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The Superconducting Super Collider, Texas


The principal challenge of our documentary
Walter Murch Film-maker
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I loved working on the film. It was as simple, in a certain sense, as it can possibly be. It was just me and Mark [Levinson] in a single room. He was the director of the film, but he was also my assistant editor. And we both had Final Cut workstations. And I would be working away. And we would screen the film. We did many, many screenings of the film, which – for audience – which I think was an invaluable part of, certainly, this film, because in a film about physics, we also had to explain some of the physics. Why do these people care about any of this stuff? Why are they spending $10 billion on this machine?

So a certain amount of the physics had to be incorporated into the film, but it was clear that we had to be very careful about how much physics we dosed out, and when we did it, and there's a limit to people's attention on that stuff; they very quickly get their cup runneth over very quickly if they're not physicists. So audience screenings for a film like this were very important.

And it was very clear, when we showed the film at any one screening, 'Okay, this... in this screening, we've run away from the audience. They... we lost them.' And once you lose an audience in a film about mathematics or physics, you never get them back. They just... even though subsequent scenes may be perfectly understandable, they feel – correctly or not, but that's how they feel – 'I didn't understand that, therefore, I won't understand anything else.' And so we had to be very careful about how we... that was the principal challenge of the film.

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: physics, screening, audience, science, documentary

Duration: 2 minutes, 7 seconds

Date story recorded: April 2016

Date story went live: 29 March 2017