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Crisis with music to The Godfather


Securing a decade of Paul Haggar's good will
Walter Murch Film-maker
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A month or so later from that, we were playing back the sound effects of a reel at a special theatre that was capable of playing this back. And again, this is technologically very primitive to today, but in those days, you would... you had a Moviola, and you would cut one sound effect at a time. But if there were three or four sound effects intending to be played simultaneously, you had to imagine what they might sound like. You couldn't play them together at the same time. There were some Moviolas that had been retrofitted so you could play two together at the same time, but certainly not three or five. So there was a theatre that was not a mixing theatre, but it was a small preview theatre where you could thread up six soundtracks simultaneously, but not seven. And we were looking at a reel, and there was me, and Paul Haggar, the head of postproduction, and Howard Beals, and a couple of other sound effects editors, and the person who was sitting at the mixing desk. And we were just reviewing the work to make sure that everything was in sync and so that there weren't any surprises when we got to the final mix.

And suddenly, the door bursts open, a side door to the room, and in came the kind of the second-in-command of the studio, a man named Jack Ballard, who was the enforcer for things that Bob Evans wanted to have happen, that Evans didn't want to necessarily dirty his hands doing, he would send Jack to make sure that these things happened. And there was a lot of bad blood, consequently, between Jack and Paul Haggar that goes back probably into deep history that I didn't know anything about. But they were very at loggerheads with each other quite frequently. And Ballard came in, and he collapsed onto a sofa that was in the room, and he listened to what we were playing. And then after about three minutes, his head popped up and he said, 'These are the worst sound effects I've ever heard. If the sound of this film is going to sound like this, none of you have a future in Hollywood. I'm going to fire all of you.'

And there's a moment where you kind of sit there and a little voice in my head said, you have to defend what you did, with unknown consequences. So I said... No one else spoke up, and I said, 'Jack, you don't know what you're talking about, because this reel, most of the sound effects are being carried on the dialogue track, so the sound effects you're hearing are supplemental to the dialogue track. And this room is not equipped to play the dialogue track and these other sound effects tracks, so intentionally, we don't have the dialogue track up. So you're hearing only 30% of what the final mix will be. And besides that, you're drunk.' Which he was. And he sort of swayed back and forth, what's he going to say? 'Well', he said, 'you're right. I am drunk, and I don't know what I'm talking about. Keep up the good work.' And he left the room.

And you know, there's a big sigh of relief at that, and without my knowledge, I had secured a decade of good will from Paul Haggar because of the enmity between these two guys, and this person, who was then 28 years old, you know, who was a nobody in the hierarchy, had stood up to Jack Ballard, had accused him of being drunk, he had admitted that he was drunk, and he didn't know what he was talking about, in public, in the presence of his enemy Paul Haggar, and there were witnesses. So I had shifted some big power-play within Paramount Studios without knowing that I was doing that. But that was the kind of environment that was going on, and I'm sure there's... I know there's the equivalent of that today. But you know, it had its particular flavours like that at the time.

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: Paramount Studios, Paul Haggar, Jack Ballard, Robert Evans

Duration: 5 minutes, 5 seconds

Date story recorded: April 2016

Date story went live: 01 March 2017