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May 14, 2010

Walter Murch & The State Of Cinema

Up now at GreenCine Daily is a short piece about Walter Murch I wrote, spurred on both by his State Of Cinema address at the San Francisco International Film Festival a few weeks ago and my own frequent citation of him as an inspiration. By the time I had to turn it in to meet my deadline, I felt I was just starting to figure out what direction I wanted to go with it - so this might be a topic I come back to.

In the meantime: I've been editing a new feature, an independent project that I find particularly vital and exciting. I was handed a rough cut a month ago, and at first I was just content to go through that, making a tweak here and shuffling a scene there. Eventually, I realized I wasn't taking advantage of the opportunity I had in front of me, nor was I doing myself or the film's director any service by merely fiddling with his vision. So I started over from scratch, turned back to the raw footage and started working as a filmmaker instead of an editor. It makes all the difference.

Posted by David Lowery at May 14, 2010 1:26 PM


hey david - nice write-up on murch. i feel the same way about him as you, and also felt similarly when i saw him give this same talk at sundance this year. there were some interesting ideas, but overall it felt professorial and sterile, and had little of the magic of his writing or of what i'd heard from other friends who've been around him.

but i just realized now in reading your piece that it's probably important to note that though you and i each had built-up expectations, this subject was just one talk of many for him and one that it appears he's working the lecture circuit with right now. he wasn't trying to address the current state of cinema like you might have been expecting or riff on editing philosophies and theories like i wanted, but was likely just talking about what he's interested in at the moment.

also, the ego and passion you mentioned are often more a young person's game, and he probably doesn't feel the need to prove anything at this point.

Posted by: nat sanders at May 15, 2010 9:19 AM

also, while i'm at it, in the spirit of friendly debate, i have to disagree with your distinction between approaching a cut as a filmmaker versus editor. any doctoring/recut jobs i - and i imagine the vast majority of editors - have done, you have to go back to the original footage and give your own take on it if you sense anything's not working as well as it could or that the film might not be in its best possible form. that is unless the film's already very close and just needs a polish job, or if time simply doesn't allow for it.

i would definitely argue that being a skilled storyteller is a trait inherent to being a good editor, and isn't exclusive to being a filmmaker. of course, i'd also argue that the way the word "filmmaker" now solely just means "director" (which you touched on in the murch piece) is ridiculous and a little frustrating anyway, but that's a topic for another day.

my two cents anyway...

Posted by: nat sanders at May 15, 2010 9:56 AM

Hey Nat! On the first point, yeah, I don't think the disparity between my expectations and the actual speech are any fault of his - it's certainly worthwhile material, just not what I was wanting to hear. That said, I'd never pass up the chance to hear him speak, and my dissatisfaction is rooted in my own eternal search for new ideas and theories to grasp onto - which he gave me plenty of with his books.

And as for the friendly debate - I find that when I'm editing a movie that's not my own, I often begin with a different mindset, one that's marked by (and I hate to say this) some degree of laziness. This results in a.) me not watching all of the footage right out of the gate and b.) me trying things out that may or may not work but not finessing them right away. It's different for each film, and is dependent on many factors - whether there's already a rough cut, whether I'm taking the very first crack at the raw footage, whether or not the director is sitting in with me, whether or not we have a deadline - but I find that I spend a little bit of time just messing around with the material before something just clicks and I dig into it from a fresh vantage point. And then, suddenly, I find myself taking possession of the footage and actually putting together a movie - hence, the filmmaker side of me taking over. I almost get auteurist about it, but I like to think that I'm just tapping into the directors' intentions, as evidenced by the choices made in the raw footage.

That it takes me a little bit of time to get there not is perhaps a problem with my work ethic! But I always get there. As I wrote to the director of this particular project, "I'm a perfectionist, but not always on the first try."

Thank you kindly for your two cents!

Posted by: David Lowery at May 16, 2010 7:35 PM