Sean Paul Murphy, Writer

Sean Paul Murphy, Writer
Sean Paul Murphy, Writer

Monday, April 21, 2014

Sean Paul Murphy, Editor

This cartoon by director Barry Shapiro shows
the soothing effect my editing has on clients.
I am a very lucky man.  Not only have I  been able to achieve some success in writing, my avocation, I also love my vocation, film editing.

I have been editing film since I was around ten-years-old.  I was always a movie collector.  However, back in the pre-video/pre-digital age, if you wanted to collect movies, you had to collect film.  My first films were on Super 8mm.  If the film broke running through the projecter you had to edit it.  I was never intimidated by film.  However, I didn't start editing for content, rather than repair, until I got to college.

I was a Mass Communications major at Towson (State) University.  I began in journalism but shifted over to the film department.  The Film Department was a natural fit for me.  However, unlike most of my peers, I never really hungered to become a director.  For some reason, I never really enjoyed being on the set.  I knew and understood the basics of lighting and cinematography and sound, but I didn't feel the desire to practice them.  Other people I knew had a passion for production and I was always happy to let them indulge it.  Film is a collaborative endeavor.  If you have access to people who are better at a certain job than you, you are foolish not to use them -- if your goal is the best possible production.  Sadly, most of the independent films I see at film festivals suffer from one-man-showism.  Certain people feel the need to write, produce, direct, shoot and even star in their own films.  Some people are capable of doing that.  Most aren't.  We can't all be Orson Welles.  Not even Orson Welles was.   But I digress.  (More about this in my future blog:  No One Wants To See Your Movie.)

BTW, here's my first student film:  (Pretty pathetic)

My tastes ran to the quieter, more solitary pursuits like writing.  I didn't get hooked on editing until my final project  in Filmmaking I.  I was partnered with the notable David Butler on a B&W 16mm sync sound film that we supposed to take through a final screening print.  At the time I was going through a great deal of emotional turmoil, as related in my upcoming book "The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God," and the production of this film was my only pleasure.  I particularly enjoyed the editing and post-production of the film.  Little did I know it would soon become my livilihood.  Who would have thunk you could become a professional film editor in Baltimore?

Here's that film:

After college, I went to work for the much-vaunted advertising agency Smith Burke & Azzam.  I started in the mailroom, but I worked in the accounting and media departments before settling on the creative side in the broadcast department.  (I once remarked to one of the partners that I had worked in every department except account services -- who dealt with the clients.  The partner said in response:  "Sean, that was not an oversight.")   The agency had an upright 35mm movieola editing system -- which I never saw used in anger --and a 3/4-inch linear video editing system.  One of my responsibilities was editing presentation reels and pitch materials for the various executives.  Once, when I had some time on my hands, I decided to put a little coda on the end of a little rah-rah internal video.  I decided depict the history of the agency by editing five seconds clips of every commercial the agency produced in sequential order.

Everyone loved the coda.  Richard Smith, an art director, came up to me afterwards.  "You can do that kind of editing here?" he asked.  "Yup," I answered.  A few days later he brought me over the video dailies of an early Choice Hotels suitcase commercial.  He said, "The editor says this spot won't work as a fifteen.  Can you make it work?"  "Yes," I answered -- not knowing whether I could or not.  Fortunately, I did and thus began my career.

Learning my trade at Smith Burke & Azzam
with producer Pam Poertner
Soon I was editing various projects for the agency.  I started off on smaller, non-air projects, but soon I was working on some of the lower budget television commercials.  One boring afternoon, I was going through our tape library for PBS series "Vietnam:  The 10,000 Day War."  As I watched the footage, I thought it would cool to cut a brief history of America's involvement in Vietnam against the Beatles' song The End.  It only took a couple of hours to complete, but it completely changed my career.  People loved it.  John Palumbo, the chief songwriter and lead singer of the band Crack The Sky, immediately hired me to edit a video for a band he was producing.   That was my first freelance editing gig.  I even edited a video for him later.

Here's the Vietnam piece:

Before long, I had built up a nice list of freelance clients.  When the loss of a major account at the agency resulted in lay-offs, it was easy for me to go freelance instead of assuming annoying responsibilities I had given up years earlier.  I continued working for the agency as a freelancer and began working for the best directors in the region.  I mainly edited television commercials.  They were my area of experience and, happily, they paid the most.  But edited everything from industrials and rock videos to politicals and  infomercials.  My client list included Gore 2000, CDC, Exxon, Pitney Bowes, Brother, Lockheed Martin, Sprite, Hardee's, Medstar, True Temper, Choice Hotels and The Health Insurance Plan of New York (HIP).   Eventually, I began editing programming for networks like Animal Planet, PBS and E!  I even edited a few low budget features when I had some down time.  They were all labors of love -- because they certainly didn't pay.  Every feature I edited cost me money.

Here's my editorial spot reel.  (It's old.  I haven't put a new spot on it in seven years.):

Here's a newer spot:

I consider myself a story editor.  I'm at my best when you give me six hours of real people footage and tell me to find the story.  Generally, I attempt  to follow the footage and let it tell its own story -- as opposed to other editors who specialize in manipulating footage and bending it to their will. 

The editing business has changed dramatically over the years.  We went from linear analog systems to digital non-linear systems.  We used to edit in suites that cost $500 an hour to working at home on consumer equipment.  I will say that it's not as much fun as it used to be.  In the old days, editing was a much more social job.  More laughs and camaraderie.  Nowadays the footage arrives on your doorstep on drives via Federal Express.  You work alone.  You upload your cuts for approval.  The comments come back via email.  You finish the spots then you send the drives back.  No more leisurely lunches at the client's expense.... 

Still, I do love the work.

Keep me in mind for your next project.

Behind the helm of the Avid.
Be sure to check out my book "The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God."

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Yours Truly interviewed on NPR's "All Things Considered."

My docudrama "Game of Pawns" has been all over the news lately.  I have to admit I did enjoy these China Girls giving the film the Mystery Science Theater 3000 treatment.  However, my favorite moment was a recent story on National Public Radio's "All Things Considered" program.  Why?  Because they talked to me.   I found them friendly and fair, and the final edited piece was reflective of tone of our overall interview.  In other words, they didn't try to ambush me or make me seem more ridiculous than I usually am.

Here's the story:

Saturday, April 19, 2014

"Game of Pawns" in the news

The short docudrama I wrote for the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Counter Intelligence Division, has been all over the news.   I was amused by this snarky review by Matt Vasilogambros in the National Journal.  He seems to think we could have shot a film for the FBI about Chinese attempts to compromise American college students in China itself.  Okay...   More importantly, NBC's Today show ran this feature about it last week.  All I can say is "Awesome!"  Here's the segment:

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

"Sarah's Choice," Part Four, Post and Beyond

Director Chad Kapper and his usual team at StoneKap Productions were slated to do the post-production work on "Sarah's Choice."  Within a week or so of the shoot, my fellow screenwriter Tim Ratajczak and I received a quicktime of a short scene between Rebecca St. James and Staci Keanan.  It was very promising.  We couldn't wait to see more. 

But we did wait.

And wait.

And wait.

Before long, the scheduled release date loomed ominously ahead.  We called producer David A.R. White repeatedly only to discover that Chad hadn't shown them the film yet either.  People were getting nervous.

Finally, Tim and I were emailed the rough cut.  I asked David what he thought of it.  He said he wasn't able to watch it all the way through.  What did his wife Andrea think?  She was one of the stars.  Surely she had watched it....   Nope, she didn't get all the way through it either.  Apparently no one at PureFlix, with the possible exception of Russell Wolfe, who was the partner in charge of the production, had watched the film in its entirety.

Tim and I with Byron Jones at the Boston Premiere
Now I was nervous.  So was Tim.  Neither of us could bring ourselves watch the film alone, so we decided we had to watch it together.  Rather than view it on a computer monitor, I burned a DVD to watch it on my big screen television.  Tim and I sat on the sofa.  My wife Debbie sat on the love seat with a pen and paper to take notes.  With much foreboding, I hit the play button.

The movie was terrible.  Terrible!  We could see why no one watched it all the way through.  We quickly went from appalled silence to sarcastic anger.  Debbie even had to stop taking notes.  Tim has known me since 1982 and says he heard more expletives from me in those two hours than over the previous decades combined.  An anguished call was placed to David.  He didn't think we had time to make any real changes.  I asked him how much time we had.  He said two weeks. 

Two weeks....  That wasn't enough time.  However, as appalled as I was by the rough cut, I knew there was a good film hidden in there.  Chad was a real director.  He knew what he was doing.  He shot good stuff.  The performances seemed sound.  The problem was clearly the edit.  I told David I could fix the film.  David was skeptical.  He didn't think I could do it in time.  I wasn't sure I could either.  I told him, ideally, I would like to work from the front of the film while Chad and his team worked their way from the back based on our notes.  David asked me if I thought they could repair it on their end.  I wasn't so sure.

The problem with the editing of the rough cut wasn't a result of carelessness or sloppy work. It was the result of a distinct editorial philosophy.  They were imposing an arbitrary structure on the film.  Good directors usually envision a stylistic structure for a film while they are shooting.  However, just like they say battle plans usually don't survive first contact with the enemy, those stylistic structures are usually just ideals.  In the end, you usually end up letting the footage tell the story rather than forcing an arbitrary structure on it.

What do I mean by forcing an arbitrary structure on it?  For example, the film is called "Sarah's Choice" so they focused the attention on Sarah in the edit.  In conversation scenes, they rarely cut to both individuals.  They usually let camera hang on Rebecca St. James while the other actors talked.  They took this to such an extreme that in the scene where Rebecca is talking with an abortion counselor, we only see the counselor's last line on camera.  Well, that's a problem.  The counselor was played by Charlene Tilton of "Dallas" fame.  When you pay for Charlene Tilton, you want to see Charlene Tilton.

My wife Debbie, Rebecca and myself
David asked me to write up some notes to see if Chad and his editor were willing help make the needed changes.  Sadly, the notes were not well-received.  The editor saw no problem with the film and instead passionately defended his choices in every example we brought up.  I expected that.  David asked me if I was prepared to re-edit the entire film in two weeks.  I said yes.  I had no choice.  If I said no, they would release it as it was. 

Here's the hard reality.  Quality is not always job one for distributors.  This was a small, independent film aimed at a niche audience.  Most of the people who would purchase it would generally do so for one of two reasons:  the pro-life message appealed to them, or they were fans of Rebecca St. James.  In the dollars and cents eyes of a distributor, an increase in "quality" would not substantially boost the sales.  This is not just true of faith-based distributors.  It's the same way with companies that distribute low budget horror films, African-American-themed films, etc.

Breakfast in Boston with Tim, David A.R. White, Andrea
Logan White and Julian's parents.
This would be just one of many films PureFlix would release that year. Some would be good, some would be bad.   For the company, it would all even out.  Tim and I didn't have the same attitude.  This film was important to us.  We had to fix it.  So I agreed to do the edit.  The irony is that, in my pre-shoot conversation with Chad, I had told him that he should expect PureFlix to take the edit away from him.  Little did I know I would be the one who did the editing.

I didn't have time to start from scratch.  I would simply re-arrange the takes Chad and his editor had chosen of the performances.  Generally speaking, they picked the best performances.  In two weeks, I managed to cut over twenty-minutes out of the film while adding back a number of scenes and lines of dialogue they had inexplicably left on the cutting room floor.  When I was done, I was worried about what Chad would think.  His response was short:  "You made some good choices."

Deb and I living the high life with Tim, Julian,
Rebecca and Julian's parents.
I was happy.  I try not to go through life alienating directors.

The film proved to be a success.  It premiered at the Boston Christian Film Festival.  It was a great time.  A number of the cast and crew showed up.  More importantly, a pregnant woman who watched the film that first night cancelled the abortion she already had planned for the next day.  That's what kind of effect the film has had on people. 

I have subsequently attended many screenings of the film, and remain amazed by the flood of emotions that follow.  Often a line forms in front of me afterwards filled with women who want to tell me about their their abortions and the guilt they still live with decades after the event.   This film has touched many lives and brought people peace and healing.

John Molli, Activist, Rebecca, Sean & Tim
at a screening at a CARENet event.
I am grateful to have been a part of it.

Here's the trailer:

Previous Installments:
"Sarah's Choice," Part One, "In The Blink of an Eye"
"Sarah's Choice," Part Two, The Writing
"Sarah's Choice," Part Three, The Shoot

Read about the making of my other features:

21 Eyes
Hidden Secrets
Holyman Undercover
The Encounter

Be sure to check out my book The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God.  It is available in paperback and on Kindle courtesy of TouchPoint Press.

Monday, April 14, 2014

"Sarah's Choice," Part Three, The Shoot

When last we left the making of "Sarah's Choice," Tim Ratajczak and I had finished up the script.  At this point, a new person entered the equation.  Producer John Molli.

John Molli is the husband of an old friend of mine, Stacey, an account executive I used to work with at the much-lauded advertising agency Smith Burke & Azzam.  John always wanted to get into the movie business.  Although he was a banker by occupation, John had once been in show business himself:  as a successful male model.  Ah, looks and money.  The poor guy....  Fortunately, I never had to concern myself with those handicaps.

John had read my script "Then The Judgement" and expressed interest in producing it.  We were working to set up the project with director David Butler when "Sarah's Choice" arose.  I contacted John and told him that I thought this would be a great project to get his feet wet on.  Also, I told him, as an investor, this project was a sure thing.  (I was right on both counts.)  John eventually got involved on "Sarah's Choice" as well as "In The Blink of an Eye"  -- the film off which Tim and I had been fired.  The irony wasn't lost on me, but I eventually returned to the project as the editor.  That film made money, too.  As a producer, John is batting a thousand.  Hopefully that will continue with "Then The Judgement."

Producer John Molli during the audio mix of
"In The Blink of an Eye" at Clean Cuts

Tim and I had already decided not to go to the Los Angeles shoot.  Although I now felt very comfortable with director Chad Kapper, considering our initial edginess, I didn't want to be too much of a presence on the set.  There's always enough tension trying to meet the days on these budgets.  Plus, why fly to California when the production was coming east for some location shooting in Canton, Ohio?  This would give me the chance to visit my wife's family in Youngstown and drop by the set to get the obligatory photos with the stars for Facebook. 

Tim Ratajczak and director Chad Kapper with
America's favortie fatman.
Still, producer David A.R. White involved Tim and I in the California shoot by getting us on the phone periodically with some of the people involved.  David called me and put me on the phone with Rebecca St. James.  Rebecca was very kind and very complimentary about the script.  She asked how long it took us to write it.  I think she thought I was lying when I said two weeks.   Tim got to talk to one of our favorites:  Staci Keanan.  She had been in our first two PureFlix films, "Hidden Secrets" and "Holyman Undercover."  My only problem with her is that she hasn't been in the rest of them. 

I was very happy with the cast of the film.  Casting Director Billy DaMota-- the aspiring actor's best friend -- did a great job.  It's amazing the casts he puts together for our budgets.  I think Rebecca St. James gave a marvelous performance.  Very understated.  Very contemplative.   Great reaction shots.  You always get the feeling she is actually listening and thinking about what the other person is saying.  That's actually a rarity.  You'd be surprised by the number of actors, who, although they can deliver a line, cannot deliver an honest reaction shot.  Most of them look like they're impatiently waiting for the other actor to stop talking so that they can say their line.  (You see a lot of that in real life, too!)  However, in the pivotal scenes, Rebecca was also able to deliver with genuine emotion and conviction. Bravo.

Since Rebecca spoke with an Australian accent, we needed her film family members to speak with an accent as well.  Staci Keanan did a great accent, and her performance in general.  She has never let me down.  Linda Bisesti also did a great job as Rebecca's mother -- and she would re-appear in Tim's film "The Book as Esther" as the evil Haman's wife.  We had Sarah's home front nailed down.  The other principal female role, that of Sarah's boss and confidant, when to Andrea Logan White.  She did a marvelous job as well.  We knew she had the skills to play a character with a hard exterior hiding a vulnerable heart.   Another notable actress in the film was Judy Lewis -- a fine actress who was actually the illegitimate child of Clark Gable and Loretta Young.  "Sarah's Choice" would be her last film.

I really enjoyed the guys in the film, too.  Brad Stine, the king of Christian comics, gave a wonderful turn.  This performance in this film was all the evidence one needed to see he could easily move from stand-up to acting.  I wasn't familiar with Julian Bailey, but he did a great job -- perfectly inhabiting Sarah's charming, if immature, boyfriend.  I expect to see more of Julian in the future!  Plus, we had Robert Miano played Sarah's boss.  I couldn't believe it, Sonny Red from "Donnie Brasco" was in my movie....

Tim's schedule didn't permit him to go to Ohio for the location shoot.  Sadly, neither John Molli's schedule -- although he did go to Los Angeles for the main shoot.  That only left my wife Debbie and me  While we were driving from Baltimore, I took a look at the most recent revision of the script.  I was a little surprised to see some new scenes that we hadn't written.  In fact, Tim and I had written any of the dialogue that was going to be filmed on location.  I had to laugh.  Here I was, driving to the set of one of my movies, but nothing I wrote was being filmed.

Ah, the life of a screenwriter....  (Can you see why I am turning to books?)

PureFlix partner and producer Russ Wolfe was less amused than me.  When I arrived on the set, he pulled me aside and asked me if I had seen the changes.  I said no.  Russ said we had to sit down and cobble something new together.  Fortunately, when Chad joined us, he said the dialogue was only an outline.  The main dialogue scene being shot in Ohio involved Rebecca talking with a real-life pro-life activist.  Chad didn't want to burden her with lines -- especially since she was talking about the activities of her own group.  The outline only existed to give their conversation a desired flow.  All was good.

Yours truly and Russell Wolfe

I had a great day on the set.  I got my obligatory photos for Facebook.  I was very happy to meet Rebecca St. James.  Frankly, I am always nervous when I meet a Christian with such a public ministry.  I am afraid they will not be who they present themselves to be.  Fortunately, she was the real deal.

Yours truly, our friend Cher Devlin, Rebecca St. James, and
my lovely wife Deborah.
The Ohio shoot was a great success.  Fortunately, we got the snow we needed for the sleight-riding sequence and, more importantly, the balloon release at the end of the film.  Chad had done a great job.

Now all we had to do was wait for the edit.....

Next installment:
"Sarah's Choice," Part Four, Post and Beyond

Previous installments:
"Sarah's Choice," Part One, "In The Blink of an Eye"
"Sarah's Choice," Part Two, The Writing

Read about the making of my other features:

21 Eyes
Hidden Secrets
Holyman Undercover
The Encounter

Be sure to check out my book The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God.  It is available in paperback and on Kindle courtesy of TouchPoint Press.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Press Release for "The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God"

CONTACT:  Media/Publicity, TouchPoint Press, Fax:  662-510-0302


"A story of first faith and first love and how the two became almost fatally intertwined."

KOSCIUSKO, MS, Mar. 20, 2014--TouchPoint Press announced its recent acquisition of Sean Paul Murphy's memoir, which promises to be both an entertaining read and inspirational tool for readers around the globe.

The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God is Sean's inspirational, coming-of-age tale of first faith and first love and how the two became almost fatally intertwined in his life.  It is a poignant and insightful meditation on surviving in the gray area between God's sovereignty and our individual free will.

"Unless you're a big name celebrity or other well-known personality, selling your memoir is more than just difficult; it's often impossible.  After all, everyone has a story to tell, don't they?  When we received Sean's pitch, we weren't certain it would be one we'd pursue--even with his clear accomplishments in the film/movie industry.  But a few pages in and I was hooked."  Publisher, Sheri Williams adds, "Sean's author voice is crisp and inviting.  It's like having a conversation with a close friend and sharing the struggles and revelations he's encountered.  And, best of all, he's down-right entertaining."

While Sean wrote this book with the Christian reader in mind, the audience for the book is definitely not limited to born-again Christians.  It was written in a casual, easy-to-understand, non-theological style to make it accessible to spiritual seekers of all varieties.  Human beings naturally seek to find the transcendent and eternal.  This books reveals it is possible.

The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God will be released in July 2014 in paperback and ebook formats.  Pre-orders will be available via TouchPoint's website.

Sean Paul Murphy is an award-winning screenwriter with fourteen produced feature films credits including the faith-based favorites "Hidden Secrets," "Sarah's Choice," and "The Encounter."  Sean lives in Baltimore, Maryland.  He is happily married with three step-daughters, and he can be found every Sunday morning playing guitar at his church.

For media appearances, interviews, or to schedule signings contact

Sunday, April 6, 2014

"The Company Man" Premieres!

"The Company Man," my new film for the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Counter-Intelligence Division, will premiere Monday, April 7th, in Washington, D.C.

"The Company Man" is the third narrative short film I wrote for the intelligence community.  Each of the three films illustrates a serious threat to the security of the United States by foreign powers.    The first one, the Emmy-Award winning film "Betrayed," dealt with the insider threat within the government.  The second one, the docudrama "Game of Pawns:  The Glenn Duffie Shriver Story," dealt with the insidious way foreign powers attempt to compromise and subvert our students studying abroad.  Both films can be found playing on the Pentagon Channel.

This film deals with the little reported but but extremely serious problem of the theft of corporate trade secrets at the behest of a foreign power.  Estimates on the amount damage done to American companies, in the form of stolen research and development and trade secrets, range as high as five-hundred billion dollars a year.   In 1996, the Office of Science and Technology Policy estimated that six million American jobs were lost due to industrial spying.  And we need every job we can get in this country.

"The Company Man" is closely based on an actual attempt by Chinese nationals to steal a valuable and innovative process developed by an American company.  Had the foreign agents succeeded in their attempt, the company would have lost their competitive edge in the international marketplace and might've even closed -- economically crippling the small American town where they were the largest employer.  Our fact-based story centers on a mild-mannered engineer who reluctantly finds himself in the middle of an international game of cat-and-mouse when he is recruited by the F.B.I. to help trap the Chinese nationals attempting to destroy his company.

The film was directed by Tom Feliu and produced by Ward LeHardy of Rocket Media and shot by Johnny St. Ours.  I wish my feature films looked as good as the films I have done with Rocket Media.  Plus, each film has been a pleasure to work on.  I think it is because none of them have been subject to the egos one finds in feature films.  Feature films are often yanked apart in different directions to suit the egos and career needs of the principals involved.  In these films, we have all been united in telling the story that needs to be told.

Discretion prevents me from mentioning the specific folks at the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and other intelligence agencies, who produced the film.  To me, the best part of these jobs has been working with the agents at the F.B.I.  They are all heroes.  It is always amazing to discuss the actual cases with the actual agents who broke them.  My major goal is to capture their voice in my writing.

Here's the trailer:

The Company Man -Trailer from Rocket Media on Vimeo.

Be sure to check out my book "The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God."