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Filming THX 1138


Revolution in sound design
Walter Murch Film-maker
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All of the other departments in film work that way. When the director talks to the cinematographer, that cinematographer is responsible for the look of the film, the photographic look of the film. From the lighting of the set all the way through to the answer print. That's... he's the point man. Similarly, with the production designer, similarly with the costume designer, similarly with makeup. And that was not the case with sound. There was this... And if there was a problem, people would say, well, it's his fault or no, that's his fault and so there was this finger pointing which we just wanted to eliminate. So what now is something that we call, sound designer is the sound equivalent of production designer. That person, whoever it is, is the person that the director talks to about anything to do with the sound of the film. Just like you talk to the director of photography about anything to do with the photographic look of the film. This was revolutionary. In retrospect, it's kind of a basic... It seems logical but at the time, it kicked against all kinds of entrenched positions both artistic, technical and business, the way unions were organised and everything.

That's another reason we moved to San Francisco, was to get away from the overly compartmentalised union structure of Hollywood which, given the declining nature of Hollywood, was becoming even more entrenched. As the turf diminishes, people hold on even stronger to the turf that they have and we just wanted to get away from 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: Hollywood

Duration: 1 minute, 42 seconds

Date story recorded: April 2016

Date story went live: 01 March 2017