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.


'Make sure you have something in your hands'


The Godfather – our life raft
Walter Murch Film-maker
Comments (0) Please sign in or register to add comments

The film THX [1138] came out and was not a success commercially. It was such not-a-success that Warner Bros., who had financed the film and had also financed the development of a number of other screenplays, among them Apocalypse Now and The Black Stallion and The Conversation, decided to cancel the contract. And not only to cancel the contract, but to hold Francis [Ford Coppola] financially responsible for all the development funds that had been spent up to that time. So no, Francis, that was not a development that was a personal loan to you, and you now have to pay it back. I don't know the particulars of how this contract got into that state, but the effect was, Francis had to pay back something like $300,000 of development costs, which is a lot of money now and it was a huge amount of money in 1969. And it was a desperate situation for American Zoetrope, to have made a first film, to have it be released, to have it fail, and then to have the rug pulled out from all the other projects that we were developing and intending to make.

And a life raft appeared on the horizon, which was a film project that Paramount was making about the mafia, called The Godfather. And many directors had turned this project down, because it seemed too low-rent a film. Fred Zinnemann was offered the film apparently, and turned it down. So it was directors of that calibre. And as Paramount was working through their list, they eventually came to Francis Coppola, who had directed a number of films, he was Italian, and none of his films had really been financially successful, but that seemed to be a gamble to them worth making. So Francis was approached, and because of the desperate nature of the financial situation, accepted the job. And so we, me and American Zoetrope, found ourselves working on this Hollywood film. And for a while, we were working on it in San Francisco, it was being edited in San Francisco. We shot in New York, but the editors Peter Zinner and Bill Reynolds moved to San Francisco and they were editing the film. And we were doing not the final mix, but the pre-mixes of the film at our mixing facility. And I was editing the sound for the film. And at a certain point in the film's evolution, all of that work got transferred back down to Hollywood. And this was the first time that I'd ever worked in Hollywood at a studio, ever, on such a high-profile film, because The Godfather had been a bestselling book and everyone was keyed up to see the film that was going to be made from it. So the stakes were high, and getting higher, as we worked on 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: THX 1138, The Godfather, Francis Ford Coppola, Fred Zinnemann, Peter Zinner, Bill Reynolds

Duration: 3 minutes, 47 seconds

Date story recorded: April 2016

Date story went live: 01 March 2017