Walter Murch has been working in Hollywood as a sound and film editor since 1969 when he started on Francis Coppola’s film, The Rain People. Since then he has edited sound on American Graffiti (1973), The Godfather: Part II (1974), won his first Academy Award nomination for The Conversation (1974), won his first Oscar for Apocalypse Now (1979), and won an unprecedented double Oscar for sound and film editing for his work on The English Patient. Michael Ondaatje interviews Murch about his experiences as a sound and film editor in the book The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film.
Through reading this book I found out what an editor does before the movie is even shot. I also learned some techniques from Murch that I may try to implement in my own editing process. The editor can be involved in a project even well before the film is shot. Murch talks about meeting with the director about the script, commenting and saying how he thinks the story could improve. Writing notes about the script helps Murch “see into the project” and “get under its skin. ” It honestly surprised me when Murch said that editors could have power over the movie before shooting even starts.
Personally I had always figured that editors just had to make due with the script and edit what was given to them. This makes me think that my involvement with the script writing process for our project “The Event” was not out of the ordinary for an editor. Editors in Murch’s case can be part of the script writing process as they make comments on the script and think about how it could possibly be edited. Murch talks about the relationship between the director and editor of a film. Murch sits with the director while he watches dailies.
He listens to the comments the director has to say about particular moments of the film and notes them. Murch explains that this is important because “the smallest suggestion can help guide my eye to see the film the way the director is seeing it. ” (pg. 31) Understanding the Director’s vision is important and helps the editor determine the feeling the director wants the movie to have. Murch not only writes the director’s thoughts about certain shots or scenes but he also writes his own. He writes what he calls “emotional responses” which he explains it as describing how a shot makes him feel the first time he watches it.
If he makes any associations while watching the footage he’ll write it down, even if they’re absurd. The notes that are made during this time are the closest that the editor gets to the reaction of the audience seeing the film. When viewing the footage the second time the notes are less emotional and more surgical. The emotional notes give insights about primary reactions while as the surgical notes give insight about how best to take things apart and connect them again. When editing Murch says you “can’t be too on the nose” or present too many ideas too quickly. ” (pg. 2) If you do this then it’s either so obvious it’s uninteresting or there’s so much confusion the audience can’t take it all in. “The editor works at both the macroscopic and the microscopic level. ” (pg. 32) This meaning the job of the editor can range from deciding how long to hold a shot to restructuring and repositioning scenes and even eliminating entire subplots. In Murch’s book In the Blink of an Eye, Murch says that the best place to cut from one shot to another corresponds with the actor’s blinking. Murch explains that a blink naturally signals a closure to a thought.
This is something I have never noticed when editing, however it makes me curious to take notice of these sorts of things when I am editing. It shows me that I should pay more attention to small gestures that actors make to indicate when the emotion of the shot has changed. When talking about when to end a cut Murch says “you end in the exact moment in which the shot has revealed everything it’s going to reveal, in its fullness, with being overripe” however, “if you end the shot too soon, you have the equivalent of youth cut off in its bloom. Its potential is unrealized. If you hold a shot too long, things tend of putrefy. Murch then talks about the “flinch point” which he describes as being, the moment when the impulse to go to the next shot is the strongest. Once he thinks he has found this moment he runs the footage again to see if the “flinch point” is at the same spot. If it is then he decides to cut. Murch is also not a fan of a style of editing called “matching action. ” Matching action is considered a Hollywood standard of editing. In this type of editing you cut from one to another in the middle of a character’s movement. Murch instead likes to cut at the beginning of a gesture.
Murch takes into consideration where the audience’s eye is and where it is moving when choosing cuts. According to Murch an editor has to have o be able to predict where ninety-nine percent of the audience is looking at any moment. Knowing this allows the editor to choose a frame that can catch and redirect the audience’s attention somewhere else. Reading this book allowed me to have more insight into the job of an editor and allowed me to learn some tips that could help improving my editing skills. I only mentioned a few things that I learned from this book, but overall this book is a gem-mine of information for any editor.