[(interview date 9 September 2002) In the following interview, Ondaatje discusses his decision to profile film editor Walter Murch in The Conversations, drawing comparisons between the processes of film editing and fiction writing.]
Canadian Author Michael Ondaatje is an avid film buff. And as he watched his novel The English Patient being adapted for the screen, he became fascinated with the mind of the movie's Oscar-winning editor. Walter Murch has edited sound or images for directors such as George Lucas (American Graffiti), Francis Ford Coppola (The Godfather I-III, The Conversation, Apocalpyse Now) and Orson Welles (the posthumous director's cut of Touch of Evil). Ondaatje's new book, The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film, is a dialogue between an author and an editor about the creative process. In this conversation about The Conversations, Ondaatje talks to Maclean's Senior Writer Brian D. Johnson.
[Johnson]: Why have you followed your novel Anil's Ghost with a work of non-fiction?
[Ondaatje]: I find it very difficult to go from one work of fiction to another one. I feel like I've used up everything in me, excavated everything, and I feel quite wordless. After my first long book, The Collected Works of Billy the Kid, I needed to do something that was nothing to do with words, so I did this documentary film on the poet B. P. Nicol. After that, I did a documentary on Toronto's Theatre Passe Muraille and their play The Farm Show. In a way, The Conversations is another documentary.
You're curious about people's jobs: bomb disposal, surgery ... film editing.
Yes, how things work. How a film is made, how concrete poetry works, how a play is gathered together. My novels are about jazz in New Orleans, or war in Sri Lanka, or in Italy. But they're also about me asking how would I behave in that situation? How would people I know behave? Saul Bellow says, "We write to discover...