I had never heard of Sean Paul Murphy until earlier this year when I received a copy of his memoir. I’m not a big fan of memoirs, but i fell in love with Sean’s easygoing, conversational style of writing. Then I started looking into his other work and discovered he was the writer and/or editor of many of my favorite movies. He’s just an all around interesting guy and I’m excited to get to interview him and learn even more about his career.
What was your career goal when you were growing up?
I always loved the movies. I wanted to make movies, and, after reading a script to a Marx Brothers film, my interest was focused on writing them. However, it never seemed to be a realistic goal for a kid from Baltimore. I originally planned to be a journalist, but I became disillusioned with journalism. I switched over to Mass Communications but I never honestly expected to work in the film business. I was also taking computer science classes and suspected that I would spend the rest of my life working as a programmer for the Social Security Administration.
How did you break into the movie business?
That depends what you consider the movie business. After college I got a job at Smith Burke & Azzam, an advertising agency. I started in the mail room but quickly ended up in the broadcast department where I helped make thirty second movies. At the agency I eventually specialized in post production while I began writing spec scripts. I left my full time job to work as a freelance film editor around the same time I was signed by the late Stu Robinson at Robinson Weintraub and Gross (later Paradigm) as a screenwriter.
I have written fourteen produced features films including the faith-based favorites Hidden Secrets, Sarah’s Choice, The Encounter and the Revelation Road series. I have edited a number of television programs including Two for Tonight, PBS; Love’s A Trip, Style; World Sports, Zoom; and the USDAA Dog Agility Shows, Animal Planet. Lately, I have been doing a great deal of work for Discovery Communications where I have worked on the “reloads” of a number of shows for TLC network including 19 Kids and Counting, The Little Couple, Little People Big World and Love Lust or Run.
You seem to split your time pretty evenly between writing and film/TV editing. Which is your first love?
Editing is my vocation. Writing is my avocation. I am very blessed to love them both. My editing has taken me many places — from advertising to television networks to national political campaigns. It has been very rewarding. That said, I prefer writing. As an editor, I help make other people’s vision a reality. As a writer, I get to express my own.
First, let me tell you that no screenwriter is ever completely happy with any adaptation of a script. I know that sounds ungrateful, but the film can never be what you saw in your head. Not that it’s all disappointing by any means. I have often been delighted by an unexpected spark an actor or actress brings to one of the roles. It is amazing to watch a performer really invest themselves emotionally in something you wrote. It has been a great process overall and different films are favorites to me for different reasons. I like my first film, an innovative mystery called 21 Eyes, because it is closest to the original script. Hidden Secrets is perhaps my most entertaining film. I think Sarah’s Choice works best as a narrative, and I remain totally awed by the life-changing effect The Encounter films have had on people. That said, I am most proud of my recently published memoir The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God — a story of first faith and first love and how the two became almost fatally intertwined. The book gave me the opportunity to address themes and thoughts that I was only able to hint at in the context of my films. It’s pure me, undiliuted through actors, producers and directors.
Do you ever see yourself writing, directing and editing your own film?
I have written and edited films, but I do not have a real hunger to direct. I enjoy the more solitary pursuits of writing and editing. When you direct, you have too many people asking you too many questions too much of the time. And you have to wake up earlier. I certainly believe I could have done a better job than some of my directors, but I must admit that most of them did a better job than I would have done. To me, the needs of the film always trumps ego. I would never want to direct simply for control. I would only want to direct if I feel I have a special insight into the characters or story. I have written a few scripts that fall into that category, but I am not pursuing them at this time.
Where do you see yourself in ten years?
Lord willing, I will be doing what I’m doing now. Writing and editing. It is my goal to write more books, but I still have a few screenplays to get out of my system.