Walter Murch

Walter Scott Murch (born July 12, 1943) is an American film editor, director 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 nine nominations: six for picture editing and three for sound mixing),[1] he has been referred to by Roger Ebert as "the most respected film editor and sound designer in the modern cinema."[2]

Walter Murch
Murch in Buenos Aires, Argentina, December 11, 2008
Walter Scott Murch

(1943-07-12) July 12, 1943
ResidenceBolinas, California
EducationJohns Hopkins, BA 1965
Alma materUSC School of Cinematic Arts
OccupationFilm editor, Sound designer
Years active1969–present
Aggie Murch
(m. 1965)

Early life

External video
Walter Murch, Film-maker, Web of Stories, March 1, 2017[3]

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.[4] As a boy, he began to experiment with sound recording, taping unusual sounds and layering them into new combinations.[5] He attended The Collegiate School, a private preparatory school in Manhattan, from 1949 to 1961. In the summer of 1961 he worked as a music librarian and production assistant at newly founded radio station WRVR. He assisted with the July 29th 1961 live broadcast of a 12-hour folk music Hootenanny produced by Izzy Young. This featured, among many other acts, the first radio performance of the 20-year-old Bob Dylan.[6] Murch then attended Johns Hopkins University from 1961 to 1965, graduating Phi Beta Kappa[7] in Liberal Arts. Murch spent the university school year 1963–1964 in Europe, studying Romance Languages and the History of Art in Italy at Perugia and in France at the Sorbonne.

While at Johns Hopkins, he met future director/screenwriter Matthew Robbins, cinematographer Caleb Deschanel, and philosopher Andrew Feenberg, with whom he staged a number of happenings.[8] 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.[5][9][10]


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.[11] 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[12] and 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 only feature film, Return to Oz, which he co-wrote with Gill Dennis. After the film failed at the box office, he never directed another film again.

In 1988 Murch was one of the editors on The Unbearable Lightness of Being, directed by Phil Kaufman.[13][14]

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 creative 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.[15]

Murch has written one book on film editing, In the Blink of an Eye (1995),[16] which has been translated into many languages including Chinese, Italian, Hebrew, Spanish, French, German, Hungarian and Persian. His book describes many of his notable techniques used in his film editing. One of his most praised techniques he refers to as "the rule of six" referring to the 6 criteria in a film that he examines when making a cut. In his book, Murch also describes editing as more of a psychological practice with a goal of anticipating and controlling the thoughts of the audience.

Before this, he wrote the foreword to Michel Chion's Audio-Vision: Sound on Screen (1994).[17] He was also the subject of Michael Ondaatje's book The Conversations (2002),[18] 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.[19]

In 2012, Murch's translations of short stories by the Italian writer Curzio Malaparte were published as The Bird That Swallowed Its Cage.[20]

Innovations and 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 among the first stereo films to be mixed using an automated console. 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.[21]

Apocalypse Now was also notable for being among the first films to be released in what has come to be known as 5.1, with three screen speaker channels, low-frequency enhancement, and two surround channels (one more channel than standard surround sound arrangements at the time).[22] The movie was initially seen and heard in this 70mm six-track sound format in 17 theaters, many of which were calibrated by members of the Apocalypse sound team and featured the same Meyer Sound subwoofers that had been used on the mixing stage. According to sound editor Larry Blake, Murch now believes that these subwoofers were more "emotionally significant" to the presentations than were the two discrete surround channels.[23]

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.[24] 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.[25]

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.[26]

In 2006, he was awarded an honorary doctorate of letters by the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design in Vancouver, Canada.[27]

In 2009, Murch's work was the subject of a tribute, "The Art of Walter Murch," a program in "The Professionals," a series by the California Film Institute at the Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center.[9]

In 2012, Murch was invited to serve as a mentor for the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative, an international philanthropic program 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).[28]

Murch is the 2012 recipient of the Nikola Tesla Award given by the International Press Academy Satellite Awards for "Visionary Achievement in Filmmaking Technology".[29] 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.[30]

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.[31]

He is the only film editor to have received Academy Award nominations for films edited on four different systems:[32]

Murch is also Honorary Associate of London Film School.

Personal life

Murch married Muriel Ann "Aggie" Slater at Riverside Church, New York City, on August 6, 1965. Directly after getting married, the couple took a motorcycle trip across the United States. They have now lived in Bolinas, California, since 1972 and have 4 children: Walter Slater Murch, Beatrice Louise Murch, Carrie Angland, and Connie Angland.[10][26]


Feature films

Year Title Editor Sound Writer Director Notes
1894 The Dickson Experimental Sound Film Yes Yes No No First attempt in history to marry sound and picture. Murch succeeded in synchronizing the sound with the picture in 2000, 106 years after the film was shot and recorded.
1958 Touch of Evil Yes No No No Re-edited for a 1998 release version.
1969 The Rain People No Yes No No Sound Montage and Re-recording.
1971 THX-1138 No Yes Yes No Co-wrote the screenplay with George Lucas. Also credited with Sound Montage and Re-recording.
1972 The Godfather No Yes No No Sound effects supervisor.
1973 American Graffiti No Yes No No Sound Montage and Re-recording.
1974 The Conversation Yes Yes No No Nominated – Academy Award for Best Sound with Art Rochester.
Sound Montage and Re-recording.
1977 Julia Yes No No No Nominated — Academy Award for Best Film Editing.
Co-edited with Marcel Durham
1979 Apocalypse Now Yes Yes No No Academy Award for Best Sound with Mark Berger, Richard Beggs, and Nat Boxer.
Nominated — Academy Award for Best Film Editing with Gerald B. Greenberg, Lisa Fruchtman and Richard Marks
1985 Return to Oz No No Yes Yes Co-wrote with Gill Dennis
1988 The Unbearable Lightness of Being Yes No No No
1990 Ghost Yes Yes No No Nominated — Academy Award for Best Film Editing
The Godfather Part III Yes Yes No No Nominated — Academy Award for Best Film Editing with Barry Malkin and Lisa Fruchtman
1993 House of Cards Yes No No No
Romeo Is Bleeding Yes Yes No No
1994 I Love Trouble Yes No No No
1995 First Knight Yes Yes No No
1996 The English Patient Yes Yes No No Academy Award for Best Film Editing
Academy Award for Best Sound Mixing with Mark Berger, David Parker, and Christopher Newman
1999 The Talented Mr. Ripley Yes Yes No No
2002 K-19: The Widowmaker Yes Yes No No
2003 Cold Mountain Yes Yes No No Nominated — Academy Award for Best Film Editing
2005 Jarhead Yes Yes No No
2007 Youth Without Youth Yes Yes No No
2009 Tetro Yes Yes No No
2010 The Wolfman Yes No No No Co-edited with Dennis Virkler and Mark Goldblatt
2013 Particle Fever Yes Yes No No Feature documentary on the search for the Higgs Boson
2015 Tomorrowland Yes No No No Co-edited with Craig Wood
2019 Coup 53 Yes No Yes No Murch is credited as editor and co-author of this feature-length documentary on Iran


Year Title Editor Director Notes
2011 "The General" No Yes Episode of Lucasfilm Clone Wars animated series
2012 Hemingway & Gellhorn Yes No Television movie


  2. Ebert, Roger. "Why 3D Doesn't work and never will. Case closed".
  3. "Walter Murch, Film-maker". Web of Stories. March 1, 2017. Retrieved March 1, 2017.320 short segments, with transcripts
  4. "Walter Murch Biography (1943–)". Filmreference.Com. 2011. Retrieved 2011-01-25.
  5. Johnson, Jeanne. "Stories in the Dark". Arts & Sciences. Johns Hopkins University Zanvyl Krieger School of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 5 December 2013.
  6. Shelton, Robert (July 29, 1961). "Folk Music Heard on 12-Hour Show". The New York Times. Retrieved 2017-04-03.
  7. Pete Rosenbery, "Film industry pioneer to receive honorary degree", Southern Illinois University Carbondale, January 17, 2008. Retrieved 2012-10-05.
  9. Liberatore, Paul (November 11, 2009). "Tribute showcases pioneering work in films of Bolinas' Murch". Marin Independent Journal. Retrieved 5 December 2013.
  10. Walter and Aggie Murch (November 25, 2012). The Bird that Swallowed its Cage: The Selected Writings of Curzio Malaparte. The New School at Commonweal. Retrieved 5 December 2013.
  11. "The 47th Academy Awards (1975) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved 2011-10-02.
  12. "The 52nd Academy Awards (1980) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved 2011-10-07.
  15. Review of The Conversations. The Author and the Film Editor: Ondaatje interviews Murch by Mike Shen Webpage retrieved February 14, 2008.
  16. Chion, Michel (1994). Audio-Vision: Sound on Screen (Columbia University Press). ISBN 0-231078-99-4.
  17. Ondaatje, Michael (2004). The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Film Editing (New York: Random House).
  18. Ichioka, Edie and Ichioka, David (2007). Walter Murch on Editing. Webpage retrieved December 24, 2007.
  19. Malaparte, Curzio; Weschler, Lawrence (2012). The Bird That Swallowed Its Cage: The Selected Writings of Curzio Malaparte. Walter Murch (translation). Counterpoint Press. ISBN 9781619020610.
  20. Caldwell, John Thornton (2008). Production Culture: Industrial Reflexivity and Critical Practice in Film and Television (Duke University Press). ISBN 0822341115
  22. Larry Blake's unpublished personal correspondence with Walter Murch, July 14, 2016
  23. "The 69th Academy Awards (1997) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved 2011-10-23.
  25. 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.
  26. Murch's speech at ECIAD
  27. Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative website
  28. International Press Academy website
  29. Variety
  30. Solent University
  31. Murch, Walter. " Walter Murch Interviews Anne V. Coates" . Webpage retrieved January 25, 2011.
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