Recently TCM played two of the Gordon Parks films, Shaft (1971) and The Super Cops (1974). Both held up very well and you could see many creative influences they had on other early 70’s movies like Dog Day Afternoon and French Connection.
Among his other talents he also wrote songs and poetry. Like Stanley Kubrick he started as a photographer before becoming a director. That explains the great shots and cinematography in these movies.
While dismissed as “blaxploitation”, I think they should be viewed no differently than other action films of the era like the Dirty Harry or Death Wish series.
Given current events, his films, including The Learning Tree are as relevant today as then.
Below is a link to his Photos and many interesting videos.
Today is the 30th anniversary of the death of Jim Henson. I was working on Muppetvision 3D at Imagineering when he died. I was so excited that Disney was buying the Muppets and thought that Jim Henson was another Walt Disney and his creativity would take us in many new directions. Of course this was not to happen and Disney would not buy the Muppets until many years later. The original magic was lost. Here are some videos showing the work of a great man.
Jim Henson also used technology to great effect to tell stories, that is technology for storytelling. There are many examples in this episode of the Jim Henson Hour.
Happy Birthday to George Lucas! As we know George was a big proponent of the use of digital technology in cinema. When I worked at Sony in the 1990’s, we were on the cutting edge of using digital cameras for cinematography. Here is a video from Sony that highlights the development of the Sony cameras used in Star Wars.
Here is another video from ILM about all the areas that George changed with digital technology for editing and VFX. Thank you Mr. Lucas!
I recently saw Hitchcock/Truffaut on HBO. It is a great documentary about two great filmmakers. It is highly recommended. Here are some background videos and the original audio interviews. I read the book in film school, where it is still required reading.
In 1962, French New Wave auteur François Truffaut, aided by translator Helen Scott, spent a week in Hollywood with his idol, Alfred Hitchcock, discussing the director’s rich and extensive body of work, including Psycho and Vertigo. The resulting 1966 book of interviews, Hitchcock, became a celebrated bible of cinema for generations of filmmakers.
Fifty years after its publication, Hitchcock/Truffaut brings this historic summit to life by combining rare original audio recordings and behind-the-scenes photos from the historic exchange. The film offers an eye-opening study of Hitchcock’s enduring genius and legacy, as the two men explore the technical, narrative and aesthetic questions at the heart of his work. The documentary also includes new observations from such acclaimed filmmakers as Wes Anderson, Olivier Assayas, Peter Bogdanovich, David Fincher, Richard Linklater, Martin Scorsese and Paul Schrader. Bob Balaban narrates.
Hitchcock/Truffaut is directed by Kent Jones; written by Kent Jones and Serge Toubiana; co-produced and edited by Rachel Reichman; produced by Charles S. Cohen and Olivier Mille; associate producers, John Kochman and Daniel Battsek.
Director Kent Jones on Hitchcock, Truffaut and the Evolution of Cinema
In Hitchcock/Truffaut, director Kent Jones (My Voyage to Italy, Val Lewton: The Man in the Shadows) explores the landmark series of interviews between French New Wave director François Truffaut and the Master of Suspense, Alfred Hitchcock. These conversations were later published and helped position Hitchcock as a film artist and inspired a new generation of filmmakers, including Martin Scorsese, Richard Linklater, David Fincher and Wes Anderson—each of whom appear in the film to discuss Hitchcock’s artistry and the impact of the book. Jones, who programs the New York Film Festival, took some time to share his views on Alfred Hitchcock and his secrets as a filmmaker.
HBO: The film offers a rare glimpse into Alfred Hitchcock the artist—one that clashes with his public image as an entertainer. Was that a conscious misdirection on Hitchcock’s part?
Kent Jones: The public persona was a way of protecting himself. John Ford had a public persona. So did Howard Hawks. They didn’t go around waving the flag of artistry in front of the studio heads. If they had, their careers would have been over in milliseconds. And in Hitchcock’s case it was a brilliant idea to turn himself into a personality.
HBO: Toward the end of the film, Hitchcock’s standing has risen in the critical community—yet he still seems troubled about his role as a filmmaker. At one point he sends a telegram to Truffaut saying he wished he could do anything he wanted to do. Couldn’t he have?
Kent Jones: There’s always this illusion that some people can do whatever they want. People say that about Steven Spielberg—there was this question about whether Lincoln would actually be released theatrically, and someone asked how this was possible, can’t Steven Spielberg do whatever he wants? The answer is no, he can’t. Nobody can. Neither can James Cameron or Michael Bay.
HBO: Why do you think Hitchcock doubted himself as an artist?
Kent Jones: An artist that great is going to be examining themselves and their work closely; they’re always going to be calling things into question. Couple that with the fact that he was working in a genre—actually created a genre—that was “disreputable,” and had gone unloved by critics and people who give awards. All those factors come into play. I was very moved when I came across that telegram because it’s a very basic expression of something common to all of us.
HBO: Do you have any thoughts on the third act of Hitchcock’s career? Did he fade away?
Kent Jones: I would think quite to the contrary. Brian De Palma has one assessment in which he says directors do their best work in their forties and fifties, and then in their sixties they start losing energy.
HBO: Some would say that Topaz (1969) is perhaps not his best work.
Kent Jones: We’re talking about a moment when all those guys from that generation were struggling. Hawks, Ford. For me, Hitchcock is the guy who easily came out on top. Topaz is the way it is, for various reasons. He wanted to make a different movie and he couldn’t. So he winded up doing this adaptation of this Leon Uris novel. But right in the middle of Topaz is one of the greatest sequences he ever directed, at the Hotel Theresa in Harlem. Frenzy (1972) is a great movie. It’s just a great, great movie. And Family Plot (1976), you can talk about the Disney-ish aspects of it, but the last time I saw it I found it a very rich experience. So I can’t really agree.
HBO: I remember being very impressed by the energy of Frenzy, particularly at that time in his life.
Kent Jones: Frenzy’s an incredible film, and deeply, deeply uncomfortable. And it’s a movie
that remains absolutely shocking, I have to say. That rape-murder scene is almost unbearable to watch.
HBO: Did you have any other films that are particular touchstones for you?
Kent Jones: Over the years I’ve come to love Saboteur (1942) more and more. I have a special love for I Confess (1953). He goes so deep into the emotion of this guy who cannot share what he knows with anyone. The loneliness of Montgomery Clift’s character is really, really powerful.
HBO: Coming from the silent era, Hitchcock had an almost purely visual approach to storytelling. Is it even possible for a filmmaker like that to exist today?
Kent Jones: James Gray brings that up in the film; he’s very hard on himself and says, “We’re not that good.” But really, what you’re talking about is a different orientation. Arnaud Desplechin talks about it as the “lost secret.” Truffaut said the same thing. And it’s true, to a certain extent. Hitchcock thought that cinema didn’t have to evolve the way that it did. But the fact is, it did. So now we have people who are masters of a completely different kind, like Martin Scorsese, or Paul Thomas Anderson.
The director of “The French Connection,” “The Exorcist,” “Sorcerer,” “Cruising,” “To Live and Die in L.A.,” “Bug,” and “Killer Joe,” to name just a few, William Friedkin is one of the greats to emerge from the 1970s brat pack director’s scene that included Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Peter Bogdanovich, and more. Now 80-years-old, the mythic filmmaker recently sat down with podcaster Marc Maron for an epic two-and-a-half-hour chat on his “WTF” podcast.
There are great stories about “The French Connection” — “I found by treating Gene Hackman harshly, even cruelly, would motivate his anger. He didn’t like authority and he didn’t even like acting that much”— including Friedkin’s own admission that he recklessly put lives in danger during most of the movie’s driving stunts. “I don’t boast about it. People’s live’s were in danger including my own,” he said. “And I frankly didn’t give a damn. I didn’t devalue human life, I just didn’t think about it! [It was like], ‘We’re gonna do THIS, this way!’ [and] there was nobody to resist me.”
It’s also interesting to hear an 80-year-old cinephile — who is old enough to remember the advent of the television and to have witnessed culture and taste change over decades — who does not lament the decay of the theatrical experience and champions digital VFX. Friedkin at one point says Netflix and streaming outlets are a boon to cinema. “Things change, you watch [the world change] and manifest differently, but I’ve absolutely [made peace with that].” Friedkin says, countering Maron’s comment that it’s a shame that audiences today don’t know Orson Welles, Fellini, Billy Wilder, and many of the masters.
The best story of the bunch perhaps is Friedkin’s connection to “The Exorcist” screenwriter William Peter Blatty. It’s an involved tale, but an incredibly amusing one that starts with Friedkin coming to meet the legendary director/writer Blake Edwards (“Breakfast At Tiffany’s,” “The Pink Panther”) in the nascent beginnings of his career. Edwards was producing a feature version of the successful “Peter Gunn” TV show and wanted the up-and-coming director to helm the big-screen update. Friedkin read the draft before meeting with Edwards and hated it.
As Friedkin was leaving the lot from his meeting, a man began chasing after him and calling his name. It was William Peter Blatty, the screenwriter of “Peter Gunn,” who, at the behest of Blake, was sitting in the shadows listening to the conversation. Friedkin said that Blatty thanked him for his candor (“You’re right. We all know the script doesn’t work”) and said that everyone on Blake’s team knew the screenplay was garbage, but the iconoclastic producer and filmmaker was convinced that his vision for the movie was perfect.
Three or four years later, Friedkin came across a screenplay that he loved called “The Exorcist,” by one William Peter Blatty. “It totally zombied me out. I canceled dinner, read it in one sitting,” the director said of his reaction. “The French Connection” had yet to come out, and when he met with Blatty, the screenwriter offered the film to him immediately. Friedkin was baffled as to why. Blatty responded, “Because you’re the only director I’ve met who didn’t lie to me.” The one snag was the studio wanted to take it to bigger names, but Stanley Kubrick, Arthur Penn, and Mike Nichols all passed. By the time the directing assignment opened up again, “The French Connection” had opened, was a smash, and Friedkin easily secured the gig.
Another interesting tale spun by Friedkin is the duress that “The French Connection” was made under. “ ‘I’m gonna be fired in six months,’ ” then-head of production at Fox, Richard D. Zanuck, warned Friedkin (true to his word, he was). Zanuck gave Friedkin a small $3 million budget, but the clock was ticking. If the film wasn’t in production by the time Zanuck was out, the next regime would probably pull the plug.
Friedkin quickly hired Roy Scheider, but for Popeye Doyle, his first choice was, strangely enough, Jackie Gleeson. Zanuck told him, “You don’t need a movie star, just get the right actor in there,” and so emboldened, he hired a non-acting journalist Jimmy Breslin. Eventually, after a few days of premature shooting, Breslin showed up drunk, and was AWOL the next. Friedkin quickly fired him and Gene Hackman was in, though he certainly wasn’t a first or second choice. “But he was the last man standing,” the director told Maron. “Zanuck was going to get fired and we had to go.”
I love Joe Dante, Warner Bros. animation and Chuck Jones so I had to post this. By the way Termite Terrace is now the Fernwood side of the KTLA News Room, off of Van Ness. Steve
As part of a short film series about films that were never made, director Joe Dante (Gremlins) talks about the time he developed a film about Golden Age Hollywood animators called Termite Terrace, the unglamorous nickname of the Warner Bros. animation studio in the 1930s.
In the video, Joe Dante recounts how his friendship with Looney Tunes director Chuck Jones inspired the film, and how he developed the idea with screenwriter Charlie Haas (Matinee, Gremlins 2: The New Batch) in the early-’90s:
Warner Bros., unsurprisingly, didn’t express any interest in a historical drama about animation artists and passed on the idea. Dante has, in other interviews, referred to it as the “heartbreaker” of his career.
Haas’ script for the film has circulated privately for years and has been read by various people. Cartoonist Cole Rothacker is one of those people, and he wrote about it on Tumblr, describing it as “a pretty terrific script, giving animators, who have tedious, thankless jobs, a moment in the spotlight, a movie that pays great tribute to them and all their hard work. It does for animators and Looney Tunes what Goodfellas did for mobsters.”
Rothacker also points out that the film had a strong point of view — that of Chuck Jones’:
All the names were changed, some characters were combinations of 2 or more real people, but it was basically the story of when Chuck Jones first arrived at the WB lot in the late ’30s and rose through the ranks, going from in-betweener to director. It shows the struggles Jones went through, along with his mentor Tex Avery. The movie is definitely from the perspective of Jones, as it depicts the Bob Clampett analogous character as an incompetent, two-faced lout.
Shortly after Warner Bros. passed on Dante’s film, they re-branded Bugs, Daffy, and the rest of the Looney Tunes roster for the 1996 film Space Jam, which was a hit for the studio. Dante eventually worked with the Looney Tunes characters, too, when he directed the 2003 live-action/animated combo Looney Tunes: Back in Action, a creative misfire that was micromanaged to death by Warner Bros. executives who used 25 writers on the film.
If you want a taste of what Termite Terrace might have looked like, here’s an actual late-1930s studio gag reel from Warner Bros.’ animation studio that shows the artists and execs goofing around:
After the Camerimage international film festival’s special screening of The Talented Mr. Ripley, Anthony Minghella’s wonderful and haunting 1999 film with Matt Damon in the starring role, I had the unique pleasure and honor of seeing and listening to probably the greatest film editor and sound designer of the last half a century. Walter Murch, the living legend of the filmmaking business whose career was built on films such as Apocalypse Now, The Conversation and The Godfather trilogy, was invited to Bydgoszcz, Poland to receive the festival’s Special Award to Editor with Unique Visual Sensitivity. This is the first time I’ve ever had the chance to see him in person and, besides coming off as a very nice and humble human being, to listen to him talk about filmmaking, editing and the history of film was incredibly inspiring and satisfying.
Sitting at a small table on stage, with a glass of water at his side, Walter Murch engaged the audience and the crowded theater—mind you, many of the audience are filmmakers themselves—bombarded him with questions, seeking his advice and wanting to soak up as much wisdom as possible. Murch briefly discussed his relationship with Minghella, calling him an extremely collaborative director who wanted and accepted input from his crew (but “still had strong vision and ideas”), recalling how they met and how Minghella explained to him that, when he found a perfect T-shirt, he’d buy hundreds of them, never to have to set out on the risky task of finding new clothes. The message was clear—if Murch proved to be a capable editor, Minghella would want to work with him for the rest of his life. They did three films together (The English Patient, The Talented Mr. Ripley, Cold Mountain), and would definitely collaborate again had it not been for the director’s tragic death in 2008.
One of the most interesting parts of the conversation was when Murch explained one the things that inevitably changed with the rise of digital technology and its use in filmmaking. Back in the good old days, after a hard day’s work on set, the crew would gather and watch the ‘dailies,’ the material they filmed that specific day. With minds clear and concentrated on the film, they would immerse in their footage and have discussions on the material. Dailies became a part of history, as there’s no need for them when the crew can monitor what’s being filmed on set simultaneously on their screens. Since during filming people have tons of things on their mind and can hardly relax in front of the screen, Murch believes dailies should be brought back into practice, as they proved very useful in the past.
Walter Murch mixing Apocalypse Now in 1979
On the unsurprising question of what you need to have to be a good editor, Murch said you needed to be ready to spend 16 hours a day in a small, stuffy room with no windows, being repeated the same things over and over again like torture. Furthermore, a good editor has to have a good sense of rhythm because, after all, editing is basically choreographing a line of images. The other important thing is to be able to anticipate the audience’s reaction. According to Murch, the editor is the only representative of the audience in a film crew: his job is to predict how the viewer will respond to the movie, and to do so, he has to place himself in their shoes. Therefore, Murch tends to avoid seeing any part of filming, he visits the set only if really necessary, believing too much information would prove to be a burden, as it will distance him from the position of the viewer, who will see the film without any knowledge of the size of the set or the sort of sandwiches served in breaks. The editor, Murch continues, is one of the few people on set with great effect on the film who can completely isolate himself if he wants to.
What I did not know was that Murch had some influence on the script for The Talented Mr. Ripley. As he was sent the screenplay six months prior to filming, he made a couple of suggestions regarding the way the film should open and how it should end, and Minghella listened. But it’s not strange, Murch says, that editors get the screenplay months, or even a year, in advance: it’s actually common practice nowadays.
Needless to say, I left the theater impressed like a school boy, as I should be in the presence of a professional of such caliber. This made me a little more nervous during our interview, but it turned out there was no need whatsoever to feel uncomfortable. That’s who Murch is—an editing genius capable of making you feel as if he’s your friend from elementary school.
Fellow USC alums Walter Murch and George Lucas
In an interesting interview you recently gave to Indiewire, you said that films are called motion pictures, but that they could be easily called emotion pictures since the point of every film should be to cause an emotional response in the audience. Do you think this should be top priority in any film?
Yes, with the proviso that it should be the correct emotion. Films are very good at stirring up emotion but you have to be careful about which emotion you’re stirring up. So in a sense the filmmakers, from the directors to anybody else, have to really say—what emotion are we going for here and why are we going for it? And how does that emotion relate to what we had in the previous and will have in the following scene? And can we also track not only the emotion but the logic of everything that’s happening, basically is the story understandable? So this dance between intellect and emotion, which is kind of basic to what human beings are, is something that we have to be very careful about. In a film, for instance, you could stage a murder in a very brutal way which would stir up emotions in the audience, but is that going to confuse things later on in the story?
You also talked about over-intentionality in movies, how it’s easy for the audience to feel manipulated into feeling something if things are edited in a certain way. How difficult is it for you not to cross that border, to cause an organic feeling in a viewer rather than a manipulated one?
It’s very difficult. Because films are evolving under our fingers, so to speak. And we want to communicate certain things and we’re anxious that the audience understands what we’re trying to say. And so many things are uncertain in a making of a film that you can sometimes hold on to a scene as being important, but you can learn later that, in fact, by removing that scene in a strange, sometimes mystifying way the whole film relaxes, and the audience gets everything you’re saying even without this very definite moment. I remember many years ago working on a film with Fred Zinnemann called Julia. These arrows began to point at one scene in particular at the beginning of the film. Maybe we should lose this scene, because again, there was this over-intentionality to it. And so we, meaning Fred and I, said let’s take it out. So I was undoing the splices, back in the day when we made physical splices, and he observed, you know, when I read the script of this project, when I read this scene, I knew that I should do this film. In other words, the very scene he connected with was the scene we are now taking out. So I asked myself, am I removing the heart of the movie? Or am I removing the umbilical cord of the movie? This scene was important to connect Fred with the film, but let’s say, once the nutrients have flowed into the whole film, not only now can you remove the umbilical cord, you have to remove it. We walk around with the belly button, but not with the umbilical cord. So there are scenes like that that deliver their message very particularly, but you should be suspicious of those very scenes and wonder if this film can ride the bike without these training wheels.
A lot of big American movies these days treat the viewers as if they are incapable of connecting the dots, explaining far too much in the process. Do you see that trend in American cinema today?
Yeah, I think so. I think that’s partly down to everything we’ve just been talking about. It’s also that, in quotes, American cinema is also global cinema, in that American cinema is more than Chinese cinema, more than Indian cinema, more than European cinema. It’s the one cinema that goes all the way around the world so it has to be understandable by the Chinese, Africans, South-Americans, Europeans. Inevitably, there is a coarsening of the message there because of trying to adapt to all these different sensibilities and different ways of thinking on the different continents of the globe. But very often it’s simply lazy filmmaking. It’s hard to make it the other way because of the uncertainty of it all, because it’s risky. I find it much more interesting to make things this way precisely because it does involve the audience in the film. And really the last creative act of any film is viewing by the audience. The audience are really the ones who are creating the film, it doesn’t really exist on the screen, it exists in a kind of penumbra between the audience and the screen, the interaction of those two things. And exactly what you’re saying allows that interaction to take place. Otherwise, the audience is just blasted by the things coming from the screen, and they just have to sit there and take it.
Since Return to Oz wasn’t a critical or commercial success, the film practically blocked your potential directorial path. But it must be nice to see what happened to the film in the decades that followed. How do you feel about the project now?
I’m very happy that it has this afterlife. The film was made in the early 1980s, really at the dawn of home cinema. VHS had just come in at that point, I think. So I made it not knowing everything that was going to happen in the next thirty years with DVDs, Blu-rays, streaming and all of these other things that allowed people to see the film in a variety of different circumstances. On the other hand, it has to be good enough for the people to want to see it. So I’m very pleased to see it has this afterlife to it. Ironically, one of the things that happened is that the studio, Disney, at the time of the release of the film had changed management, and the new management really had no interest in Return to Oz at all, really. It was kind of abandoned, but that meant ironically that I had more control over it because if they hadn’t abandoned it, they would have been far more aggressive with me, trying to bend it this way or that, kind of like what happened with Orson Welles on The Touch of Evil. The finished film is as much as any film pretty much as I wanted to make it.
But you said you had some projects you wanted to make, but you were force to abandon it. You stated one of the movies you wanted to make was about Nikola Tesla. Why him?
I’m just fascinated with him as a character. I discovered him in the process of doing research for Return to Oz because the inspiration for the Emerald City, this fantastic place, was the Columbia World’s Fair in Chicago in 1893. And that was the fair that Tesla appeared at, and he was the one that electrified the fairs. This was the first World’s Fair to be electrified with Tesla’s alternating current, and he was at the fair giving demonstrations. So he was arguably the living wizard of that festival, and he was called The Wizard. So I think L. Frank Baum, the author, who lived in Chicago, went to the fair and saw Tesla and Tesla was the wizard. But the more I learned about Tesla and his story, the more fascinated I became. I wanted to do a kind of Mozart-Salieri story on the tension between Tesla and Edison, who were two very, very different personalities, both competing in the same territory.
This story might have made for a great film.
You’ve worked with a lot of great filmmakers in your career. Which collaboration holds a special place in your heart?
It has to be Francis Coppola because the first feature film I’ve worked on was his film, The Rain People in 1969. And I worked with him in 2009 on Tetro, the last film. Which is… how many? Four decades of working together? And on some remarkable films. There’s a gap between Apocalypse Now and Apocalypse Now Redux. But he and I share many sensibilities and he gives a great deal of control to the people who work with him. Working with Francis, I was astonished how much control he gave. We was, like, just go and do something.
A lot of trust.
Yes, a lot of trust, but the surprising thing about trust is, if you’re given all of this trust, you repay it, you know how much he has given you and so you are anxious to fulfill and more the trust he has given you. And that works in opposite way with directors who are always controlling everything, did you do this, I want this, I want that… At a certain point you say, OK, let’s all do what you want. But this other way of working, the Francis way, is a wonderful way of working.
When we compare what editing used to be to editing today, with the development of technology and the trend that movies resemble music videos, what would you say about contemporary, modern editing?
There is a shift. On the other hand, also if you look at the decades, the fastest editing ever in a motion picture was Man with a Movie Camera, Dziga Vertov’s film from 1929. Well, not the whole film, but there’s a section of the film that’s so rapidly cut that you just kind of had to stand back the way you look at fireworks. We, meaning in the larger sense, are investigating the borderline between effect and comprehensibility. And it’s clear that, to achieve a certain effect, this kind of fireworks in editing—you can do that, but you lose comprehensibility. Things are happening on the screen and maybe you’ll capture a thing here or there. For briefs periods of time this is fine in any film. But as a general principle, it’s something to be wary of. Without question, music videos and commercials and even videos you see in clothing stores on video-screens, have all affected the way we see edited images, and they’ve worked their way into the theaters. And we’re looking at films on very different mediums, on iPhones or 20-meter screens in a movie palace, or on virtual reality goggles. So all of those are very different formats, and yet at the moment we have to edit as if they are all the same. This creates dissonances with the rate of cutting.
For example, the videos on screens in clothing stores. They are rapidly cut with lots of moving, so as to make you look at them. So you’re in a store that’s mostly static, people moving fairly slowly, and yet over here there’s a screen going like this (waves his hand frantically), forcing you to look at it. Taking that sensibility though and transposing it into a movie palace, where that’s the only thing we’re looking at and the screen is sixty feet wide, can create undesirable side effects, people get sick looking at it. In the long term, we’ll figure all this out, and it does change from decade to decade. Dialogue, for instance, in the 1930s and 1940s was said much quicker than it is today. The cutting was slower, but people talked much faster, quick, quick, quick. His Girl Friday, for instance. Films just don’t sound like that today. That’s the dialogue equivalent to quick cutting. You can’t see that today. The closest thing would probably be The Social Network, those scenes very quickly paced in terms of dialogue.
The experience of watching feature motion pictures in theaters is barely one hundred years old. Birth of a Nation came out in 1915, and it’s 2015. And I’ve been working in films for half that time. (laughs) We’re still learning how to do this, and adapting to different circumstances, so it’s natural for the pendulum to swing far in one direction, and then far in the opposite direction. Inarritu’s film last year had no edits in it, at all, there were technically concealed edits in there, but the experience of watching it was that there were no cuts whatsoever.
Francis Ford Coppola and editor/re-recording mixer Walter Murch (back) in the Philippines during the shoot of Apocalypse Now in March 1977. Photo by Richard Beggs. Courtesy of Walter Murch
Would you say that The Apocalypse Now was the most troublesome project you ever worked on?
It was troubled, but in a good way. Meaning, it’s a very contentious subject matter, especially at that time. And we were investigating all the possible ways to tell this story. It was turbulent and maybe troublesome, but in a good, creative way. In any film you’re working on, there’s a great deal of uncertainty. Can we do this, is this going to work, do we have time to do this… Everyone is wondering how it is going to work. But it was certainly the longest postproduction of any film I worked on, I was on it for two years, Richie Marx was on it even a year longer. It was a long period and you have to also gage your own energy level and focus on something that lasts that long. That was another kind of an invisible challenge for all of us involved.
You mean coming back to ordinary life?
Sure, that’s an occupational hazard of any film, it completely occupies a great deal of real estate in your brain as you’re working on it, and then suddenly it’s over and all of that real estate is available, empty, and now you have to re-program your brain to get to normal. It’s the equivalent, I think, to a kind of sea sickness. You know you’re finished objectively, but you’re body is still working on something, but there’s nothing to work on. The collision between those two things, what you objectively know and what you feel… it usually takes from two or three weeks to two or three months for these things to come back in alignment.
How long a pause did you have to take after Apocalypse Now?
After that, I started writing a screenplay, one of the projects I was going to direct. So… six months. But at the end of those six months I started writing, which is different than making films, a different rhythm. So after Apocalypse, the next thing I did was Return to Oz. We began preproduction in 1983, so it was almost four years since Apocalypse. So, first I wrote an unproduced screenplay, then Return to Oz.
What was the screenplay about?
It was about an archaeologist in Egypt, a kind of a ghost story, but more along the lines of what you were talking about earlier, one that was ambiguous. There were not a lot of special effects in it, it was about a personality change. Was that down to an accident that happened, or did something spiritual happen to this person? But it ended up in a drawer somewhere.
Mr. Murch, thanks for your time. It was a pleasure.
Sound montage associate Mark Berger, left, Francis Ford Coppola and sound montage/re-recording mixer Walter Murch mixing The Godfather II in October 1974. Photo courtesy of Walter Murch
A typical ad for Sony’s Betamax video recorder. Credit: Flickr/Nesster, CC BY
Recently, Sony announced that they will stop making Betamax tapes. This made me reflect on how the introduction of the first VCRs were a huge change in the way people watched TV, allowing them to time shift, that is record shows and play them back later. The “format war” between Betamax and VHS caused Betamax to lose market share, even though Betamax was a superior format technically, VHS could record more hours and that made it more popular with consumers. Betamax evolved into Betacam, an analog component format used in news gathering and field production.
Betamax was also the format that started the infamous Sony v. Universal City Studios case that went all the way to the Supreme Court. Fortunately the studios lost, later allowing them to make money off of cassette rentals and sales. Ironically, Universal would later be bought by Matsushita, one of the world’s largest VCR manufacturers at that time.
Akio Morita was a founder, and for many years, the CEO of Sony. He was the Steve Jobs of Japan. During his tenure Sony came up with many consumer electronic advances such as the Trinitron, the Mavica still camera, the SDDS film sound system, DAT, the MiniDisc, the Walkman and along with Philips, the S/PDIF audio interface, the CD and Blu-Ray. (Full disclosure, I used to work at Sony developing HDTV.)
Akio Morita is not interviewed in part 3, but that segment can be seen here.
The introduction of the home-use VCR had caused the biggest stir and created the greatest expectations for Sony since the launch of the Trinitron. Sony sales branches throughout Japan were buzzing about Betamax, and how to launch it in their regions became their number one priority. From the pre-launch stage, study sessions and training seminars explaining how to connect a Betamax to a television were frequent. At that time, however, annual domestic demand for VCRs was still less than 100,000 units. Morita was brimming with confidence when he made his announcement about the upcoming video age. Would home-use VCRs become popular? The industry had its doubts. At any rate, full-scale production of Betamax looked ready to roll. However, in the same year, something happened which took Sony by surprise.
The art of ADR is much more than having a collection of microphones and knowing how to use them, although Doc’s mic cabinet is pretty impressive. It’s also more than having the latest and greatest hardware and software, but rest assured, Doc has all of the most modern bells and whistles.Perhaps even more important and some might even argue that it qualifies ADR as an art, is the sensitivity to the client.
ABOUT DOC KANE:
What has three letters, many aliases and is of major significance to the sound community? You guessed it: ADR aka Automated Dialog Replacement aka Additional Dialog Recording aka Dubbing aka Looping. All of these monikers are understood as the process of re-recording dialog that cannot be salvaged from a production. To make one thing clear, there is nothing automated about it. ADR is an art. And here to tell us more about the art is an artist whose name also has only three letters and many aliases but nonetheless has made a significant impact on the sound community.
His name is Doc Kane but most just call him Doc. He has over 300 projects under his belt and a slew of awards and nominations, including four Academy Award nominations.
Tom Hanks talks about the fact that the voice of Woody for toys and games is sometimes actually the voice of his brother, Jim. He tells a story about what it is like working on Stage B when he is recording the voice of Woody for the Toy Story films.