Ep118: Legendary Editor Walter Murch On Optimizing Creativity, Productivity, and Well-Being In Hollywood For 50+ Years

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When you think of film editors, let’s face it – healthy habits and good physical conditioning are not images that immediately come to mind. But with a pandemic upon us, and with the high cost of the ‘Passion Tax’ we constantly pay as Hollywood creatives, healthy living is no longer an option – it’s a necessity. If we want strong immune systems and creative minds that are resilient to high-stress environments, it is imperative we adopt healthier habits like eating better and moving more throughout the day. While it might seem as though these are new concepts, today’s guest proves these ideas have proven successful for decades.

Legendary and Oscar-winning Hollywood film editor Walter Murch (who has edited such films as Tomorrowland, Cold Mountain, The English Patient, Apocalypse Now and The Godfather III, to name a very select few) knows just how important it is to be health-conscious and physically fit in order to do the intense creative work that’s required to edit critically acclaimed films and documentaries. Walter has spent years not only honing his craft but also honing his most valuable assets: His body and mind. And for those unaware, Walter is THE leading pioneer in the standing desk movement (I just amplified his work, but he started it).

In today’s conversation, Walter shares his secrets for maintaining his health and energy levels while working long hours on feature films. He dives deep into the neuroscience of why our brains work better when our bodies are moving more and the strategies he uses for incorporating movement throughout the day. We talk in detail about his specific creative process, the long-standing issue of burnout and excessive working hours, and how he feels about editors being classified as “below the line.” While this was originally a conversation from the ‘Fitness in Post’ days, there is an abundance of timeless wisdom to be gleaned from the legend himself who has survived well over four decades in a brutal industry where when people start dropping like flies, the executives simply reply, “Then get more flies.” (as Walter tells it)

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Here’s What You’ll Learn:

  • Zack’s favorite passage from the book, Behind the Seen (which he calls “porn for editors”) that became the inspiration for his healthy lifestyle and this podcast.
  • The tragic story of Walter’s motivation to incorporate movement into his workday.
  • Walter’s exact process for getting his body and mind prepared for any new project (and how you can adopt the same process).
  • The importance of capturing ideas when they strike and his secret weapon to ensure he never misses one.
  • The crucial task every editor should do to understand the script and inhabit the story better.
  • Walter’s best advice for adding more movement throughout the day.
  • What a short-order cook, composer, and brain surgeon have in common with editors and how he’s adapted his working habits to be more like all three of them. HINT: Standing is involved.
  • Why skipping lunch breaks is not only bad for your health but bad for your productivity.
  • Two tricks Walter uses to prevent low back pain when using a standing desk.
  • How a sedentary lifestyle is shortening your lifespan and the ways neuroscience recommends reversing it.
  • Why Walter only eats breakfast and lunch and avoids dinner.
  • The amazing power of sleep and how it enhances your creativity.
  • What the essence of being an editor is and what Walter believes are the essential skills necessary based on the technology today.
  • How Walter approaches cutting documentaries versus scripted films and what the major similarities and differences are between them.
  • KEY TAKEAWAY:  The seasick feeling or ‘hiatus flu’ that editors experience at the end of a project is completely natural, so be aware and do not make any big decisions during this time.

Useful Resources Mentioned:

In the Blink of an Eye

The Conversations

Behind the Seen

Missing link found between brain, immune system; major disease implications

How to Get the Best Sleep of Your Life

Ep113: The Importance of Setting Boundaries, Advocating For Yourself, and Asking For Help | with Janace Tashjian

Dear Hollywood: It’s Time For An Intervention About The Hours We Work [Petition Inside]

Episode Transcript

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Guest Bio:

walter murch bio photo

Walter Murch

Walter Scott Murch (born July 12, 1943) is an American film editor, director, writer and sound designer. With a career stretching back to 1969, including work on THX1138, 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), he has been referred to by Roger Ebert as “the most respected film editor and sound designer in the modern cinema.”

Show Credits:

This episode was edited by Curtis Fritsch, and the show notes were prepared by Debby Germino and published by Glen McNiel.

The original music in the opening and closing of the show is courtesy of Joe Trapanese (who is quite possibly one of the most talented composers on the face of the planet).

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Zack Arnold (ACE) is an award-winning Hollywood film editor & producer (Cobra Kai, Empire, Burn Notice, Unsolved, Glee), a documentary director, father of 2, an American Ninja Warrior, and the creator of Optimize Yourself. He believes we all deserve to love what we do for a living...but not at the expense of our health, our relationships, or our sanity. He provides the education, motivation, and inspiration to help ambitious creative professionals DO better and BE better. “Doing” better means learning how to more effectively manage your time and creative energy so you can produce higher quality work in less time. “Being” better means doing all of the above while still prioritizing the most important people and passions in your life…all without burning out in the process. Click to download Zack’s “Ultimate Guide to Optimizing Your Creativity (And Avoiding Burnout).”