Walter Scott Murch (born July 12, 1943) is an American film editor and sound designer. He was born in New York City, New York, the son of Katharine (née Scott) and Walter Tandy Murch, a painter. He went to The Collegiate School, a private preparatory school in Manhattan, from 1949 to 1961. He then attended Johns Hopkins University from 1961 to 1965, graduating in Liberal Arts.
While at Hopkins, he met future director/screenwriter Matthew Robbins and cinematographer Caleb Deschanel. In 1965, Murch and Robbins enrolled in the graduate program of the University of Southern California film school, successfully encouraging Deschanel to follow them. There all three encountered, and became friends with fellow students such as George Lucas and John Milius.
Murch started editing and mixing sound with Francis Ford Coppola’s The Rain People (1969), before working on George Lucas’s THX 1138 (1971) and American Graffiti (1973) and as a post-production consultant on Coppola’s The Godfather before editing picture and mixing sound on Coppola’s The Conversation (1974), for which he received an Academy Award nomination in sound in 1974. Murch also mixed the sound for Coppola’s The Godfather Part II which was released in 1974, the same year as The Conversation. He is most famous for his editing and sound designing work on Apocalypse Now (1979), for which he won his first Academy Award.
He went on to edit and sound design on numerous features including: Dragonslayer (1981), The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1988), The Godfather Part III (1990), Crumb (1994), The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999), Jarhead (2005), Youth Without Youth (2007), and The Wolfman (2010). He was also responsible for the sound re-recording and re-edit of the Orson Welles classic Touch of Evil (1958), in 1998. In 1985 he directed his one film, Return to Oz.
Unlike most film editors today, Murch works standing up, 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.
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”.
Murch is widely acknowledged as the person who coined the term Sound Designer, and along with colleagues developed the current standard film sound format, the 5.1 channel array, helping to elevate the art and impact of film sound to a new level. Apocalypse Now was the first multi-channel film to be mixed using a computerized mixing board.
In 1996, Murch worked on Anthony Minghella’s The English Patient, based on Michael Ondaatje’s novel. Murch won Oscars both for his sound mixing and editing. 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.
In 2003, Murch edited another 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.
Murch has written one book on film editing, In the Blink of an Eye (2001). He was also the subject of Michael Ondaatje’s book The Conversations (2002), 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 2006, he was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Letters by the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design in Vancouver, Canada.
In 2007 the documentary Murch premiered at the San Francisco International Film Festival, which centered on Walter Murch and his thoughts on film making.