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Editing vs. single-take filming


The power of the single-take film
Walter Murch Film-maker
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Hitchcock shot a film called Rope in the late 40s I think, which looks like it was all one take, and... there's a film, Time Code, that Mike Figgis made, which is four stories told, it was a screen split in four and in each of those quadrants was a long single take of a series of events that sometimes happened in the same place, and other times didn't. And there is this recent film, Victoria, which is one long take. The difference with Victoria, so I understand, is that it is really one long take. I think other films, certainly Hitchcock's film was not one long take, he would... the most he could shoot at any one time is 10 minutes, so he would have somebody back into the camera, and then they would back away from the camera, and there was an invisible edit at that point. Whereas Victoria is one, really one continuous take, but, I think they shot it a number of times, over a period of three or four days and then said, that's the best one. So the editing was reduced to simply the decision, that's the best one, we are going to go with that. And I haven't seen it, people tell me it's very powerful in the way that single-take films are powerful. Is that going to sweep the field? Are we going to make single-take films such as we made at the beginning of cinema? Editing was invented 14 years or so after the invention of motion pictures. Are we going to go back? I don't think so, because there are certain things that that film cannot do. You can't intercut Moscow, St Petersburg and Berlin in real time, I don't think. Maybe... I guess if you had camera crews... I don't know. Not as a single take from one camera.  

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: Time Code, Victoria, Alfred Hitcock

Duration: 2 minutes, 31 seconds

Date story recorded: April 2016

Date story went live: 29 March 2017