In 2007, the people who gave life to the Jason Bourne movie franchise walked away. Matt Damon, director Paul Greengrass, and editor Christopher Rouse left “The Bourne Ultimatum” thinking they successfully brought Robert Ludlum’s famous character from the books to the screen.
But the movie business wasn’t through with Bourne.
After the 2012 Jeremy Renner-starring spin-off “The Bourne Legacy” exceeded box-office expectations with $276.1 million worldwide, its studio Universal thought about how it could get Damon and Greengrass back to Bourne.
What the studio didn’t know was Rouse and Greengrass were kicking around a story idea that would fit perfectly into the Bourne world.
“Paul and I talked about writing something for a long, long time,” Rouse, who won an Oscar for editing “Ultimatum,” recently told Business Insider. “The technological revolution and surveillance, all those things seemed to dovetail into a narrative that would make sense for a guy who at the heart is a character trying to look for answers in a complex and conflicted world.”
Greengrass wasn’t completely sold on plugging their ideas into the Bourne franchise, but two years ago he, along with Damon and producer Frank Marshall, encouraged Rouse to start working on a script.
Though Rouse had never had a screenwriting credit, he wasn’t intimidated by the task. Having penned unproduced scripts in the past, Rouse also grew up around the art his whole life, as his father is Oscar-winning screenwriter Russell Rouse.
Rouse also finds similarities between screenwriting and editing.
“The two processes have always felt hand and glove to me,” he said. “It became far less of a thing than I thought it would be because I was trying to imagine how Chris the editor would react to Chris the writer.”
A few months into writing, he convinced Greengrass thanks to a plot that combined Bourne’s thirst for truth with events that mirrored recent national security issues like the Edward Snowden leaks and social unrest in places like Egypt.
Greengrass jumped onboard and agreed to make another Bourne movie, with Damon returning in the lead.
“Jason Bourne” follows Bourne, fully knowing who he is since the last Damon-led movie, as he’s pulled back into a cat-and-mouse game with the CIA when he learns about his family.
Rouse and Greengrass spent over a year on the script. Rouse said the two vetted every aspect of the story. There was little rewriting on set, a major plus for a production that spans from Athens to the Vegas strip.
But Rouse wasn’t done with the project after writing was complete. He also edited the movie.
“The footage that came in the door, I had to put a critical eye on it, because I knew I felt a certain way about it while it was on the page,” he said.
An editor’s strength is providing vicious truths about the footage and how it works for the story. He or she often has to cut ideas the screenwriter and director originally had (know in the business as “killing your darlings”) for the betterment of the movie.
But Rouse says it wasn’t a hard transition from screenwriter to editor. He feels his knowledge of the material gave him a more instinctive reaction to cutting it, though the fresh eyes of additional editor Mark Fitzgerald helped.
“You always want to be told the truth” in the edit room, Rouse said. “And you want to be told that truth early on.”
Now that Rouse finally has a writing credit under his belt, he and Greengrass are already thinking about working together again. But it won’t be on a Bourne movie — at least, any time soon.
“Never say never,” Rouse said, “but it’s time to rest and go off and explore other creative territory and then we’ll see what happens down the road.”
“Jason Bourne” opens in theatres on Friday.
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