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How to cure 'Steenbeck neck'


Remedial work on Apocalypse Now with Harrison Ford
Walter Murch Film-maker
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This presented problems earlier in the film, notably in the scene where Captain Willard is getting his orders of what to do, because G.D. Spradlin and Harrison Ford were saying, 'Colonel Leighley this, Colonel Leighley that, Colonel, Colonel, Colonel'. And now, we had to change it to Colonel Kurtz. Now, Leighley is two different syllables than Kurtz.

So, while I was editing this scene, I'm thinking, well we're going to have to change this to Kurtz. One easy way to do it, of course, is to make sure that nobody ever says that name on camera. Which could be done, but in a way that would be like a magician holding the handkerchief in a certain way that told you there was an object behind there. So, you don't want to do that. So I selected three or four places and looked at them carefully thinking can we shoehorn Kurtz into those lips that say Leighley? And I think I chose the ones which were malleable in that way and at this point, we arranged for the actors to come in and change their dialogue. This is the, what's called ADR, automatic dialogue replacement. And G.D. Spradlin came in, he plays the Colonel, the General, and he did it, and you see it in the film, and it works to the extent that people don't run out of the cinema screaming, I just saw something that didn't sync up.

The problem happened with Harrison Ford, who - I wasn't there - but Francis called me up from Los Angeles and said Harrison has refused to do this line. Why? Well, because that's not what he said, and he thinks it's absurd to change Leighley to Kurtz. He can't do it. And, I said, 'I'll take care of it', not knowing how I was going to take care of it. But, we arranged that Harrison come to San Francisco and I think he had to come for other reasons as well, and I took him down to the basement of Francis Coppola's house in San Francisco which was a screening room. And it was a nice comfortable area, well upholstered, and I had two recorders with me and people with me to run the recorders, and I said, 'Here's what we're going to do Harrison. Listen to the tape, the sound on this one tape'. And he said, 'Where's the picture?' and I said, 'Forget the picture, don't worry about the picture', because, reading between the lines, that was what was freaking Harrison out, that he had to look at himself saying 'Leighley', and he had to say 'Kurtz', and he just, I don't know, couldn't do it. So, no picture, so just listen to what's on this tape, and what it was, was I had prepared a loop of that line, and 'Go to Colonel Leighley's command. Go to Colonel Leighley's command. Go to Colonel Leighley's command'. Over and over.

And, here and I gave him a little button. 'When you're... just say that over and over, and close your eyes, and when you're comfortable, just press the button, this tape with turn on, and just say, and: Go to Colonel Kurtz' command'. So he did that, it was, I think he did it in one take, if not one, maybe two, it just... he just said it, and he said it in exactly the same tonality that he had said before. If you're not looking at the picture when you do this, it's much easier to kind of get into what your performance was, especially if it's repeated quickly over and over again. 'Go to Colonel Leighley's command, go to Colonel Leighley's command, go to Colonel Leighley's command, go to Colonel Kurtz's command'. And I said, thank you very much, shook his hand, and that's what's in the film. So there are frequently strategies that you have to employ sometimes at the last minute to make these things function in the best way that they possibly can, knowing that ultimately it's not true, and you're... when you look at the film, the lips say 'Leighley', but you hear 'Kurtz', but because everything else matches as well as it does, you get away with it.

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: Harrison Ford

Duration: 5 minutes, 40 seconds

Date story recorded: April 2016

Date story went live: 29 March 2017