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What do frames feel like?


Dynamic trimming
Walter Murch Film-maker
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Similarly, when somebody... if  you're going through a door and the door closes, you do not necessarily say 'I will cut when the door is closed' unless you're trying to make a point about slam. But just if there's somebody moving through a doorway, you cut at the point at which the door's closing is inevitable. Not before because it could always be that the actor will go halfway through and then stop and... but I have another thought. And if you wait until the door is closed, then you've dissipated the potential of that moment of transition because now the potential has been realised, the door is closed. Whereas if you cut at the moment that closing is inevitable, then the film keeps moving in a fluid way rather than stopping. And this would apply in various other ways. You know, somebody moving towards the edge of a frame line. Are they going to exit the frame? Where do you cut? Do you cut when they've left the frame or...? No, you cut when it is inevitable that they are going to leave. That is an identifiable frame, and you can identify that by this technique of dynamic trimming that I talked about earlier which is: you cut.

And now what I do is I would just note that in my mind. I would say, what's the timecode of that frame? You know 122. And then I rewind, and I hit again, and I look. Did I hit that same frame? Usually, I do, or you know. So what that tells me is if I can hit that same frame twice or three times in a row, that tells me that it's beyond my conscious control. I can't decide to do that. I have to do it the way a musician plays a note. When does the oboe enter? At exactly the right moment. If you enter too soon, you ruin the piece of music. If you enter too late, you ruin it. So you have to enter, or the drum has to hit at exactly the right moment for the orchestra to be correct. And in that sense, we are... the editor is a musician within the orchestra of the film hitting these entry points of, each shot is another instrument that is coming in that's playing a little melody and you want that instrument to come in at the right... at the right point.

And a way of doing that is this 'cutting on the fly' or 'dynamic trimming', where you decide the frame at which you're going to cut out of a shot by running the shot at normal speed and then hitting that frame on the fly. Noting where you hit it and: can you do it again. If you can't do it again, then that's also a good indication that this is not a good area to cut, there's something wrong with the rhythm. So maybe you should cut a whole phrase later or a phrase earlier. But there's something wrong... If you can't do it, then there's something wrong about the area that you've chosen. And... so that's another good indication.

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 editing, dynamic trimming, orchestra, cut, music

Duration: 3 minutes, 34 seconds

Date story recorded: April 2016

Date story went live: 01 March 2017