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'Captain Phillips,' 'American Hustle' Editors Share the Secrets Behind Putting Those Films Together

The film editors behind this year's Oscar-nominated movies open up about how their work shaped the finished product.

American Hustle Amy Adams - H 2014

This story first appeared in the Feb. 21 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

The film editor often has a hand in the final rewrite of any movie. Consider Paul Greengrass' Captain Phillips. "Paul shoots material with a high level of improvisation that then needs to be shaped in very particular ways," says his editor, Christopher Rouse. "The scene where Phillips and his wife drive to the airport was done early in our schedule and ultimately needed significant alterations," he says. "New dialogue had to be written and molded around pieces from existing lines and new words fitted into actors' mouths to replace what they'd actually said."

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Joe Walker also did some "rewriting" on Steve McQueen's 12 Years a Slave. "The film as scripted is completely in a straight path, in chronological order," says the editor. "In the editing process, we wanted to get through the first part quicker, to get Solomon down to Louisiana and into the story." And so he began shifting certain scenes, like one during which a slave, Eliza, tells Solomon her story. "We thought it worked better to save that story and cut to it later on, after she had lost everything," explains Walker. "That's when we cut to her backstory where she is smiling and talking about the fine clothes she used to wear. It was a really emotionally powerful juxtaposition."

On Gravity, says Mark Sanger, who co-edited the film with director Alfonso Cuaron, "The shoot was defined by the editing process that preceded it. We were working with animation and storyboards to lock the edit for the shoot. After the shoot, it began again. We were more restricted in post in that we had no coverage, but restriction was a good thing because we started to rethink the scenes and worked with [visual effects supervisor] Tim Webber to reshape what had been locked."

Jay Cassidy, who co-edited David O. Russell's American Hustle with Alan Baumgarten and Crispin Struthers, relates that the first act in the original script included voiceover, with Irving (Christian Bale) and Sydney (Amy Adams) telling their backstories. "It is no surprise that editing and the writing of this voiceover became an interactive process during postproduction," says Cassidy. "Christian and Amy recorded the original scripted voiceover, we edited for a while, rewrote, recorded them again and then continued editing."