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Tomorrowland and being fired again


What matters the most in film editing?
Walter Murch Film-maker
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So the advantage of thinking this way about these six things is both as a kind of theoretical idea which has a certain value, but then, I think, more importantly it has a practical value which is, you know, you're in the balloon with all of your stuff – what do you throw overboard first? The last thing you want to throw overboard is emotion. And this is a mistake, I think, primarily that film-makers early on make. They concentrate from the bottom up, so to speak. They think they have to maintain three-dimensional continuity and, you know, 180 degree rule and eye trace and rhythm and then logic, and last, they think: oh the emotion will kind of take care of itself. But that's, you know, that's the worst way to put a bullet in your film is to work that way. I think the reason this happens is that the importance of each of these six things is in inverse proportion to its quantifiability which is to say its teachability. It's easy when you teach editing to teach three-dimensional continuity because he took 10 steps across the room, now we're cutting to the close-up, cut to the close-up at the point that he has taken the 10th step and then go on from there, or something equivalent to that. And the 180 degree rule is very easy to quantify: are they looking right or left? Are they looking wide left or tight left? And you act accordingly. And then eye trace, it's slightly less easy to quantify, because there's a wild card in that: where is the audience looking? You have to have a feel for that, in the same way that a magician has to have a feel for where is the audience looking so that you can hide the card where they aren't looking. And we frequently have to do that. Rhythm is again, more debatable still. And story, well, did I understand it or... And then emotion is the least quantifiable thing because it's so subjective. So that there's a trade-off of objective and subjective works in the opposite direction in the list. So it's... when you're trying to learn how to make films, you work upwards, but really in the end, when you're making a film, you have to find a way to work down. And its value, I think, is again as a way of thinking about it, what actually works when you get there, is much more complicated than six, but frequently the way we talk about these things is we try to break it down into quadrants that can help us know who are the teams that are playing in the match? And where do they come from - okay, I think I've got the idea. And once you have that idea then you can get into the subtleties of everything else.

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: emotion, filmmaker, continuity, close-up, 180 degree rule, eye trace, rhythm

Duration: 3 minutes, 23 seconds

Date story recorded: April 2016

Date story went live: 29 March 2017