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Benefits of standing over sitting while working


How to cure 'Steenbeck neck'
Walter Murch Film-maker
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When I started doing this stuff - film-editing - the machine that we all used in the United States, certainly, was a machine called the Moviola, which was if you think of a sewing machine on stilts that's what it looked like, and it sounded that way and it had cantankerous elements to it which were that every time you ran the film through it, it damaged the film sometimes lightly other times catastrophically, ripping it, scratching it. It could only run 1 or 2 minutes of film at a time so you had to organise things accordingly, and you had to stand at it to really make it work. It was... you were like a machinist at a lathe standing there working at it, and standing actually made a lot of other things easy because not only did you have the Moviola, but you had a rewind bench here which involved that - making those kinds of motions and taking the film and putting it in the Moviola and running it through. In other words there were lots of big muscle movement stuff going on. And this seemed that this was the, kind of, the only way to do it. But, paradoxically, it also had health benefits. We now know that it's healthy to stand rather than to sit in a chair for 12 hours a day. And it's healthy to make these kind of movements. And, when I made the transition, which was some time in the early 70s to the European editing machines, we were still using film, but these were the so-called flatbed editing machines known by the name of Steenbeck and K-E-M who were the companies that made these beautiful machines, German, French also, they had a machine called the Prévost [sic – Moritone] and in Italy there was a machine called the Moritone [sic – Prévost].

So this was the dominant way of working in Europe which corresponded to the fact that in Europe, generally, films were shot in much longer takes. You had a master shot that was very carefully composed, and a shot could last 3 or 4 minutes which is cumbersome on a Moviola which is better at little short pieces of film which is the American way of doing things, or it was. So I started to sit at these editing European desks and I immediately began to have problems with my shoulders because I was no longer doing this kind of motion; I was just sitting there flexing my wrist and pushing a button. And I called it 'Steenbeck neck' because somehow the tension of the thing just built up here, and this was an irritant over the next number of years, until finally I decided in the mid-80s, I'm not going to sit any more, I'm going to stand up. So, I built two plywood boxes out of thick plywood, 1-inch plywood and 16 inches tall, I think, and lifted the K-E-M up on to them. It's a 600 pound thing - heavy - but once it was in place, then I could stand at it and immediately everything - I loved it - everything was better and I've never gone back. And when digital editing came in in the mid-90s, it was an easy transition. I just got an architect's table for, I think, $100 which has a tiltable top to it. Architects generally at that time worked standing up with a high chair that they could sit on if they wanted. I have one of those, and I thought of myself as an architect of film! So architects stand up, why not me? And I had been doing it anyway with the plywood boxes. So for the last 20 years of digital editing, I have been standing to do it. I would recommend to everyone thinking about this to think about it seriously because I think it's a positive thing for your health because we're stuck in a room for 12, 14 hours a day frequently, and sitting for that long is just not good for you.

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: film-editing, Moviola, Steenbeck, K-E-M, Prévost, flatbed editing machine, architect's table

Duration: 5 minutes, 21 seconds

Date story recorded: April 2016

Date story went live: 29 March 2017