Murch on Disney

A couple excerpts from the previously mentioned Conversations book that give pause for thought:

Michael Ondaatje: But surely on one level, the lack of rules and codes, and the lack of a too premeditated theory is what keeps film alive. Obviously film is an art form and it’s a made art form, but what’s wonderful about film is how it also catches an uncontrolled reality. There’s the chance of the accidental, which then can be selected, chosen, and shaped by the director and the editor. But to begin with something too controlled…It’s why I cannot stand cartoons, which are a hundred percent premeditated, totally manipulative, and therefore completely artificial.

Walter Murch: I could see the danger of great success very clearly when I went to Disney Studios in 1980, when we were talking about doing Return to Oz. Walt Disney had been dead for fifteen years, but he was such a presence that everything he’d said – even the most accidental comment – was the word of God. He had been screening dailies once for a live action film, and he happened to ask: What was the f-stop on this shot? The f-stop determines the depth of field – how much is in focus. Someone answered 5.6. Disney said, I like that. Enough is in focus, but not too much, it’s just right. Somebody took that to heart, and it became an edict. So every film at Disney Studios had to have the exteriors shot at an f-stop of 5.6, to give the Disney depth of field.

Whether Disney approved of that, or whether he would be horrified to learn that the answer to an accidental question was copied down by one of his monks and became part of the liturgy of Disney Studios, I don’t know. When something is successful, everything that went into it, both the good and the bad, tends to get bundled up as a recipe for how to make success. It becomes very difficult to separate out what was true and what was untrue, what was good and what was bad, what was superficial and what was profound.