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Walter Murch

…because you would really want this post-production guru to complete your film. Murch is a pioneer in both editing and sound, starting with his work on Francis Ford Coppola's "Apocalypse Now." He has been a big proponent of incorporating technology into his field, and was an early adopter of the non-linear editing systems that are now pretty much the gold standard in post-production. Murch is also basically responsible for creating the title of sound designer in film and television.


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If you ask any editor, they’ll tell you Murch is a pretty big deal, but he’s also as well-known for his contributions to sound. Because we know you don’t always trust us, Murch actually was the first person to win Oscars in Sound Mixing and Film Editing for the same film, Anthony Minghella’s "The English Patient." The interplay of images and sound in "Apocalypse Now" also is a great example of Murch’s technical wizardry, creating a dreamlike visual state while also bombarding the audience with sonic effects such as the famous helicopter noises. In particular, his sound design for "Apocalypse Now" involved some of the most complex sound mixing and effects of its time that Coppola created the unique title of sound designer to credit Murch’s work on the film. That film is also responsible for the channel layout that’s associated with modern-day surround sound, which Murch took advantage of by placing the audience in the middle of the war from an audio standpoint.

Like most decent editors, Murch approaches the craft as a storyteller. For editors in particular, Murch believes this requires a sense of narrative rhythm. What Murch describes as rhythm basically involves balancing what the audience sees with the pace of the scene and overall story. Like actual music, this somewhat musical view of editing requires a good deal of practice to master and understand, as different rhythms will apply to different stories. For instance, "Apocalypse Now" varies between slow, dreamlike sequences and quick, intense combat scenes. Even films like "The English Patient" and "The Talented Mr. Ripley" – both directed by Anthony Minghella – have very different rhythms to their stories: "The English Patient" is famous to “Seinfeld” viewers for its deliberate pacing. Murch has also applied his dedication to storytelling in other ways, assisting in his sense of narrative. He collaborated with George Lucas on the screenplay for "THX-1138" and also wrote and directed "The Return to Oz" – the controversial and honestly terrifying sequel to "The Wizard of Oz." Murch’s career teaches us that, no matter what your role is on a project, the philosophy should be the same: think like a storyteller.

Interestingly, when Murch creates the first rough cut of a film, he mutes all the sound, including the dialogue. For Murch, this allows him to focus on the visual elements and tell the story first from this standpoint. However, Murch can never truly differentiate between the sight and sound in the film. Even with the speakers down, he still manages to imagine the sound, lip reading the dialogue the way a deaf viewer might as well as imagining potential sound effects and cues. In doing this, he can begin to consider the sound editing work that he will be responsible for (to some extent) on future cuts of the film. While not every editor can be as multi-talented as Walter Murch, it does suggest that while the visual elements are more important, they are never truly separate from the soundtrack. In the end, all the viewers’ senses will play a role in their experience of the film, something Walter Murch clearly understands.


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