a story lives forever
Sign in
Form submission failed!

Stay signed in

Recover your password?
Form submission failed!

Web of Stories Ltd would like to keep you informed about our products and services.

Please tick here if you would like us to keep you informed about our products and services.

I have read and accepted the Terms & Conditions.

Please note: Your email and any private information provided at registration will not be passed on to other individuals or organisations without your specific approval.

Video URL

You must be registered to use this feature. Sign in or register.


What matters the most in film editing?


A practical approach to the six rules of film editing
Walter Murch Film-maker
Comments (0) Please sign in or register to add comments

The practical aspect of this rule of six, is that frequently, you can't do all of these six things at the same time and many times you don't want to do all six. So, these six were in some kind of ideal world that doesn't always reflect the reality of the world we live in. But because of this or because of that, we can't do these things. We can't do all six. So what do you as a film editor do? And my suggestion is that you look at these six things and start jettisoning things overboard. It's like you're on a balloon and you're potentially going to crash, so what do you do, you start throwing stuff overboard to give you more lift. Throw things off from the bottom up. So the first thing to throw overboard is three-dimensional continuity. Don't worry about it. Just get rid of it. If the other five things are taken care of, nobody... not only will nobody care, they will be happy that you didn't burden the film by making somebody walk up the path to the door. Just open the door to the car and cut to the inside door as the door opens and we all understand that he, whoever it was, went from the car into the house. We don't need to see him walking 15 steps, so that's gone.

Next thing is two-dimensional space. If you have to sacrifice it, it will be momentarily awkward perhaps, but better that than something else. And then up to focus of attention, and then what's sometimes called eye trace – where is the eye looking? – and then rhythm. Cut at a slightly awkward place rhythmically, but if the emotion is right and the story is right and that's the only way you can get these two things is by jettisoning those four other things, do it. And finally, if you have to, if the only way to get the right emotion and get it powerfully is to make the audience momentarily confused about the story, then do that. It's dangerous to stay in that zone for a while, it's like diving underwater: you can do it if you have to do it, but you can't stay there for very long, because then after a while the confusion starts to eat away at your basic premise. But it is frequently, as it is in swimming, we often have to go below the surface, so if the only way to get the audience to feel this emotion is to make them momentarily confused then, do that.

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 editor, three-dimensional continuity, two-dimensional space, emotion, confusion, film editing

Duration: 3 minutes, 4 seconds

Date story recorded: April 2016

Date story went live: 29 March 2017