As Matt Damon brings the high octane adventures of Jason Bourne into your home this week, now is a good time to interview the man who puts those heart-stopping action sequences together: editor and co-writer Christopher Rouse.
Rouse occupies an intriguing position in the Bourne firmament. Having began his association in the cutting room, he now takes on script and production duties alongside director Paul Greengrass. This strong partnership crafts the franchise behind the scenes, while Greengrass and Damon cause a storm front of camera. As the torch bearers for Robert Ludlum’s character, our first question naturally concerned the immense task they faced…
THN: Did you and Paul Greengrass experience any trepidation in continuing Bourne’s story?
Christopher Rouse: Well I think we both have incredible respect and admiration for the franchise. We didn’t want to embark on a process or a script idea unless we believed there was a real story to tell, that would do justice to the franchise and his character. So we were cautious all the way through it certainly.
Tell me about how a Bourne action sequence evolves, from the original idea to the page and then on to the shoot…
Like any sequence, action has to be rooted in story and character. It has to have stakes and clear goals and obstacles for the people involved. Once that’s defined it’s a matter of calibrating that, in terms of what might be visually interesting and exciting. Once we get something on page then Paul will take it and work with his second unit director and a very talented stunt team. Then the piece will evolve even further. Where it’s shot, that’ll give rise to other ideas… the location may dictate certain restrictions to what we’ve originally imagined. I’ll receive it in the cutting room, it’ll continue to evolve and I’ll shape it as I see fit through the post-production process. It’s like any other scene, or aspect of the story. There’s the film you write, the film you shoot, the film you edit. The piece is always imbued with new ideas and different types of energy.
Paul Greengrass is known for having multiple camera set-ups, so you’ve got lots of footage to play with in the editing suite. Would you say your films with him are primarily made in the edit?
I’m not sure that’s a fair characterization. They certainly take shape there in many ways but Paul is a visionary filmmaker and I think the film is in his head very early on.
It strikes me as a complicated way of working, to shoot so much to begin with!
It is a lot of work and at the end of the day I’m trying to put together a film that makes sense to me, and that is in concert with Paul’s vision. Having done six films now with him, one of the great things is that we know each other well, we share a common world view. We’re interested by the same types of things. We have the same artistic sensibilities. It’s very easy for us to lock in together, I’m highly attuned to what he believes the piece is as it evolves. Even though I get a tremendous amount of footage, if I’ve done my job and I’m anchored in story and character when I start putting things together, it’s actually most times a straightforward proposition. I’m not saying there isn’t any heavy lifting because there is. It’s shaped in the cutting room but not made there, which is an important distinction.
The film is also another reunion between Paul Greengrass and Matt Damon. What is it about that relationship that you think works so well?
There’s deep affection between the two of them and they’re exceedingly hard workers. You wind up with a special relationship. And then there are loads of tangibles, having two types of superb artists married together, there’s that symbiotic connection that occurs where you get a lot of magic, spontaneously and unexpectedly. It doesn’t happen often.
You started off as an editor and now you’re co-writing and producing. Do you fancy directing at some stage?
I’ve been approached to direct several times, in fact I’ve written for many years myself. My father (Russell Rouse) was a screenwriter and I’ve written short stories, poetry and screenplays on my own. I’d consider directing. One of the things I really enjoy with Paul is the tremendous amount of creative freedom. It allows me to express myself in ways I wouldn’t in a normal editing situation. This is a long way of saying yes, I would consider being a director if it were the right project, not doing it for the sake of directing. I want to direct something that matters to me.
One of your first big editing jobs was working on Desperate Hours with Michael Cimino (The Deer Hunter), who sadly passed away this year. That must have been a hell of a formative experience…
Also I worked with Hal Ashby (Harold & Maude) for three years, a superb editor and director. I learnt a tremendous amount from Hal at a very young age. Michael gave me plenty of opportunities to express myself creatively and I’m very appreciative for that. He was a complicated man, he could be very generous and very difficult at the same time. I’m very grateful for what I learned from him and what he gave me.
What’s coming next down the line?
Paul and I are actually writing together right now, it’s an original idea we’re playing around with. When I hang up with you I’m going to call him up and talk about the day’s work.
Can you tell me anything about it?
I can’t at this point, I’m sworn to secrecy! But I think the piece has a lot of potential and Paul is very excited about it. We’ll see if we get anywhere…
This interview first appeared on THN.