July 23, 2009

Walter Murch on movie editing

There was a fascinating talk at the London SuperMeet by legendary, multi-award winning film and sound editor Walter Murch (pictured), about how he edited Francis Ford Coppola's latest film, Tetro. The all-digital production was shot on two Sony S900 1080 24p cameras (hardly the latest technology) and edited on Final Cut Pro. It was recorded both in HDCAM and to higher-quality external HDCAM SR recorders.

About a quarter of the images were manipulated in some way (such as the seamless splicing together of different takes in split screens), about half in After Effects – he worked with a visual effects artist in the edit suite, which he believes gave him more creative freedom. The rest of the effects were done at UPP, Prague. Some of the shots were blown up by 229%, "and they still work on a 50ft screen," although it helps that 90% of the movie is in black and white.

He had five edit systems, an Apple XSAN and 14TB of RAID storage on an Xserve. The editing was done using the ProRes 720p codec (chosen after lots of testing because it gave the best image quality for reasonable speed).

The movie was shot and edited in Argentina, and shot almost completely with locked-off cameras, which meant that the actors had to be very precise about their movements. All the equipment for the shoot had to fit in to two vans (there were no trailers). "It was a very low-profile film."

He also showed how he works, plans and tracks the edits, mainly using a system of coloured and differently shaped cards arrayed on a huge board (or two), to show what needs to be done, how it all fits together, and the emotional mood of each sequence. He works with a plasma display, alongside which he placed two cutouts of people (to remind him of the scale of the cinema screen he is working too – although on Tetro he also had a projector in the edit suite for viewing rushes).

The next FCP SuperMeet will be held alongside IBC in Amsterdam, on Sunday,
September 13 at the Grand Hotel Krasnapolsky (a much more central, and lavish, venue than they used for the first IBC SuperMeet last year. As usual, it is predicted it will sell out (as all the SuperMeets so far have). Online booking is now open


David Fox

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