This Fall, following a tour of the prestigious festival circuit, Orson Welles’ long lost Hollywood satire The Other Side of the Wind, became available to stream in household’s worldwide courtesy of Netflix.
Over 40 years in making, this outsized story dictated a wealth of fresh content for Netflix subscribers looking to dive headfirst into this fascinating narrative. Outside of the finished film itself, there is Academy Award winner-Morgan Neville’s documentary They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead, which details the tortured history of the tortured production of Welles’s film, as well as a short featurette that gets into the nuts and bolts of how legendary producers Peter Bogdanovich and Frank Marshall worked with today’s technology to finish the picture.
MovieMaker sat down for a lengthy discussion with one of these integral collaborators, Academy Award winning-editor Bob Murawski, to discuss the task of editing together a final version of The Other Side of the Wind which reflects Orson Welles’ intended vision but always works as a movie outright.
Caleb Hammond, MovieMaker Magazine (MM): How’d you come aboard the project?
Bob Murawski (BM): Originally, I found out about the movie about 15 years ago. I was friends with Gary Graver, the Director of Photography, who lived down the street from me in Studio City. We became close friends, and I found out he had worked with and shadowed Orson for 15 years and had the work printed in his garage. We always talked about getting together between jobs and trying to work on the film. I kept saying “Come on Gary, we need to get the movie finished,” without knowing what an awful task it would’ve been at that point and that people had already been trying to finish the movie for years. Unfortunately, Gary died in 2006, and I never got a chance to work on the movie with him. When I found out last year that the movie was going to be finished, I petitioned to get on the project. My agent set up an interview with Frank Marshall and Filip Jan Rymsza, the producers, and I went out with them and told them that I kept this long relationship with the movie and wanted to be involved and would love to be in the project, and the next day they hired me.
MM: I was really impressed with the continuity between shots. Even when you have the sense they were shot at different times with the black and white vs color, but you can always follow the story. And there are also a lot of call back to jokes throughout the feature. How did you create that continuity between shots?
BM: It was tough because we had a script and many drafts, and I wanted to read as many drafts as possible. I had the Orson Welles archive at the University of Michigan Library pull every draft they could find because it was shot over such a long period of time. We wanted to look at all the materials and piece it together like a jigsaw puzzle before we decided what the final picture was supposed to be. He started shooting in 1970 and a lot of what’s in the film was shot in this early stage of the shoot. In 1974, he shot the bulk of the party scene before going back in 1975 and shooting the pieces that were meant to be placed throughout the movie to fill things here and there and clarify different scenes. Unfortunately, there’s really no documentation as to where those pieces, which we called the Ellen Pages, went. We had a version of the script where someone had annotated, so we had to go through, watch everything, and then try to figure out what scene each note is related to. Orson obviously knew when he was shooting where certain things were going to go but never really had the chance to edit them into the movie. So I was looking for memos or something like the 54 page manifesto of editing notes like he wrote for Touch of Evil. We never found anything like that because he was planning to cut it himself, so there was no point in sitting down and writing detailed notes. The only notes he had written to the editors were just technical things, like how he wanted the material to be approached for his own edit of the movie. So it was just four of us working: me editing the footage and showing it to Peter, our guy who knew Frank Marshall, and Filip Jan Rymsza. We all tried to figure out what was the best flow of sequences and what we should do to craft the best story with the best dramatic arc.
MM: Is that a solo process with you watching all this footage trying to figure out where all the scenes and shots go?
BM: Yeah, pretty much. Like any movie, I think the key to editing is to watch all the footage and familiarize yourself with the footage. And the good thing about this movie is that Fortune 705 had already edited about 40 percent of it and that film had already existed in a pretty fine cut form, so I could tell the style that he was looking for. He was trying to make a movie in the kind of rapid cutting style that he had started to develop in his European era, which culminated in F For Fake where he delved into rapid editing, because he was no longer able to create really beautiful, long, elaborate dolly or crane shots as he did with Touch of Evil. It was a new approach to filmmaking, where he was trying to do the same thing through editing.
He had a sort of basic cut, and then he was also looking at another hour or hour and a half of assembly that he had done where he had sort of strung together what he shot that day. There were four or five versions of the same line so I was able to know what he wanted in those scenes in terms of performance. Then there was another 20 percent of footage that he hadn’t cut at all so, knowing what I knew from watching those other scenes, I could tell what his intentions were.
MM: Did you find that you would use one of those takes he had strung together?
BM: Yes, for the most part. Like with any editing process, once you put the scene together, things might change a little bit. What you think might work when you’re coming up with the decisions in editing might not necessarily work in the final. For the most part, we tried to stick to what he had selected in his assembly and 95 percent of the time his choices worked out. We also had issues because a lot of the production sound was missing. Even though we had all the print negatives, most of the original sound tapes that were recorded on set were lost. So a lot of time I was editing silent, trying to figure out what the actors were saying and matching it to the script. I had to make the picture work with the sound and vice versa.