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Why I prefer nodal editing to matching action

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Never cut on the blink!
Walter Murch Film-maker
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When I start any new film now, and I look at the people in the film, I watch how they blink. I pay attention to that, and I kind of get in the groove. And then one of the things as an exercise that I do is get that character on screen and then I try to hit the stop button just ahead of where they blink, so the frame before they blink. Can I do that? And I can. You know it's like playing a musical instrument, you get good at it. That's a way I have of tuning my reactions to the reactions which are unconscious, but the unconscious reactions of this actor to his character. Parenthetically what I would say is never, never, never use the blink as the frame on which to cut. You had to do it yourself; you have to come to that decision. Actually making a cut while somebody is blinking is a terrible thing that you don't want to do. It just... it looks like how it feels to you when you get a piece of dust in your eye. You know, you're kind of like, 'No, I don't want that.'

So there is something going on there and would say my understanding of it is about at the level of the way an acupuncturist understands where to put the needles. I don't fully... the acupuncturist doesn't fully understand in Western medicine terms what's happening, but there's no doubt that it works under certain circumstances. And I would say this is sort of a similar thing. Anyway, that was... that's been with me as a concept for the last, you know, now 40 plus years. And the book that I wrote, In the Blink of an Eye, is where you would meet that concept written down.

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: In the Blink of an Eye

Duration: 2 minutes, 4 seconds

Date story recorded: April 2016

Date story went live: 01 March 2017