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In Conversation with Walter Murch

Kiran Ganti (KG): What is the definition and the characteristic of a transition?

Walter Murch (WM): At the basic level, a transition is simply the process of changing from some state A to another state, B. What we should examine carefully is the degree of change, and our awareness of it. Change is happening all the time, though we are not always conscious of it. But without change there is no perception. This is somewhat of a paradox. If you are staring constantly at a static object you would think that nothing is changing, but it turns out your eyeballs are constantly moving, though the movements are so tiny you are unaware of it. You might be stationary, the object you are staring at might be stationary, but your eyeballs are rapidly scanning the image in what are called microsaccades, at the rate of around sixty per second. It is this slight vibration the eyeballs are moving about 1/180th of a degree - that is keeping your perception alive, scrubbing the image across a slightly different set of rods and cones at the back of your eye. In a way it is kind of like the scanning electron gun in a video monitor. Fascinating experiments have been performed, neutralizing these microsaccades, and the result is that the vision of the subject quickly dims and then disappears entirely, even though his eyes are open and he is in a lighted room. At a very basic perceptual level, then, there has to be some kind of a transition, a change, for us to perceive the world at all.

1. In film terms, the smallest transition is the frame: this is the equivalent of the microsaccade that keeps vision alive, and we are unconscious of the shift as such from one frame to the next, though it is perceived by us as motion.

2. The next smallest transition is the cut between shots: this is the equivalent of a shift of attention of our eyes and we are intermittently conscious of this sometimes more sometimes less, depending on the nature of the cut.

3. And then a still bigger transition is the cut (or dissolve, or whatever) between one scene and another, and we are usually quite conscious of this. In fact it is the editors job to make sure that the audience is conscious of the transition from one scene to the next, otherwise there will be confusion.

4. Beyond that there are the major transitions between the Acts of a movie, but these are more difficult to qualify since cinema is unlike theatre: very rarely does a curtain fall in a movie! But we do occasionally get a sense of this end of act transition. For example, in The Godfather all the scene transitions up until Michael kills Solozzo and McCluskey have some action or story continuity. But after the double murder we get a somewhat abstract montage of various newspaper images, and the music changes from dramatic orchestral to tinkling piano, and it is by these means that the film is letting us know this is the end of Act I. Everything after these murders will be different.

5. Lastly there are the biggest transitions of all: the beginning and the ending of the film. The beginning is the transition from nothing to something, and the end is the transition from something back to nothing again. (In the technical sense, the film has not yet begun, and at the end, the shutter closes and the film stops. In the mind of the audience of course, this is not true. Whenever the audiences enter the theatre, they are full of thoughts and emotions. They come in with expectations about the film. (based on the star cast, the promotion, genre etc) It is upto the film to meet their expectations or not, in a sense to transport them into its own world and either meet or defy their expectations. The audience always enters the theatre full of thoughts and emotions, brimming with all of their past histories - love affairs, tragedies, disappointments, triumphs, etc. The film energizes and synthesizes these feelings, and hopefully transforms them in some way - makes them more coherent, meaningful, endurable, funny - which is one of the primary functions of dramatic art. Most films do not engage the audience, therefore either the audience get disinterested while watching the film or they forget about it the moment the screening is over. However, the few films that do engage the audience transport them into its world and the audience, collectively, experience the emotions in a coherent way. The way in which they were meant to experience the film in the first place. Whenever this experience happens, the audience carry the film with them. Depending on the impact, the film stays with them till they come out of the theatre or, in case of a great film, it remains with them for a very long time. Although this process of the film leaving the space of the screen and entering the minds/hearts of the audience is not a cinematic transition in the true sense it is, by far, the most important transition for every film. Because no matter what the filmmaker does within the film, if the film fails to reach the audience and make an impact (either by thought or emotion) then all that the filmmaker does within the film becomes useless.)

Within the shot, at the level of the transition from frame to frame, we are essentially cutting from one image to a very similar but not identical image. The mind tries to explain this slight difference, and the concept it arrives at is the idea of motion. Remember that motion does not exist on film, it exists in the mind of the perceiver as a way to explain the difference in adjacent frames.

At the point of a cut from one shot to another, the audiences attention is momentarily dislocated by this new visual, even though the new shot may happen in the same three-dimensional space as the previous one. Previously, the frame to frame changes within the shot were small and incremental. Suddenly at the cut the change is much greater like a break in time code: the change isnt motion any more, what is it the audiences mind has to resolve the sudden shift of geography, position, and other things and it takes a frame or so 50 to 100 milliseconds depending on the content of the shot for the audience to adjust to the new reality. Editors can use this brief disorientation to their advantage, because it proves useful in masking technical problems we might have, such as action mismatches. To the extent that they happen mostly below the level of consciousness, cuts between shots are not strictly speaking transitions. This is why where you make the cut is crucial. If the audience is ready for a new idea, their minds will be receptive to a new shot when it occurs. And there are certain places in a shot where that readiness is more likely than others, just as there are places on a tree where branches will form and not others. If the audience is not ready, the cut will feel awkward.

Depending on the size of the transition whether it is the microscopic one of the frame, the larger one of the shot, or the even larger ones of the scene or act we can expect the audience to be increasingly alert to the differences in the transition. And the more alert the audience is at those moments of transition, the greater the opportunity we have to reveal things to them. In fact the more we do this, the more it helps to sensitize the audience to the changes, so it is a chicken/egg kind of a thing. Change is essential for perception, and greater change can lead to greater perception, if handled right.

KG: In cinema changes happen often, is it fair to say that not all changes are transitions?

WM: Well, it depends on your definition. Lets say for the purposes of discussion that all transitions are changes, but not all changes are transitions. Transitions are those changes where the audience is conscious of the change, where we are asking them to think about the change. The more conscious they are and the more we give them to think about the more it is a transition rather than simply a change.

KG: What is the purpose of transitions What is it that they contribute to film?

WM: First of all they are essential to cinema. For both practical and aesthetic reasons, cinema could not exist without transitions. Single-shot movies are very difficult to achieve, and when they have been achieved they mostly turn out to be interesting but sterile exercises. The construction of a coherent and emotional story from discontinuous and sometimes conflicting images is the fruitful paradox that lies at the heart of the equation: Motion Pictures + TRANSITIONS = Cinema.

Secondly, if you only studied water H2O in liquid form, your understanding would be limited. But if you studied H2O in its three forms solid Ice, liquid Water, and gaseous Steam and compared them, your understanding of H2O increases exponentially. Ice, for instance, is the only substance whose solid form floats on its liquid form. No one would have predicted something like from studying only liquid water. And we learn most about different states of matter at the point that they are changing transitioning from one to another: from water to ice, for example. In chemistry these are called phase transitions theres that word again. So in a sense, you can look at transitions in a film as moments when the story turns from liquid into a solid, then into a gas and then back to liquid again. As we make transitions from scene to scene, the transitions themselves are provoking us to question what we just saw and what we are about to see. We make unanticipated discoveries. It makes us more alive to elements of the story and characters than we might otherwise be. As filmmakers, we want to take maximum advantage of these moments.

KG: When one is doing a transition, are we tying to make the audience realize that the transition is happening?

WM: Yes. At the level of a cut from shot to shot, the transition is either below consciousness, as in the classic American School of editing which tries to hide the cut, or it is made conscious, as in the Soviet School. In that sense, Soviet-style cuts are mini-transitions, American-style cuts are not. My tendency, as I think is the case with most editors today, is to fall somewhere in the middle. We realize that there are moments when it is better to emphasize the cut. And then there are moments in the same film where we want to make the cut almost imperceptible like butter as the phrase goes. For example, in The Conversation, when Harry Caul (Gene Hackman) is working at his office on the tapes that he recorded, the images are, for most part, very different, and the cuts are consequently emphasized: Harrys face, his hands, the photographs, speakers, and tapes. There is very little visual overlap between the images and consequently there is a greater visual jump from shot to shot. We filmmakers are asking the audience to collaborate in the construction of the scene to connect one image with another, to make out the larger meaning from a series of disconnected images. A little like the Soviet School of editing. Whereas later in the film, during the night party when everyone comes from the Convention to Harrys lab, everything is put together more in the American way, where there are a lot of visual overlaps from shot to shot, and the cuts are consequently less noticeable. The scene is made to feel as if it is effortlessly happening in front of us like continuous three-dimensional activity of people in space, with the audience sharing that same space.

KG: Within the American School, even though the approach and the emphasis is to hide the cut between shots, at the point of transition between scenes, the duration of the shot is held a little longer than it would have been otherwise, for the audience to become aware of the transition.?

WM: Yes, its the difference between the cut within a scene, and the cut that separates two scenes. In general, at the moment of a transition, the last shot of the outgoing scene is held 30 % longer than it would if it were a cut within the body of the scene. It is like in music, where the rhythm usually slows down a bit before we go into the next movement. Also the beginning shot of the incoming scene is usually held slightly longer to give the audience the room to figure out where they are, how much time has passed those kinds of issues. For example, again in The Conversation, Harry Caul goes to the Corporations offices to hand over his tapes to Martin Stet (Harrison Ford). There is a disagreement, Harry snatches the tapes back and attempts to leave the building. Riding down in an elevator he sees Ann (Cindy Williams) who gets in at a lower floor. She doesnt know who he is, but he knows her, and he imagines the trouble she might be in because of the tapes he made. He becomes even more agitated. The last shot of Harry in the elevator is held quite long and the music builds in intensity over it. Then the scene cuts to a close abstract image of a reel of tape spinning very fast accompanied by an ambiguous sound (which turns out to be the voices of the conversation played at high speed). What I was doing there, deliberately, was putting a stamp, a mark, on this crucial moment of transition, emphasizing it more than if I had simply cut to a wide establishing shot of Harry in the laboratory. This way, for a second or so you do not know where you are, but you know that a transition has happened, and this makes you think about things. Up to this point in the film, Harry has been doing his job by the book, riding along with events. Now he is engaged, doing something he shouldnt do. It is only after we cut to the wide shot, after the spinning tape has come to a halt, that you realize where you are. I tried cutting from Harry in the elevator to the wide shot of the room but it fell flat. It didnt have the urgency and mystery that the close up of the tape had. It didnt make you think. It wasnt as conscious a transition. We were tying to manufacture a feeling that Harry has to find out what is hidden in the tape, because after his encounter with Martin Stet, he suspects that there is more to the tape than he thought there was. So that shot of the tape spinning fast, visually and sonically, lends a sense of urgency to everything that follows: there is something dangerous on that tape, what is it

There are other modes of transitions, of course, that involve different manipulations of the audiences consciousness. Jean Luc-Godards transitions in Breathless, for instance. He often does not prepare you one scene spills over into the next scene and it is only after the first 2-3 shots of the new scene that you realize a change has occurred. It is disorienting, but Godard intends this effect. He is deliberately making the transition less conscious than it would usually be.

KG: For the transition to be effective one is also looking at the image size. What are the dynamics of having a transition between images of the same size and that of different size (between long shot to long shot or between long shot to close up)?

WM: The transition from the close up of Harry in the elevator to a close up of the reel of tape is effective, even though the image size (head, reel of tape) is somewhat the same. But the visual information is so different that even though the size does not change, the difference in the content makes the transition work. Though transitions between wide shot to wide shot are frequently used, I personally dont like them. I prefer to make transitions based on different image sizes, or different content in close-up images with the similar magnification.

KG: Do you think that the transition between wide shot to wide shot would work if you are trying to convey an idea through a montage of shots, or when you are using this kind of a transition as a stylistic pattern?

WM: It depends on how closely the shots match. There are a series of wide shots at the end of Cold Mountain, after Inman (Jude Law) dies, before the transition to Ada (Nicole Kidman) and her family seven years later. We see a series of long shots of nature, of mountains covered in snow, of the farm, the barn, before we dissolve to a long shot of the farmhouse in the spring, and then discover Ada working with the sheep. The shots of snow turned out to be a necessary addition to deepen the transition from the dead body of Inman to Ada and her daughter. It was not working as it was written and audiences were emotionally confused. According to his screenplay, Anthony Minghella wanted a sharp cut from Inmans dead body to the farm in the Spring, with a raucous violin prelap. This transition was meant to disorient the audience about the time and space of the action. It was intended to propel them into the next scene without much preparation. On its own terms, it worked: there was no problem with the material or the way it was shot. But preview audiences felt it was too quick. They didnt tell us in so many words, but you could feel the confusion in the theatre: the hero has unexpectedly died, after all the walking he had done and all the waiting Ada had done. It is a heavy, unforeseen moment, and the audience had to be given time to absorb it before the next scene could begin. So we had to include some relatively neutral images, shot for other purposes in fact, to absorb the shock and diffuse it.

KG: Can there be neutral spaces which are used in transitions?

WM: I guess they can be relatively neutral, like those shots of the farm and the barn in the snow. If you talk about really neutral images, they would have nothing in particular to do with the film, and I dont think they would work very well.

KG: What are the characteristics of a transition? There is time, space and sound. How does one use them?

WM: Well in transitions between scenes, mostly we are focussed on time, in one way or another. How much time has elapsed between the two scenes This is usually the crucial question. Sound bridges, wherein the sound from the next scene comes in at the end of the outgoing scene, are frequently used to prepare the audience for the transition. For a few moments, as the sound from the incoming scene starts playing over the visual of the outgoing scene, there could be an element of fruitful confusion for the audience, as they would not be able to relate the sound to the visual except perhaps metaphorically. They can only fully relate to it, in a realistic sense, after they have seen the visual of the next scene.

At the beginning of Apocalypse Now, when Willard is in the hotel, there are a series of multilayer dissolves from him lying on the bed, to the ceiling fan, to the helicopters flying in front of the napalmed jungle all carefully worked out to accommodate each others visual space. We hear abstract electronic sounds of the helicopters as they fly around the theatre, and slowly the sound of a real helicopter comes in to replace the electronic one. It is right about this point that Willard begins to wake from his jungle dream back into hotel-room reality. What I was trying to do, in going from the electronic helicopter sound to the real helicopter sound, was to mimic the disorientation that frequently happens to us while we are dreaming: an alarm goes off and the sound of this bell enters our dream and we incorporate it somehow into the ongoing reality of whatever we are dreaming about. When were asleep we think the bell is from a fire engine, or something like that. But when we wake up, we realize that it is from the alarm clock next to our bed. Our perception shifts, collapses: Im still only in Saigon, as Willard says later. This shift from the abstract to the real sound of the helicopter is gradual, and we slowly begin to emerge into a real, not a dream space. Willard opens his eyes slightly disoriented, and thinks for a moment (as we think) that the helicopter sound is coming from the fan. Only when he walks to the window does he finally understand that the sound was that of a real helicopter flying over the hotel. Maybe it was that all along.

KG: What kind of editing pattern do you follow when you are doing transitions At the time of the transitions, do you prefer to show to the audience the space and the setting that the characters are in, i.e. typically a long shot transitions. Or do you wish to unravel the space and the settings that the characters are in as you go along with the scene, i.e. series of close up or mid shots and only after some time into the scene, the long shot?

WM: Instinctively, I tend to follow the second method, the mystery way. Though I realize that I would not like to fall into predictable patterns, and I acknowledge the advantages of transitions done by the first method. It would also depend on the kind of material one is working on. For instance, in an educational film, I think it would be better to follow the first method, wherein the audience is constantly told about the setting. Disorientation is not so good in an educational film. So the transitional patterns would vary depending on the story and the style of the film. In fact experimental films are primarily trying out new kinds of transitions, new leaps and associations of images and sound that are beyond what audiences have experienced before.

KG: What also happens is that in some films, when you make a transition with a long shot, and then go into the details of scene in a series of close shots and then at the time of completion, you come back to the long shot. It is as if a cycle has been completed and the film is telling the audience to get ready for the next scene and the audience, based on similar experience, would get ready for next scene. This technique, though over used in film, works only in few instances. Mostly it is bad filmmaking. What are your views on this?

WM: It was a technique that was used in American films a lot during the 1930s to the 1950s. But due to overuse, it became predictable, a clich. Its still used a lot, particularly in television. Personally, as I have explained earlier, I feel that wide-shot to wide-shot transitions usually fall flat. What I particularly dont like are poorly designed wide-shot to wide shot dissolves. Unless the director has carefully composed each of those shots so that the outgoing shot has visual elements that complement and contrast with visual elements in the incoming shot, like a jigsaw puzzle, the dissolve quickly disintegrates into a visual noise, without any graphic elegance at all. Cutting wide shot to wide shot is bad enough, but it is even worse if you dissolve between them. You would be better off simply cutting the pain would be less.

We should also remember that when filmmaking started, all of the early films were a single shot the Train Arrives at the Station, that was it. If someone had proposed that films could be cut together to convey a story, it would have sounded preposterous. Nothing in our daily reality seems to prepare us for this interrupted, disjointed way of putting things together and on top of that to convey a story, a meaning. It wouldnt have surprised anyone if audiences got seasick watching an edited film. But as we know, audiences accepted them without much difficulty. In fact they lapped them up. The first edited film, The Life of an American Fireman, was made by Edwin Porter in 1903. The shots in that film are linked by tiny dissolves rather than cuts. Porter may not have been confident that audiences would accept this kind of storytelling so he softened the blow, so to speak. His next film, The Great Train Robbery, he made confidently with cuts. Actually the concept of the dissolve predates the motion picture. During the 19th century, Magic Lantern shows used dissolves between the two slide projectors to link two pictures. But it was the cut that was the troubling concept for early filmmakers: could you get away with it So the dissolve was used for a while as a remedy to ease the pain of the sudden brutal transition of the cut.

KG: I would like to explore your thought that the early audiences of cinema were not ready to accept the cut, or the process of assembling a series of shots to tell a story. As the audience were not used to this kind of breaking up of reality. But one can get various instances in music wherein instruments have been used as cuts, especially in a Symphony, in the middle of a movement. Composers did that to expand a thought, to go to another movement and/or to return to the original note. Even in Haiku poetry, where 3 lines are said, each independent of the other, and it is only when you put the whole thing together, that you would get the larger picture. Dont you think that the audiences were, in some way, ready to see the cut in motion pictures

WM: I think that the world was more ready for film than the filmmakers thought it would be. A lot of 19th century music, Beethoven in particular, showed the kind of dynamism you are talking about, which prepared audiences to accept this kind of dynamism in motion pictures. But all this is after the fact. In advance of actually doing it, you never know what might happen. [Balasz] Across various cultures, however, it does seem that the audience acceptance of motion pictures was similar and what that tells us is that the grounding of film must be very deep in some common human perception which I think must be the language of dreams. The way human beings use images in dreams is very similar from culture to culture. The content might be different, but the transitions that happen in dreams are very similar. If you read the dream literature from the South Pacific, Africa, Native Americans, there is a profound stylistic similarity which is very close to the grammar of films. But no dissolves!

KG: When do you use optical effects What is the function of a dissolve for you and at what point do you use them?

WM: My tendency is to use dissolves when I need to convey long time transitions or to give a release to the audience if the story has become very tense. Because thats what dissolve does, it takes the tension and dissolves it. So I use them partly for structural reasons, and also for emotional reasons to let go of something. If two images are to dissolve together, they have to receive each other visually in an interesting way. I would never dissolve merely to indicate passage of time, or to get out of an awkward cut, and particularly not if the two images do not complement each other.

In the opening ten minute sequence of Apocalypse Now, there are 3-4 images being dissolved and superimposed simultaneously. This is to convey Willards hallucinatory state of mind: he is hung over and dreaming. It is also an interesting way to begin the film: at the very start you dont know it is a dream, and some of that ambiguity lingers, particularly with the Jim Morrison singing This is the end at the beginning of the film. But I do agree that dissolves have been used randomly, mostly by mediocre filmmakers, without exploring the possibilities of a cut instead. Their idea of using a dissolve could be to mask a bad cut, which makes the problem even worse because if two shots are not going to make a good cut, they would make an even uglier dissolve. My editing teacher used to say, as an admonishment: Cant solve it Dissolve it! He would give us bad marks if we tried to use dissolves without thinking about them carefully. Remember in those days the 1960s dissolves were expensive optical effects.

KG: When one is doing a transition from one scene to another, based on the state of mind of the characters, should the build-up to the transition be as effective or as bold as the transitions itself. The shots that are being cut together in the scene, do they have to be equally effective within the scene and not be overtly influential on the transition that would happen from that scene to the other.

WM: I think that for the transition to happen effectively, the build-up of the scene to its conclusion should be as effective as the transition itself, should lead to it. Otherwise, if the shots do not in some wy anticipate the transition, then the transition itself would not be so effective, however bold it might be in itself. I am thinking of the moment in The Unbearable Lightness of Being, at the end of the invasion of Prague. During that scene, we used a documentary editing pattern. And at the end, a tank officer is pointing a gun at Tereza (Juliette Binoche) telling her in Russian to Stop! she has been taking pictures of the invasion, and now she is taking pictures of him. The image of the policemen repeatedly freezes and changes to black-and-white, as if it were a still photograph in her camera, then back to Tereza laughing and taking more pictures. This happens three times and on the fourth the sound suddenly quiets and yet we are still looking at the photograph. The audience is made to briefly wonder: Why has the sound changed And then the black-and-white image is lowered and the audience realizes that it is an actual photograph on a piece of paper, and a Soviet interrogator is revealed behind it, holding it in his hand. In a sense, this is a wipe transition but it is a wipe done in a real space with a real object (the paper photograph) rather than being a dimensionless optical effect. The documentary style of editing and its quick rhythms, which was used earlier in the scene, effectively merges with the fictional world of the film, and this kind of transition helps us to link the two worlds. It is a big transition, very noticeable by the audience, and that is good because this is a major turning point in the film.

KG: What is the difference between using diegetic sound for transitions as against non-diegetic sound? Have you ever tried combining the two?

WM: In The Conversation, in the scene we talked about where Harry takes the tapes back from Martin Stet, he is alone in the elevator with Ann (Cindy Williams) and the last closeup of Harry is held for some time. Then there is a cut to the shot of the tapes rotating at high speed and we hear the sound that they are making. The sound changes instantly with the cut: from music (non-diegetic) to sound effects (diegetic). We had to do that back in 1974 because that cut was also a change between reels of film, and it is difficult to keep music going across a reel change because of the unpredictability of the changeover during projection. While I worked on the DVD of the film more than 25 years later, I didnt have this problem, so I could bring in the sound of the tapes spinning earlier, while Harry was still in the elevator. Though at that point we do not yet know what sound it is we realize only when we make the transition to the next shot with the visual of the tapes spinning. So something which looked non-diegetic in the previous shot becomes diegetic in the next shot. And we did the opposite with the music: it spilled over into the beginning of the next scene and then came to an end. But it stayed non-diegetic on both sides of the cut. You can pre-lap sound, post-lap it, dissolve it, and thats about all you can do it does seem that the choices for making a visual transition are more varied than what can be done making audio transitions.

KG: Pre-lap of sound has been used a lot in The Conversation. Why was it done. Is it because of the kind of film that was being made or it helps to use sound in this way?

WM: I think both. Though it is also probably a stylistic thing with me I am not even aware of using it as much as I do. Conversation certainly is a film about sound, and if you use pre-laps, it sensitises the audience to sound.

KG: In The Conversation, during the dream sequence, a lot of dissolves were used. Was it a conscious decision to use dissolves to communicate this dream like state?

WM: Yes. But in that particular instance, we were also trying to grapple with a technical problem. It was not meant to be a dream sequence. It was scripted and shot as reality, but we had to make it into a dream sequence for story reasons. Also, there wasnt enough real fog on the day of shooting, so Francis used artificial fog from machines, and we supplemented it later with dissolves and superimposed optical fog. But to answer your question, I think that dissolves do have a quality that makes the images surreal, or un-real. So although we do not perceive dissolves as such in our dreams, we use them to convey a dream-like state. I dont know why that is, but it is a convention that we all accept for some reason.

KG: Your analogy that the blink of the eye is equivalent to the cut. Taking this thought further, as we know cinema is an audio-visual medium, can a similar comparison be drawn between the ear and its equivalent to the cut

WM: I havent thought about that, but now that you ask me, I dont think there is. The blink is a momentary and unnoticed cessation of vision, which I believe we use unconsciously to punctuate the phrases of our thoughts. But what is the momentary and unnoticed cessation of sound And what function would it serve Its difficult to think of anything, but that is interesting in itself. In the womb, the child never experiences silence. He enters into consciousness in that sightless world surrounded by continuous sound, 24 hours a day: his mothers heartbeats, breathing, voice etc. It is only when he is born and opens his eyes that he begins to experience silence, which may consequently seem threatening: the heartbeat sound has stopped, therefore mother is dead! Maybe thats why babies wake up and cry in the middle of the night. But I try to use silence in unexpected ways three or four times in every film. I cant use it more often or it would become predictable. And it has to happen at a point in the story where I want the audience to use their own sonic imagination, rather than feeding them with sounds. And I have to be careful about how I get the mix to silence if it happens too abruptly, it can seem to the audience that something has gone wrong with the sound system in the theatre. Sound is more organic and fluid than the visual: one sound is always merging into another. Also, sound comes at us from 360 degrees and that makes it even more difficult to restrict it to one dimension. Vision is exclusionary, both in space and time: at any one moment we see this not that; whereas sound is inclusionary: at any one moment we hear this and that.

(Interview with Mr. Walter Murch was done at The Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), Pune campus in April, 2004. This interview is a part of a Dissertation project that I wrote, along with Walter Murch, titled Transitions in Cinema. In this Dissertation, the characteristic, history, importance, function, growth and usage of Transitions in Cinema over the decades was explored. If you are interested in reading it, contact me at

Filmography of Mr. Walter Murch

Cold Mountain (2004, dir. Anthony Minghella): Film Editor, Sound Mixer (Academy Award nomination)

K-19: The Widowmaker (2002, dir, Kathryn Bigelow): Film Editor, Sound Designer

Apocalypse Now Redux (2001, dir. Francis Ford Coppola): Film Editor, Sound Designer

The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999, dir. Anthony Minghella): Film Editor, Sound Designer, Score Producer

Dumbarton Bridge (1999, dir. Charles Koppelman): Consulting Editor

Touch of Evil (1958, dir. Orson Welles): 1998 Editorial reconstruction and sound montages based on memos written by Welles

The English Patient (1996, Anthony Minghella): Film Editor, Re-Recording Mixer. Double Academy Award, for Film Editing and Sound. British Academy Award for Film Editing.

First Knight (1995, dir. Jerry Zucker): Film Editor, Re-Recording Mixer

I Love Trouble (1994, dir. Charles shyer): Film Editor

Crumb (1994, dir. Terry Zweigoff): Re-Recording Mixer

Romeo Is Bleeding (1994, dir. Peter Medak): Film Editor, Re-Recording Mixer

House Of Cards (1992, dir. Michael Lessac): Film Editor, Re-Recording Mixer

The Godfather Trilogy (1991, dir. Francis Ford Coppola): Film Editor

The Godfather 111 (1990, dir. Francis Ford Coppola): Film Editor (Academy Award nomination), Re-Recording Mixer

Ghost (1990, dir. Jerry Zucker): Film Editor (Academy Award nomination), Re-Recording Mixer

Call from Space (1989, dir. Richard Fleischer): Film Editor

The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1988, dir. Philip Kaufman): Film Editor

Return to Oz (1985): Director and Co-screenwriter

The Right Stuff (1983, dir Philip Kaufman): Documentary research and assembly

Dragonslayer (1981, dir. Matthew Robbins): Sound

Apocalypse Now (1979, dir. Francis Ford Coppola): Film Editor, Re-Recording Mixer. Academy Award for Sound. British Academy Award nominations for Film Editing and Sound

The Black Stallion (1979, dir. Carroll Ballard): Uncredited screenplay collaboration

Julia (1977, dir. Fred Zinneman): Film Editor. American and British Academy Award nominations

The Conversation (1974, dir. Francis Ford Coppola): Film Editor, Sound Montage, Re-Recording Mixer. Double winner at British Academy Awards, American Academy Award nomination for Best Sound

The Godfather 11 (1974, dir. Francis Ford Coppola): Sound Montage, Re-Recording Mixer

American Graffiti (1973, dir. George Lucas): Sound Montage, Re-Recording Mixer

The Godfather 1 (1972, dir. Francis Ford Coppola): Supervising Sound Editor

THX-1138 (1971, dir. George Lucas): Co-Screenwriter, Film Editor, Sound Montage, Re-Recording Mixer

The Rain People (1969, dir. Francis Ford Coppola): Sound Montage, Re-Recording Mixer

About the Author

I am a final year editing student at the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), Pune. This dissertation is a part of the academic programme in which all the students are required to submit a dissertation, in consultation with a Guide (who should be a practicing Film Editor), on a topic related to film editing. The films that I edited at FTII are
List of Films

Usha: 2004, diploma film, fiction, 22 mins, 35 mm, colour, wide gate, dir. Ashoke Vishwanathan. Edited on Avid

Lagaav: 2004, diploma film, fiction, 17 mins, 35 mm, colour, cinemascope, dir. Chetna Kaul. Edited on Avid

Tere Ishq Nachaya: 2003, song, 4.5mins, 35 mm, colour, cinemascope, dir. Dheeraj Singh. Edited on Avid

Sun Bhai Sadho: 2002, documentary, DV, 22 mins, dir. Chetna Kaul. Editing on Avid

Sab Chalta Hai Yahan: 2002, fiction, 10 mins, 35 mm, colour, wide gate, dir. Chetna Kaul. Edited on Steenbeck

Hanz: 2002, fiction, 5 mins, 35 mm, B&W, wide gate, dir. Chetna Kaul. Edited on Steenbeck: 2001, fiction, 13 mins, DV, edited and directed by Kiran Ganti. Edited on Avid

Shayad: 2000, fiction, 4.5 mins, 16 mm, B&W, edited and directed by Kiran Ganti. Edited on Steenbeck

Other than the above, I have also worked as an Assistant Director to Mr. Mani Ratnam in Yuva (2004).

I can be reached at : or   
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