To build tension during the crash scene in “Flight,” says editor Jeremiah O’Driscoll, the trick was to have three things happening at a time and overlap them, “because everything had to happen at once.”

Throughout the scene, which sets up Robert Zemeckis’ drama about airline pilot Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington), the action moves between the cockpit and the main cabin, which become inverted, and the outside world, including the plane’s exterior and air traffic control.

O’Driscoll drew on research of real crashes, black box recordings and plane technology — plus his own childhood experience in a train crash — to help guide his edits, including when to cut to certain instruments in the cockpit, when to expand time, such as during the plane’s nosedives, and when to insert “graceful moments,” such as when Whitaker instructs a flight attendant to say she loves her son.

To help maintain the scene’s tension, O’Driscoll also eschewed initial plans to use slow motion except in final moments before impact, which he says would have “let the audience off the hook emotionally.”

Finally, brevity was essential. Says O’Driscoll, “You don’t want a scene like that to overstay its welcome.”

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