Walter Murch

Walter Murch

Murch in Buenos Aires, Argentina, December 11, 2008
Born Walter Scott Murch
(1943-07-12) July 12, 1943
New York City, New York
Residence Bolinas, California
Education Johns Hopkins, BA 1965
Alma mater USC School of Cinematic Arts
Occupation Film editor, Sound designer
Years active 1969–present
Spouse(s) Aggie Murch (1965–present)

Walter Scott Murch (born July 12, 1943) is an American film editor and sound designer. With a career stretching back to 1969, including work on Apocalypse Now, The Godfather I, II, and III, American Graffiti, The Conversation, and The English Patient, with three Academy Award wins (from six nominations for editing and three for sound mixing),[1] he has been referred to as "the most respected film editor and sound designer in the modern cinema."[2]

Early life

Murch was born in New York City, New York, the son of Katharine (née Scott) and Canadian-born Walter Tandy Murch (1907–1967), a painter.[3] As a boy, he began to experiment with sound recording, taping unusual sounds and layering them into new combinations.[4] He attended The Collegiate School, a private preparatory school in Manhattan, from 1949 to 1961. He then attended Johns Hopkins University from 1961 to 1965, graduating Phi Beta Kappa[5] in Liberal Arts.

While at Johns Hopkins, he met future director/screenwriter Matthew Robbins and cinematographer Caleb Deschanel, with whom he staged a number of happenings. In 1965, Murch and Robbins enrolled in the graduate program of the University of Southern California's film school, encouraging Deschanel to follow them. There all three encountered, and became friends with, fellow students such as George Lucas, Hal Barwood, Robert Dalva, Willard Huyck, Don Glut and John Milius; all of them would go on to be successful filmmakers. Not long after film school, in 1969, Murch, Lucas, and others joined Francis Ford Coppola at American Zoetrope in San Francisco. Murch and his family settled in Bolinas, California, in 1972.[4][6][7]


Murch started editing and mixing sound with Francis Ford Coppola's The Rain People (1969). Subsequently, he worked on George Lucas's THX 1138 and American Graffiti and Coppola's The Godfather before editing picture and mixing sound on Coppola's The Conversation, for which he received an Academy Award nomination in sound in 1974.[8] Murch also mixed the sound for Coppola's The Godfather Part II which was released in 1974, the same year as The Conversation. He did sound design work on Apocalypse Now, for which he won his first Academy Award in 1979.[9] (He was also significantly involved in the re-editing work that resulted in the extended Apocalypse Now Redux in 2001.) In 1985 he directed his own film, Return to Oz, which he co-wrote with Gill Dennis.

Murch edits in a standing position, comparing the process of film editing to "conducting, brain surgery and short-order cooking", since all conductors, cooks and surgeons stand when they work. In contrast, when writing, he does so lying down. His reason for this is that where editing film is an editorial process, the creation process of writing is opposite that, and so he lies down rather than sit or stand up, to separate his editing mind from his creating mind.[10]

Murch has written one book on film editing, In the Blink of an Eye (1995),[11] which has been translated into many languages including Chinese, Italian, Hebrew, Spanish, French, German and Hungarian. Before this, he wrote the foreword to Michel Chion's Audio-Vision: Sound on Screen (1994).[12] He was also the subject of Michael Ondaatje's book The Conversations (2002),[13] which consists of several conversations between Ondaatje and Murch; the book emerged from Murch's editing of The English Patient, which was based on Ondaatje's novel of the same name.

In 2007 the documentary Murch premiered at the San Francisco International Film Festival, which centered on Murch and his thoughts on filmmaking.[14]

In 2012, Murch's translations of short stories by the Italian writer Curzio Malaparte were published as The Bird That Swallowed Its Cage.[15]

Innovations & awards

While he was editing directly on film, Murch took notice of the crude splicing used for the daily rough-cuts. In response, he invented a modification which concealed the splice by using extremely narrow but strongly adhesive strips of special polyester-silicone tape. He called his invention "N-vis-o".

In 1979, he won an Oscar for the sound mix of Apocalypse Now as well as a nomination for picture editing. The movie was the first multi-channel film to be mixed using a computerized mixing board. Additionally, the film is the first to credit anyone as Sound Designer, a professional designation that Murch is widely attributed to have coined as a means to help legitimate the field of post-production sound, much in the way William Cameron Menzies coined the term "Production Designer" in the 1930s.[16]

Apocalypse Now was also notable for being among the first Hollywood productions to be released in select 70mm theaters in a surround sound configuration consisting of three front channels, two rear channels, and a low-frequency volume boost. Later known as "5.1", this stereo configuration would become the standard film sound format for 35mm prints following the industry's conversion to digital sound during the 1990s[17] (though unlike digital 5.1, the six-track stereo prints used by Apocalypse Now stored the split-surround sounds on the same tracks as the sub-woofer channel, limiting the special rear stereo effects to only high frequency sounds). Murch and Francis Ford Coppola are widely credited with having first conceived of a 5.1 loudspeaker configuration during the making of Apocalypse Now, but this is a common misconception. Though Apocalypse Now was one of the most famous instance of a 5.1 sound design before the 1990s, the practice of mixing films for at least three front channels and two separate surround channels actually originated during the 1950s and was later used on such films as Around the World in 80 Days (1956), Raintree County (1959), How the West Was Won (1962), Tommy (1975), as well as the documentaries North of Superior (1971) and To Fly! (1976).[18] The vaunted 5.1 technology used on Apocalypse Now in 1979 was adapted from these pre-existing practices not by Murch or Coppola but by Dolby engineers Max Bell and David Watts, who first used it on 70mm prints of Superman in 1978. Despite these technological precedents, contemporary sound designers like Skip Lievsay and Gary Rydstrom routinely consider Murch's innovative and award-winning mix for Apocalypse Now to be a major influence on their own work.

In 1996, Murch worked on Anthony Minghella's The English Patient, which was based on Michael Ondaatje's novel of the same name. Murch won Oscars both for his sound mixing and for his editing.[19] Murch's editing Oscar was the first to be awarded for an electronically edited film (using the Avid system), and he is the only person ever to win Oscars for both sound mixing and film editing.[20]

In 2003, Murch edited another Anthony Minghella film, Cold Mountain on Apple's sub-$1000 Final Cut Pro software using off the shelf Power Mac G4 computers. This was a leap for such a big-budget film, where expensive Avid systems were usually the standard non-linear editing system. He received an Academy Award nomination for this work; his efforts on the film were documented in Charles Koppelman's 2004 book Behind the Seen.[21]

In 2006, he was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Letters by the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design in Vancouver, Canada.[22]

In 2009, Murch's work was the subject of a tribute, "The Art of Walter Murch," a program in "The Professionals," a California Film Institute series at the Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center.[6]

In 2012, Murch was invited to serve as a mentor for the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative, an international philanthropic programme that pairs masters in their disciplines with emerging talents for a year of one-to-one creative exchange. Out of a gifted field of candidates, Murch chose Italian film editor Sara Fgaier as his protégée. Previous film mentors for the initiative include Mira Nair (2004), Stephen Frears (2006), Martin Scorsese (2008) and Zhang Yimou (2010).[23]

Murch is the 2012 recipient of the Nikola Tesla Award given by the International Press Academy Satellite Awards for "Visionary Achievement in Filmmaking Technology".[24] Previous recipients have included Douglas Trumbull, James Cameron, Roger Deakins, Dennis Muren and George Lucas.

In 2015, Murch was presented with the Vision Award Nescens, at the 68th Locarno Film Festival, for his contributions to cinema. The two previous recipients of the award, initiated in 2013, were Douglas Trumbull and Garrett Brown.[25]

In 2016, Murch was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Media by the Southampton Solent University in Southampton, England along with Anne Coates who received an honorary Doctorate of Arts.[26]

He is the only film editor to have received Academy nominations for films edited on four different systems:[27]

Personal life

Murch married Muriel Ann "Aggie" Slater at Riverside Church, New York City, on August 6, 1965. The couple have lived in Bolinas, California, since 1972 and have 4 children: Walter Slater Murch, Beatrice Louise Murch, Carrie Angland, and Connie Angland.[7][21]


  2. Ebert, Roger. "Why 3D Doesn't work and never will. Case closed.".
  3. "Walter Murch Biography (1943–)". Filmreference.Com. 2011. Retrieved 2011-01-25.
  4. 1 2 Johnson, Jeanne. "Stories in the Dark". Arts & Sciences. Johns Hopkins University Zanvyl Krieger School of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 5 December 2013.
  5. Pete Rosenbery, "Film industry pioneer to receive honorary degree", Southern Illinois University Carbondale, January 17, 2008. Retrieved 2012-10-05.
  6. 1 2 Liberatore, Paul (November 11, 2009). "Tribute showcases pioneering work in films of Bolinas' Murch". Marin Independent Journal. Retrieved 5 December 2013.
  7. 1 2 "Walter and Aggie Murch". Podcast, November 25, 2012. The New School at Commonweal. Retrieved 5 December 2013.
  8. "The 47th Academy Awards (1975) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved 2011-10-02.
  9. "The 52nd Academy Awards (1980) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved 2011-10-07.
  10. Review of The Conversations. The Author and the Film Editor: Ondaatje interviews Murch by Mike Shen Webpage retrieved February 14, 2008.
  11. Chion, Michel (1994). Audio-Vision: Sound on Screen (Columbia University Press). ISBN 0-231078-99-4.
  12. Ondaatje, Michael (2004). The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Film Editing (New York: Random House).
  13. Ichioka, Edie and Ichioka, David (2007). Walter Murch on Editing. Webpage retrieved December 24, 2007.
  14. Malaparte, Curzio; Weschler, Lawrence (2012). The Bird That Swallowed Its Cage: The Selected Writings of Curzio Malaparte. Walter Murch (translation). Counterpoint Press. ISBN 9781619020610.
  15. Caldwell, John Thornton (2008). ‘’Production Culture: Industrial Reflexivity and Critical Practice in Film and Television’’ (Duke University Press). ISBN 0822341115
  16. Kerins, Mark (2010). ‘’Beyond Dolby Stereo: Cinema in the Digital Sound Age’’ (Indiana University Press). ISBN 978-0-253-00485-7
  17. Eric Dienstfrey. "The Myth of the Speakers: A Critical Reexamination of Dolby History". Film History: An International Journal. Retrieved June 29, 2016.
  18. "The 69th Academy Awards (1997) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved 2011-10-23.
  20. 1 2 Koppelman, Charles (2004). Behind the Seen: How Walter Murch Edited Cold Mountain Using Apple's Final Cut Pro and What This Means for Cinema (New Riders Press) ISBN 978-0-7357-1426-7.
  21. Murch's speech at ECIAD
  22. Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative website
  23. International Press Academy website
  24. Variety
  25. Solent University
  26. Murch, Walter. " Walter Murch Interviews Anne V. Coates" . Webpage retrieved January 25, 2011.
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