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The law of 30%


'In case The Godfather is not a hit…'
Walter Murch Film-maker
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The film in the few months before it came out there was a great deal of speculation on Francis [Ford Coppola]'s part. Is this going to be a hit or not? And there were moments where he thought it was not going to be a success because it was too long, it was too dark or there was not enough action. And as a result, he took the job of writing the screenplay for Great Gatsby. Jack Clayton directed the film I think, and it was a Paramount film starring Robert Redford. And he... I said, 'Why are you doing this?', and he said, 'Well, in case Godfather is not a hit I want people to know that I am still a writer for hire.'

And before The Godfather, Francis had not had any really financially successful films. Then the question is how does he support his family? If The Godfather had failed, hard to believe that now, but if it had failed, then what would his career have been? He was an Oscar-winning writer; he had won the Oscar for Patton, so maybe this is what he will do. But we navigate the twists and turns of our creative lives not knowing what will happen and how these events will actually impact what we can do in the future. And a series of films that fail financially are... become an increasing ball and chain around you, inhibiting how you can actually move forward.

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: The Godfather, Francis Ford Coppola, Jack Clayton

Duration: 1 minute, 49 seconds

Date story recorded: April 2016

Date story went live: 01 March 2017