'Here's an idea', that gets adopted. And the fact that this scene was supposed to be shot in the sun and it's shot in the rain, well, okay. Well, can we make something good about this?

That is literally what happened in one of Francis' early films, I didn't work on it, called You're a Big Boy Now, where the son in the story wanted to confront the father. And that day, they said, 'Okay, we're going to shoot on location at this house, in the suburbs of New York', but it was pouring with rain. And the crew just assumed, 'Well, we won't shoot it today, we'll shoot some set.' And Francis said, 'No, we're going to shoot.' 'What? You can't.' 'No, we're going to shoot it.' 'But you have to rewrite.' 'No, I'm not going to...' You know? He... And so they went and shot a scene. As written, the boy comes into the house and says to his mother, 'Where's Dad?' 'He's out in the backyard practicing his putt.' But it was supposed to be a sunny day, now it's raining. And so the son grabs an umbrella and goes out, and stands next to his dad, who is practicing his putting in the rain. And the dad doesn't want to talk to the son because it's a hot topic. I forget what the topic is, but it's, like, 'Don't bother me with this stuff.' 'But Dad...' And the rain only intensified the situation. The father so did not want to talk to the son that he would practice out in the rain, you know? So anyway, you encourage and want these kind of serendipitous awkwardnesses if you're the kind of director that Francis Coppola or Anthony Minghella is. And you don't particularly like these things if you're a Fred Zinnemann or an Alfred Hitchcock, who are more constrained. In a good way, but a different approach to the process.

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: You're a Big Boy Now, Anthony Minghella, Francis Ford Coppola, Fred Zinnemann, Alfred Hitchcock

Duration: 3 minutes, 23 seconds

Date story recorded: April 2016

Date story went live: 29 March 2017