Descending from a lineage of Oscar-sound editors—including his Oscar nominated grandfather, Robert G. Henderson, and his father, Oscar winner Alan Robert Murray—editor Blu Murray quickly realized through firsthand experience that sound editing wasn’t for him. Of interest, though, was the craft of picture editing; recognizing that picture and sound editors operate within the same union, Murray put his time into sound work before transitioning over, making his own beginning as the assistant editor of 2004’s Catwoman.
It’s not all too common of an experience to make one’s editing debut on a Clint Eastwood film, but that’s exactly what Murray did with Sully, having worked his way up the rungs at Eastwood’s side over the past ten years. Below, Murray discusses his industry beginnings, the challenges of integrating various cinematic timelines, and the scene that changed the most in the edit.
What was the genesis of your working relationship with Clint Eastwood? You have a long history together at this point.
Yeah, Clint’s the best when it comes to promoting from within—when you work there, everybody has a chance to move up. Rob Lorenz was his first AD at one time and then became his full-time producer. Our casting director, Geoff Miclat, I think he went through three of Clint’s casting directors, and then Clint gave him a shot on Trouble with the Curve. I’ve been there for 12 years now, as an assistant editor and then the first assistant editor. I’ve experienced the way Clint shoots, the way he cuts. I’ve seen all of his dailies for the past decade.
When we were finishing [American] Sniper, his editors Joel [Cox] and Gary [Roach] decided to take a job on Pirates of the Caribbean—that was at least going to be a two-year long gig, and it was in Australia. I didn’t really feel like going to Australia or spending that much time away, and I figured Clint would go back to work after Sniper was such a success. So I stayed back, and I just had a conversation with him and said, “Hey, if you get something while they’re away, I’d love to cut it with you.” He got Sully, and he came in one day, and said, “All right, I got something and you’re going to be the guy.” That’s how that happened.
You come from a lineage of sound editors, and you began, yourself, in sound editing. What made you want to transfer over to picture?
My whole life, I wanted to be a soccer player. I got injured in college, and that didn’t happen, but I’ve always had a love for film—it was a big part of my upbringing. So I started where I could, working with my dad in sound. Right off the bat, I knew sound wasn’t for me. What those guys do is so intricate, and I didn’t think that way. I didn’t gravitate towards it. I knew it was the same union as picture editors, and that was something I really wanted to get into.
So I worked there for a few years to get into the union, and it was really cool. I wouldn’t have done it any other way. I loved coming from sound, and knowing that aspect of filmmaking—just making coffee for everyone, and taping cue sheets. I loved every little bit of it along the way, and then I got my first job in the cutting room on the picture side on Catwoman. Gary Roach, was the assistant editor, and then they needed a visual effects editor on Flags of Our Fathers, so Gary brought me on there, and then that’s when I started with Clint at Malpaso.
What was the biggest challenge in making your debut as lead editor?
Really, it was a change in the type of pressure. As the first assistant on some of Clint’s films, I was the only Avid assistant before David Cox came along, so I was used to his way of doing things and that type of pressure. Being creative and having people watching what you’ve done, it was cool and exciting, but that was really the only shift that I felt, in terms of, “Oh, I better step up my game and be good here.”
This film operates with a lot of intercutting between different timelines—was that challenging to navigate?
Todd Komarnicki wrote an awesome script, and he used the event as kind of a spine throughout the movie. Those flashbacks were built in right from the beginning. The first time I read the script, it moved and it had so much energy, so I just wanted to stay true to that and keep the story moving in that way, using flashbacks as little glimpses at Sully’s life. Actually, they were longer, but Clint didn’t want to be away from Sully for too long in the story. So those moments and those flashbacks, especially into his younger life, they really just got condensed into a little glimpse of what he was, so you can get the taste of a man learning how to fly for the first time, or landing the F-4 safely.
I’d imagine there was a good amount of green screen work involved with your work here.
Yeah, so we went to New York, and we had a barge that we actually set in the middle of the Hudson River. We shot a lot of plates on the Hudson River, with passengers in the foreground in the water. Aerials, and those were really important to infuse in the story whenever I could, because New York has its own energy, and no matter how good the visual effects are, you want those real elements in there. Whenever we could use the real elements of the ferries coming in or when we’re actually on the river, we cut those in, and then the plane was at Universal Studios at Falls Lake, surrounded by blue screen. So that’s where all the passengers actually came out onto the wings. It was a challenge fitting those pieces together.
Clint really loves to capture the moments where it doesn’t feel like somebody’s acting, so when we were evacuating the plane, he shot the whole thing from when the passengers touched down on the water in the plane to when all 155 people are out in the rafts with a steadicam. His steadicam operator, Steve Campanelli, was in the plane with the passengers just picking up whatever he could—like he was one of them, as everybody’s trying to rush off that plane. It was a bit of a challenge picking out the moments that not only kept the story going, but made you feel like you were there with them. My assistants, Christine Kim and Kevin Murray, had a lot of work to do—they really set that up for me.
Is there typically a good deal of coverage involved when you’re working with Eastwood?
Yeah, it’s funny. Throughout all of these interviews, and being able to talk about Clint for the first time, people really think that he doesn’t shoot that much. It depends on what he’s shooting. He definitely doesn’t shoot as much as a lot of the directors out there, but he doesn’t undercover anything either. He’s really just there with the actors and in the moment, and he shoots until he gets what he wants, and what he thinks he needs to tell the story. He really has a good instinct for when he’s got enough, and then he just says, “All right, we’re done.” Then we move on.
Boardroom scenes, like those involving the National Transportation Safety Board, are notoriously difficult for the amount of coverage they require.
I really feel like you know what makes the scene when you’re watching dailies—you feel the magic of the moments that you want to use. I try to use those, and then structure the scenes around what I know is really powerful. Clint shoots mostly with one camera—there’s not multiple cameras running, in those scenes in the conference room when they’re interrogating Sully. You get what those actors give you in that take, and we’ll do one or two takes in that setup, and then he’ll move to a different setup.
What was the process in cutting the film’s fast-paced action sequences, as the plane is going down, and in the moments following?
We wanted it to feel like it did on that day—the whole thing happened in 208 seconds, so it moved really fast, and throughout the process, we kept refining those moments.
Which scene changed the most, through the iterative process of editing?
The one that we definitely worked on the most was the rescue—the first cut had a lot of the air traffic controller in it, and the more we watched the film, the more we felt like, “Okay, we have these moments that are nice and unique, but they feel a little repetitive, so how do we redefine those and try to make them feel like something new? Even though you’re seeing the same thing, essentially, three times, how do we get it to feel new each time?”
Looking ahead, are you hoping to work again with Clint, or branch out elsewhere?
It’s such a unique and cool experience, working with Clint, that I’m really just waiting to see what he gets next, because I’d love to cut another one with him. Just sitting in the cutting room with him and listening to his notes, and seeing how he reacts to things, or his thought process in making a film…Everything is story. I would love to do another one with Clint, and just continue to learn from him.