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Apocalypse Now: Joining the 'insane' editorial team


Apocalypse Now: Martin Sheen’s heart attack
Walter Murch Film-maker
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At one point during the meeting in the Philippines, in the spring of '77, I went with Francis [Ford Coppola] to his writing cabin in the jungle. To escape the chaos of the set, he had a little cabin built at the end of a path off in the trees. So he could go there and just be surrounded by nothing but jungle, and he could sit and work on the script. So, to escape the chaos of that weekend, we went there and just started talking about practically what does this mean, and what are the aesthetics of this decision, and you know just the kind of conversations you have between a director and a head of the department.

So we were sitting on the porch of this house, and then we looked, and we saw a figure walking toward us out of the jungle. The closer it got we saw it was a man with a briefcase and a suit. So a man in a suit, carrying a briefcase was coming out of the jungle walking toward us, and as he got closer, Francis finally recognised him and said, 'Hello, Mike.' This was Mike Medavoy, who was at that time head of production at the studio that was involved in the making of Apocalypse Now. Then Francis said, 'I guess I'm worth more to you dead than alive at the moment' because of this crisis with the heart attack. And of course, Mike laughed and said, 'Don't be silly, Francis, we're going to get through this.' He came, sat down, and we started chatting. And of course, as it turned out, the heart attack was serious but not so serious that Marty could not come back on the film after, I think, three weeks. And at that point, there were another two or three months of shooting left to do. And as an editor, I can't tell, and I don't know which scenes were shot with Marty after the heart attack and before. So there's... there's no way even for me to tell: yes, that was before the heart attack and that was after the heart attack, which was a tribute to Mary's basic health I guess.

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: Apocalypse Now, Francis Ford Coppola, Mike Medavoy, Martin Sheen

Duration: 2 minutes, 7 seconds

Date story recorded: April 2016

Date story went live: 01 March 2017