Friday, August 9, 2013

The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film

I'm not a film editor, but I learned so much by reading The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film. This is a book for film lovers, definitely, but also for writers, artists, and storytellers in general. Broken down into four separate conversations that the author (Michael Ondaatje, also the author of The English Patient) had with Walter Murch, this book touches on subjects directly relating to film editing (timing, sound effects, music, technology) and on subjects that any creative person will appreciate (the art and science of revision, the sound of an environment).

I've only seen several of the movies that Murch worked on, but his explanations of editing techniques still fascinated me. If he is known at all, it is most likely through his connection to Francis Ford Coppola and his work on The Godfather (and The Godfather, Part II and The Godfather, Part III), Apocalypse Now, and The English Patient (this last one directed by Anthony Minghella). These are now on my list to see.

I should mention that while I'm also not a film student, I did take one class on film and literature in college. It was my English capstone, so it was an important class, and one of my favorites. This book would fit perfect on that course's syllabus. For my capstone paper I wrote a short script, and having Murch's theories and philosophies at my fingertips would have improved my writing. Luckily, Murch and I are all about editing, so I will be taking what I've now learned and going back to play with what I wrote over three years ago.

As a writer, I appreciate Murch's love of the editing process. Many film editing techniques apply to writing as well--storytelling is storytelling. I also liked his discussion of translating a book to film: they are different mediums, so of course they are going to be different stories. Murch says a responsible director/screenwriter will find the essential theme of a novel and figure out how to represent that on screen. He also said that short stories translate to film better because they are more compact. As a lover (and sometimes writer) of short stories, this makes me happy.

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