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HomeAwardsContender PortfoliosContender – Editor Christopher Rouse, Captain Phillips

Contender – Editor Christopher Rouse, Captain Phillips

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Christopher Rouse
Christopher Rouse

Editor Christopher Rouse always tries to have the story in mind, then let the performances speak and make his editing decisions accordingly. The most challenging task cutting Captain Phillips was wrestling with one of the inherent aspects of the story – how to keep the title character front and center and as active as possible while he was being held hostage. “With someone like Tom Hanks, who is so supremely masterful, so attuned to story, so deeply immersed in his character, I had many choices that were incredibly rich and nuanced.” Rouse revealed, “I never found myself trying to craft moments for him. He was always anchored in the moment and rock solid.”

Rouse affirmed that all the actors on Captain Phillips were hard working, committed artists. He felt using young Somali principals was a brilliant casting decision by director Paul Greengrass – something the director had previously done in his films – bringing in people with real world experience (in this case, Somalis, not pirates) rather than trained actors. “It gives Paul’s films a tremendous sense of realism and legitimacy,” said Rouse. “Their dailies were bold and raw, what you might expect from those guys. Because they were untrained, sometimes my task was taking their wonderful energy and intensity and melding it into the scenes, trying to help with specificity and intention from beat to beat.”

Captain Phillips
Captain Phillips

In addition to shaping performance, Rouse’s challenges included keeping the rhythms attuned to the story and emotions of the moment, and trying to keep the story and characters rich and complex while maintaining tension, especially during the sequences that built to crescendos. Most of all it entailed helping Greengrass to get his vision to the screen. “What makes Paul’s material so unique and powerful, also makes it pretty labor intensive,” Rouse explained. “Because he loves to roll long takes with several resets, and improvise or change blocking if a scene is evolving in a particular way, I have to be open and flexible at all times.”

Rouse received an Oscar for editing the action-filled Bourne Ultimatum. Dialog or action, no matter what kind of a scene he’s working on he tries to keep story, character, and theme in mind. “I do look at all scenes similarly, asking myself what are they supposed to be doing in service of all of that, and how can I best help get them there,” said Rouse. “I do see dramatic dialogue and action scenes both in terms of arcs – with setups and stakes, obstacles and goals, but unlike dialogue scenes, most of the time I’ll cut action sequences MOS initially. If there are pockets of dialogue within an action sequence I’ll attend to those as I would with a normal dialogue scene, but once they’re in and I’m building the action around them, most often I’ll work without the tracks running during my first time through. I’m pretty good at hearing things in my head while I’m watching only picture – whether it’s remembering the dialogue, knowing where I’d like the sound effects to sit, or what I think the architecture of the music should be. Once I get a first pass done, I’ll begin attending to the aural elements, and make my next round of picture changes as I go.”

Tom Hanks“As far as dramatic scenes, it’s kind of an extension of what I was talking about before with the performances – letting the performances speak to me while I try to create a structure that tells the story best,” Rouse continued. “As opposed to action sequences, where I address sound more completely after I’ve got a working structure visually, I have a sort of reverse process with dialogue scenes. When I feel like I’m really properly done with them, one of the last things I’ll do is turn off the sound and watch them MOS to see if I’m telling the story visually, again playing the soundtrack in my head.”

Rouse started on Phillips several months before production began, spending a great deal of time with Greengrass, working on ideas covering every aspect of the film. He was involved early on while the script was worked on, feeding ideas into that process.

“Fortunately for me, Paul gives me a tremendous amount of creative freedom. He encourages me to put a scene exactly where I think it should be during my first cut. He’s far less interested in seeing a scripted or his subsequently improvised on-set version, rather than something that’s got my point of view,” explained Rouse. “It doesn’t matter what or how successful it is, he just wants to see my strongest take on his dailies. He’s often described what we do as ‘playing jazz together.’”

As Greengrass shoots, Rouse regularly posts cuts. They speak daily about the film as it evolves. After wrap the director takes off for a while to recharge as the first edit is completed. Once Greengrass watches the cut, they speak about it at length. The director goes away while Rouse makes the changes. They re-convene and repeat. “We work extremely closely through every aspect of the process until we’re done,” said Rouse. When asked what he felt that he personally brought to the editing of Captain Phillips, Rouse responded, “I hope I brought a sense of commitment and truth to the piece.”

Rouse was generous in crediting his postproduction collaborators. “I’ve got a lot of people to acknowledge – all of whom helped me tremendously and made this film something special. Apart from having the good fortune to work with my brilliant friend Paul, I owe my deepest thanks to our postproduction team led by my talented friend, Mark Fitzgerald, and our fantastic postproduction supervisor, Mike Solinger and his associate Rebecca Adams. All of the assistants, apprentices, and PAs in the U.S. and the U.K. picture department were spectacular. Our masterful visual effects editor, Tina Richardson, and our great visual effects houses and artists, our superb sound supervisor, Oliver Tarney, and his crew, everyone in the music department including Mike Higham, our music editor, who went way above and beyond, our postproduction mixers Chris Burdon, Mark Taylor and Mike Prestwood Smith along with John Naveira and Desmond Cannon at Sony postproduction. I was privileged to work with them all.”

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