Film editor Christopher Rouse on Paul Greengrass, Oscar nominations and 'Captain Phillips'
Filmmaker/editor relationships may not have the iconic status of relationships between directors and certain actors or producers or even cinematographers, but there are exceptions to this. For instance, no one has been as integral to Martin Scorsese's career as Thelma Schoonmaker. Much of Steven Spielberg's work has been shaped by the great Michael Kahn.
Usually these sorts of collaborations are marked by something special at the core of the relationship, and over the past decade, a similar one has begun to blossom in this light: Paul Greengrass and Christopher Rouse. Rouse has worked on nearly all of Greengrass' films, dating back to 2004's "The Bourne Supremacy," and even though their collaborations number just five, to think of one artist without the other is now a bit difficult.
Rouse recently earned his third Oscar nomination for Greengrass' "Captain Phillips" and Friday night, he picked up his second ACE Eddie Award to date. HitFix recently spoke to him about the on-going collaboration with Greengrass, the Academy Awards and the journey of his latest.
HitFix: How did you get into film editing?
Christopher Rouse: I'm the third generation of my family in the film business, and I grew up with a deep passion for movies. I made my own Super 8 films when I was a kid, and always loved the editing process. When I left high school, my dad was directing a film and I went to work for him as a PA. There were two wonderful editors, Bud Isaacs and Bernie Balmuth, working on the project, and every chance I had I would go to the editing room to watch and learn from them. I was really fortunate, because Bud took me with him on his next film and got me my first union job.
How did you first get to know Paul Greengrass?
I had worked on the "The Bourne Identity" and was close with the film's producer, Frank Marshall. When Paul was hired for "The Bourne Supremacy," he told Frank he was interested in working with a few key crew members from Hollywood because he wanted a different experience from what he'd had on his independent British projects. Frank recommended me, and one afternoon Paul gave me a call. We spoke on the phone for quite some time, and I guess I made a reasonably good impression because he hired me sight unseen.
How would you describe your relationship with him after five films?
It's the richest and best creative relationship I've ever had. And it's not just a working relationship — Paul and I are also close friends. I have the great privilege of working with someone who is an exceptional filmmaker with a powerful world-view, chooses tremendously interesting projects, and is a great guy besides. Like any strong friendship ours is based upon trust, so we're very open when we speak with each other, and that has great creative benefits.
To what extent is he a hands-on director in the editing suite?
I suppose that depends upon what your definition of "hands-on" is. Paul's vision and strong point of view drive every aspect of his process, so in truth his hands are on everything. But Paul's process is incredibly inclusive, and just as he encourages his actors to explore the deeper, truthful aspects of the drama through improvisation, he gives me great creative freedom to engage with his material. And that's why I love working with Paul. He always wants to see the version I think works best, whether or not it's something that's close to what was scripted or shot. He encourages me to make bold choices and think out of the box, and that always leads me into interesting creative territory. It's a very fluid process that's rooted in months of work and conversations we've had.
So it's structured, but it's loose. Paul likes to describe what we do as "playing jazz together." As Paul shoots, I send him cuts regularly and we speak every day, talking about how the piece is developing. After production ends, Paul comes in to watch my cut. We'll talk about it at length, and then he'll go away while I make changes. When I'm done he'll return, we do it all again, and so forth. We work very closely through every aspect of post-production until we're finished.
Is there any sort of unique challenge in editing his films given their docudrama nature?
Paul's process is rooted in his documentary background and his love of cinéma vérité. And so he relentlessly searches for dramatic truth, no matter where that takes him. He likes to shoot long takes with his actors, often resetting several times in order to allow the actors to discover the situation more freely and deeply. And he encourages improvisation. So what makes Paul's material so rich and exciting also makes it pretty labor-intensive for me. Sometimes a scene will arrive in the cutting room as it was written. Sometimes it'll be very different than what was on the page. And depending upon what Paul and the actors discovered while they were shooting, the material from later in the day can be quite different from the earlier takes. So trying to meld that material can be challenging.