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Dynamic trimming


'Every film is a tree that grows'
Walter Murch Film-maker
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I call it nodal because I think that each shot is like the branch of a tree, and the branch will grow and at a certain point, that is determined by the DNA of the tree and the conditions under which it's growing, the tree will say, 'Now I'm going to put out another branch, I will create a node here, and I will branch.' And then this branch grows and puts out another one, and you get twigs and then eventually the leaves. So cut, branch, branch, branch, each one of those is a cut in a sense. And that's how we recognise trees. That if you see an Elm tree or you see an Oak tree, without knowing it, you're looking at the rhythm of the branching of that tree and every species of tree has a slightly different rhythm of branching that is determined by the DNA of the tree and the circumstances under which it's growing.

And in that sense, every film is a tree that grows that I think has to have its authentic branching points that are organically true to its DNA and to the circumstances under which it is growing. And there are many counter examples of films that are wonderfully successful that don't follow this, but... so I'm just talking about my own approach to the process. Which is by virtue of what I call it, nodal, is organic. I think there's this idea that I just talked about which is that every shot has a rising potential, and there is a moment where that potential has to be changed, or transformed, or realised and so that's the cut point.

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: film, tree, branches, film editing

Duration: 1 minute, 59 seconds

Date story recorded: April 2016

Date story went live: 01 March 2017