- Friday, Aug. 31, 2012
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- LOS ANGELES
While editor Walter Murch, A.C.E., is no stranger to the awards show circuit, Hemingway & Gellhorn marks his first career Emmy nomination--which gives him the highest possible batting average in that the HBO film also represents his first foray into editing for television. "The influence of cable is bridging in a sense the divide between features and what we used to think of as television," observed Murch, noting that HBO is an entity unto itself, "a movie company that distributes through television, creating opportunities for feature people like me."
Murch is indeed an accomplished feature film artisan, having earned nine Academy Award nominations and winning three Oscars. Two of the wins came in 1997 for Best Sound (shared with Mark Berger, David Parker and Christopher Newman) and Best Film Editing on the strength of The English Patient. This marked the first time that an artist won Best Sound and Best Film Editing Academy Awards the same year for the same film. Murch's very first Oscar win came for Best Sound (shared with Berger, Richard Beggs and Nathan Boxer) on Apocalypse Now.
Of Murch's six remaining nominations, five were for Best Editing--Cold Mountain in 2004, The Godfather: Part III (shared with Barry Malkin and Lisa Fruchtman) and Ghost, both in '91, Apocalypse Now (shared with Richard Marks, Gerald B. Greenberg and Fruchtman) in '80, and Julia (shared with Marcel Durham) in '77. Murch's remaining Oscar nom, his first, came in the Best Sound category for The Conversation (shared with Art Rochester) in '75.
Francis Ford Coppola's The Conversation appropriately enough begins the conversation relative to Hemingway & Gellhorn and Murch's relationship with its director, Philip Kaufman. "I've known Phil as a friend and fellow filmmaker in San Francisco since the early 1970s when Coppola set up an editing room at his Zoetrope Studios," recalled Murch. "I was editing Coppola's movie, The Conversation, and Phil was next door working on The White Dawn, a film he wrote and directed in the Arctic. We hit it off, liked each other and always intended to work together.
Their first planned collaboration was the Kaufman-directed The Right Stuff, for which Murch did some preparatory editorial work. Slated to cut The Right Stuff, Murch instead was diverted when he got the green light to direct his first project, Return to Oz. It wasn't until five years later that Murch edited for Kaufman, the two teaming on The Unbearable Lightness of Being.
It was his experience on that film that made Murch a natural to take on Hemingway & Gellhorn for Kaufman. "Hemingway & Gellhorn deeply investigates," explained Murch, "a technique that we used as a centerpiece of The Unbearable Lightness of Being--integrating live action with archival footage and having it seem as if our actors were moving back and forth between original live action material that we shot and material shot in some cases 30 or 50 years earlier. In the case of Hemingway & Gellhorn, we went back even further, exploring footage starting with the Spanish Civil War and right through to the Second World War covering the span of time Martha Gellhorn was involved with Ernest Hemingway."
For Murch as editor, Hemingway & Gellhorn thus on one hand entailed "research to gather the best material to help us tell our story." On the flip side, he added, "we'd see a neat piece of footage that would cause us to look into how it could influence our story. And then there was always the concern of how do we best insert our actors using green screen techniques for the most part, to make sure it looks like its matching up and aligned properly."
Integral to the process was the effects acumen of Tippett Studio (see The Road To Emmy, Part 3 for interviews with several visual effects category Emmy nominees, including Tippett VFX supervisor Chris Morley).
Another creative challenge for Murch was the color palette for Hemingway & Gellhorn. "Ninety-eight percent of the archival footage was black-and-white or monochrome. How do we dovetail between archival material and the original footage we are shooting with an up-to-date ARRI ALEXA digital camera? How do we slide from one reality into the other? We looked at different options--going completely black and white, tinted black and white, from color to desaturated color to certain tints in black and white. We developed this chromatic palette for the different areas. For example, we had a terra-cotta look in Spain, a blue tinge in Finland. In the process of developing this palette, we creatively worked it all out."
While his Emmy nomination is for his first television work as an editor, Murch does have prior TV experience--as a director. A couple of years ago, he helmed "The General" episode of the series Star Wars: The Clone Wars.
LOOK at Bones
LOOK Effects, Los Angeles, has produced the visual effects for the Fox series Bones for all seven seasons it has been broadcast and is embarking on season eight. This year marks the first Emmy nomination LOOK has garnered for Bones and it can perhaps be attributed in part to a progressive redefining of the VFX categories by the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences (ATAS).
LOOK's work on the Bones episode "The Twist in the Twister" is nominated for Outstanding Special Visual Effects in a Supporting Role, reflecting ATAS' decision to this year shape the VFX categories akin to what the Visual Effects Society (VES) Awards has already had firmly in place--a category distinction between VFX-driven programs and those in which VFX play a supporting role. The former is reflected in the Emmy category Outstanding Special Visual Effects. Prior to this year, there were also two VFX primetime Emmy categories but they were instead based on the program format, not the nature or role of the effects themselves. Those now replaced VFX categories were: one for long-form projects which had TV movies competing with miniseries; the other for all ongoing series spanning genres from sci-fi to more straight live-action storytelling. (See The Road To Emmy, Part 3--link below--for more on the reconfigured VFX categories.)
"The supporting role category is a great idea," related Christian Cardona, a LOOK staffer for five years and VFX supervisor for LOOK on Bones since season five. "It's right in the sense that a lot of shows are using visual effects, and many people don't know that these shows are using effects. These shows tend to be more character driven where you don't notice the effects as much but that doesn't mean there isn't good [VFX] work being done on them. The new Emmy category now allows those shows--where effects assist in the storytelling--to be recognized."
Cardona is one of several LOOK artists to be recognized in the Bones' Emmy nomination, the others being VFX producer Andy Simonson, 3D artist Beau Janzen, and compositors Buddy Gheen, Ulysses Argetta and Heather Fetter. "The Twist in the Twister" episode was also nominated earlier this year for a VES Award in the category Outstanding Supporting Visual Effects in a Broadcast Program.
Among LOOK's key contributions were to the Bones episode was a sequence in which special agent Seeley Booth (played by David Boreanaz) and Dr. Lance Sweets (portrayed by John Francis Daley) are interrogating murder suspects in the foreground as we see a tornado on the horizon, drawing closer and soon leading to everyone running for shelter. "I think most shows would find a clever way around something like this when it appeared in a script," conjectured Cardona. "They might opt for having the scene take place at night, maybe amounting to only a handful of shots. But for Bones, the decision was to see the tornado form from the beginning during the day and then build."
According to Cardona, LOOK wound up with 35 to 40 shots showcasing the tornado--whether in the background and a bit out of focus with actors saying their dialogue in the foreground, or clearly highlighting the tornado as it does damage.
LOOK also had to do extensive work in order to create the desired East Coast look replete with lush green farmland. The actual shooting location was a farm in Ventura County, Calif., which at the time was in the midst of an extremely dry season. Cardona recalled, "The location landscape was brown, with large oak trees all over the place, necessitating us having to go with a 120-foot green screen, 30 feet high, so that we could create a kind of virtual set, replacing most everything to realize the right backdrop of fertile, green land."
As for earning an Emmy nomination, Cardona said, "I'm ecstatic. It's a huge honor. It's something I wanted to accomplish, for sure. To be able to do it on one of the shows that I first started on, Bones, makes it even more special. It's been a nice experience to grow along with the show."
LOOK has an Emmy history. Back in 2008, several of its artists were nominated for Outstanding Special Visual Effects for a Miniseries, Movie or a Special on the strength of the History Channel's Life After People. Though he wasn't one of the designated nominees on that program, Cardona contributed to it as a VFX artist.
Editor's note: This is the eighth installment in an 11-part series that explores the field of Emmy nominees and winners spanning such disciplines as directing, cinematography, editing, animation and VFX. The series will run right through the Creative Arts Emmys ceremony and the following week's primetime Emmy Awards live telecast.