So I attended a lecture by Walter Murch at the TIFF Bell Lightbox this weekend.

Who is Walter Murch you ask?

Film editors are not ‘famous,’ but if one was, it would be Walter Murch. He edited such classics as The Godfather films, Apocalypse Now, The Conversation, etc. From what I gathered, the thing that puts him above others is that he takes tasks others would call impossible and accomplishes them effortlessly. He is a smart guy, and he isn’t afraid to take advantage of this in his work. You’ll see what I mean in a second.

Before the open Q&A session, his opening lecture was a short 45 minute exploration of cinema; it’s creation, the factors (three fathers) responsible for its creation, the first ever sound recording, and a personal anecdote about first ever synced combination of sound and picture. (He was actually the one who synced it, believe it or not. click here for the full story). Then he went on and talked about what it is becoming and the how the ways we experience it are evolving. I actually wrote a second blog post (part 2) all about this.

In this post however, I want to talk about something that I felt underlined everything he talked about. It’s the idea of your subconscious playing a huge role in editing. I’ll use three examples from his talk to explain:

  • FINDING material- When he has an idea for a cut in a scene, he has to go find it in the rolls of footage. This search is often presents a better alternative than what he originally had in mind. The back of our mind is constantly on the lookout. “In looking for what we want, we often find what we need.” He also has a wall of still frames from every camera angle and stage set-up in the whole movie, so if he is ever stuck for certain cut or idea, he just has to look at the wall and it seems to just ‘pop out’ at him.
  • CUTTING material– A very unique strategy he has is that he first cuts a scene without sound. He focuses completely on how it looks. He says sound plays a subtle yet overpowering role in where we cut things, so he simply removes it from the process. Of course, after he will play around with it and fix it up according to the sound, but his first cut is on mute. On top of this, if he just cannot seem to make two cuts flow seamlessly, he will close his eyes and try. He plays the scene in his mind simultaneously alongside the computer, and blindly press the button to cut it together. More often than not, it fits together exactly how he wants. So there you have it, Murch trusts himself as an editor enough to do it blind and deaf.
  • ADDING sounds- Every film has all sorts of subtle sound effects we don’t even realize are there, but play a part in how we perceive a scene. One of Murch’s ways to finding these sound effects is letting other scenes soundtracks overflow into the one you are working on. Which sounds from it work, and which ones don’t? Why do certain sounds work, and are there more like it that we can use? We let the subconscious pick them out, and then we analyze them further with conscious thought.

Garret actually said something along the same lines in sound class last week. Whenever music is laid over a scene, sometimes it seems to just fit perfectly. The quiet bits are exactly where they’re supposed to be, the fast bit changes exactly at the right moment, the beat just falls into sync, etc. I’ve experienced this first hand so many times, and thought it was just my amazing talent luck. But actually what is happening is our brain is matching what it sees with what it hears, and its unbelievable capability of doing this makes it seem like it fits perfectly. So many lines are drawn between our eyes and ears’ input before we process it that we don’t even notice them. It just seems natural.

Personally, this ‘under the surface’ aspect of film is precisely why I love filmmaking in the first place, so this lecture was right up my alley. Very inspiring, very cool.



alex is won over by mcdonalds monopoly.


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