LOS ANGELES - Christopher Rouse was on a mission. Time was critical for the Oscar- and Emmy-nominated editor, who had two weeks to deliver the final cut of The Bourne Ultimatum. Displaying the nerves of a covert agent as he oversaw the film's final mix at Todd-AO West, he still had the time to talk about it with Post.
Ultimatum is Rouse's third film with director Paul Greengrass — The Bourne Supremacy and United 93 are the others — and a fourth is in the works for next year called The Green Zone, about the first year of the war in Iraq.
According to Rouse, that type of familiarity makes both their jobs easier. "We really know the way each other thinks," he says. "I generally know his intention going into a scene, and he generally knows how I'll react to things, so we get to a point where our communication becomes almost non-verbal."
Rouse likes to get pretty close to a final scene with his first edit, and knowing how the director thinks certainly helps that process along. "A lot of editors tend to cut things a little bit more loosely, but I won't walk away from a scene until it's pretty much working for me," he says. And he'll do whatever it takes to make that happen, whether it means generating a bunch of different versions or versions that aren't quite as scripted. "That is the other great thing about working with Paul: he gives me the latitude to really mold the material, even if I need to make it work by going in a different direction."
It's Greengrass's willingness to allow Rouse to express himself that helped this editor do some of his best work. "He is very open to different ideas, particularly if I tell him something isn't fundamentally working, and I have an idea of how it might work or work better; he is always open and gives me the freedom to express myself and pitch an idea to him."
WORKFLOW & GEAR
Dailies are delivered to Rouse the day after they are shot. He attacks that material as soon as it comes in the door and begins to build the piece from there. "It's just plugging the pieces into an on-going work, and as more pieces come in the more it speaks to you about what it really is," he says. "It really is the case of, there is the film you write, the film you shoot, the film you cut, and the film you wind up with."
They tried to keep up with production "as much as we could so Paul could react to the material as quickly as possible and so I could present a cut in a timely way once shooting was wrapped," explains Rouse, who describes editing as an evolving process and emphasizes how important it is for an editor to remain objective and not get too attached to his or her work. "Be ever aware that the film is evolving and finding itself, no one should ever get too married to anything that one does."
When happy with his cuts, Rouse gives the director a DVD of his work, including slugs in-between and some descriptive pieces with areas carded for suggested pick-up shots that might help glue the piece together. Then they start discussing scenes. "Paul and I have an ongoing dialogue as the piece evolves, and it goes both ways. I'll have some suggestions for him in terms of things that are ahead for the shooting, and he'll give me notes for editing." After this process of back and forth, Greengrass solidifies his director's cut and that goes to the producers and the studio, who generally have some notes.
Rouse and his team, including editors Mark Fitzgerald and Derek Brechin, worked on PC-based Avid Adrenalines using Unity, 16TB of mirrored storage and working at 3:1 resolution for better picture quality. There were nine systems in all, plus a Nitris for onlines. According to first assistant editor Rob Molina, "Once a cut was done, we'd take it to Nitris and the Nitris operator would do VFX comps with Chris."
It's the Avid interface that helps Rouse remain comfortable. "I'm so familiar with it that I don't have to think," he says. "There is no impediment between a creative urge that occurs within me and the execution. It's all familiar territory and just allows a very easy freedom of expression for me."
Obviously, feedback is a larger part of an editor's job, and Rouse likes having smart people, like Fitzgerald, Breckin and his assistants, around him for an honest give and take. "It's really important to get your work up on its feet and get good feedback from people you trust and believe in."
TECHNIQUES & CHALLENGES
Anyone who has seen any of the Bourne films knows the character and the action propel the story, and that is something the editors had to keep in mind to stay true to the piece. "Where a Bond film tends to be more plot driven, a Bourne film tends to be more character driven," says Rouse. "No matter how big our set pieces become, there is always the character of Jason Bourne at the heart of it, and there is some type of dilemma that he is trying to solve; we never lose sight of that." So pulling the Bourne character through the piece is the challenge. "For example, if Bourne has a goal he's trying to achieve at the end of the piece, our goal is to never let the audience lose sight of that, no matter how big the scenes become."
And with all this action, the audio played a large part. Sound editorial was done at Soundelux, and the mix took place at Todd-AO West.
ACTION & COMEDY
So with the Bourne films under his belt, and other movies like Paycheck and The Italian Job, it would seem that Rouse is somewhat of an "action expert," but he says that's more happenstance than anything else. "I like working with action, but in this business it's a bit easy to get pigeonholed. For instance, I love cutting comedy, but I haven't done many of them. Many of the calls I do get tend to be for action-driven pieces because they'll look at my resume and say, 'He's the guy who can do a car chase.'"
He's done a little bit of comedy editing and says the difference is in the rhythms. "You have to let comedy breathe and allow for audience reactions, whereas in action — particularly with a Bourne film, and especially with the last Bourne film and this one — it tends to be starting the engine and driving right through the piece with a few stops along the way, and there are places where purposely we don't let the audience stop to take a breath."
Greengrass, Rouse and team were finally able to take a breath when they delivered the final film on July 20th for an August 3 premiere date. An action movie to the very end!