Walter Murch Leads All-Day Sound Design Workshop in Ghent

The Oscar-winning editor draws cheers from film fest crowd when he refuses to end six-hour seminar.

Legendary film editor, sound designer and three-time Oscar winner Walter Murch packed the house Thursday at the Ghent International Film Festival, where he led an all-day seminar dedicated to sound design. Organized in partnership with the University College Ghent, the tech-centric event was a departure for the fest, which traditionally focuses on the role of classical music in film.

Murch, who has worked with everyone from Francis Coppola to the late Anthony Minghella and is regarded as the greatest sound and image cutter of his generation, addressed a rapt crowd of filmmakers and cineastes for six hours straight.

Discussing his craft in minute detail, he explained how technology has changed not only his job but the way a movie evolves. Talking about his experience editing the upcoming HBO film Hemingway & Gellhorn, which chronicles the romance between Ernest Hemingway (Clive Owen) and World War II correspondent Martha Gellhorn (Nicole Kidman), Murch described how he collaborated with composer Javier Navarrete.

“I could go in and watch what he was doing, and he could come in and watch what I was doing. I would get ideas from him, and he would get ideas from me, and we would make sound files out of his music, and I would bring them into Final Cut,” he said. “It was a very happy land of everyone working on top of each other, evolving each of their responsibilities, but each responsibility influencing the other.”

Despite being one of the most respected sound designers in the industry, Murch noted a particularly surprising working method.  “My peculiarity is that I edit the picture without sound,” he said. “After I’ve looked at the material with sound I take notes, but when I am actually assembling the images, I turn the knob down or I mute the tracks … So I force myself to become deaf.”

Speaking to a full house at Kinepolis, one of Ghent’s largest movie houses, Murch kept the audience’s attention despite the fact that much of his seminar included plenty of tech jargon and sound design minutiae.

Even after six hours, the 68-year-old editor appeared reluctant to end the seminar.

When the moderator gently stepped in and said it was time to call it a day, Murch replied, “Why?”

“Let’s do a couple more questions,” he insisted, eliciting cheers and laughter from the crowd.

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