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The beginning of 5.1 sound


The crisis with Apocalypse Now and my trip to the Philippines
Walter Murch Film-maker
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In the middle of editing Julia, I got a call from Francis [Ford] Coppola in the Philippines. He was still shooting Apocalypse Now a year after having started. And he said, 'Can you come to the Philippines for a weekend because we want to discuss the final mix of the film? I have some ideas.' So I thought, okay. I made some arrangements and was able to leave on a Thursday and come back on a Tuesday and flew out to the Philippines.

In the interim, between scheduling that and my actual arrival, Marty Sheen, the lead actor of Apocalypse Now, had had a heart attack. And of course, when I arrived this film was in an unbelievable crisis because the lead actor is not here and because it was a heart attack; would he ever come back? What are we going to do? So the immediate solution was: keep filming and let's keep doing whatever we can do that doesn't have Marty Sheen actually in the frame, which was very little. So Marty Sheen's brother was flown in, and some over-the-shoulder shots were done, with… not with Marty Sheen, but with his brother.

In the middle of all this, I arrived, editors who were working on the film in San Francisco had flown in, some people who were going to be working on the final soundtrack flew in, and a potential composer who was Isao Tomita from Japan flew in. And Francis to his... it's kind of amazing that he had the presence of mind to focus on the soundtrack at this point of great crisis, but we had a meeting.

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: Philippines, Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Sheen, Joe Estevez, Isao Tomita

Duration: 2 minutes, 6 seconds

Date story recorded: April 2016

Date story went live: 01 March 2017