The 'Bourne' Supremacy
Non-Stop Action Film Sweeps Oscar's Post Awards

Achievement in Film Editing

Christopher Rouse, A.C.E.
The Bourne Ultimatum

Picture editor Christopher Rouse, A.C.E. Photo by Kevork Djansezian/AP

When Christopher Rouse, A.C.E., heard his name announced as the winner of the Oscar for Achievement in Editing at the 80th Academy Awards, he was thrilled. “It felt unbelievably good,” says Rouse. “It’s everything you would imagine it to be, and more.”

Although he had already won both the American Cinema Editors and BAFTA Awards for editing The Bourne Ultimatum, Rouse still didn’t really expect to win the Oscar––“particularly because the competition was so formidable,” he explains. “I have incredible respect for the other editors and the other films. I thought their work was just masterful, so I was surprised and delighted to win all three.”

Rouse believes that he won for a variety of reasons. “Maybe it’s the fact that this was the third time around [for the Bourne series] and people decided to acknowledge us for the body of work,” he posits. “We managed to deliver a film that was critically and commercially successful. Also, it’s a piece that’s got some style and depth to it, so I think that people responded to that across the board.”

Rouse notes that The Bourne Ultimatum is a film that grabs people’s attention, pushes the boundaries stylistically, and finds the correct emotional tenor so that the style supports the story. For example, the irregular rhythms are evocative of Bourne’s character, a guy with amnesia who’s trying to figure out who he is.

One of the complexities of the film is an unusual plot structure in which the first three quarters of the film take place between the second to last and the last scene of The Bourne Supremacy, the previous film in the series. Rouse explains that the central dilemma of Jason Bourne’s character has already been established, but the mechanics of how this would unfold in the new film were very much in play. “Right away, we had to figure out how to give Bourne a sense of agenda and a mission statement for the film,” he says. The solution was to stylize the film right out of the gate. “From the very first frame of the film, Bourne is being pursued,” he adds. “And shortly after that, he’s trying to heal himself.”

The challenges of editing The Bourne Ultimatum were macro, according to Rouse.

Some individual scenes were difficult to cut, but the real task was finding the overall structure and figuring out how to make it work. He says he was able to try a lot of different things in the editing suite because director Paul Greengrass gave him a tremendous amount of freedom. When Rouse got a scene, the instructions from Greengrass may have been as simple as, “Respond to it in the way that you think,” and then Rouse’s editorial prowess took over––a combination of skill and intuition.

Rouse says it’s difficult to explain to people exactly what his process is when cutting a specific scene. “What happens is that I try to anchor myself in the story and the characters,” he says. “I try to get the landscape of what I believe a certain scene is supposed to be about. If I’ve done that properly, then hopefully my choices become informed and intuitive so that the pieces just come together.”

Working with Greengrass is invigorating, energizing and labor-intensive, according to Rouse. The director’s signature use of hand-held cameras––often two or three, shot in a documentary style––made for a lot of footage to sift through, as well as a lot of ways to structure the story. The pair regularly engage in a vigorous exchange of ideas about the script and the story that they are working on, he explains.

“For me, it’s a very rare, very open, very trusting dynamic between the two of us, and I feel very fortunate to have found somebody who’s as gifted an artist as he is and who also allows me to have the freedom to try the things I want to do,” says Rouse. The bond between them has strengthened to the point that Rouse says they’re like brothers. “It’s one of those relationships where the deeper you get into the relationship, the less you have to say because, intuitively, we’re just locked together.”

Rouse emphasizes that the editing on The Bourne Ultimatum was a team effort. He gives a great deal of credit to additional editors Mark Fitzgerald and Derek Brechin, as well as first assistant Rob Malina and the UK crew. But, Rouse hastens to add, it’s the work of the entire editorial department participating in discussions and providing valuable feedback that made The Bourne Ultimatum a better film.

Laura Almo is a freelance writer and documentary filmmaker, as well as an editing teacher. She can be reached at lka@alumni.stanford.org.

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