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Contrasting Styles for ‘12 Years a Slave,’ ‘Captain Phillips’ Editors

Pacing choices arise from story, character

Two nominees for film editing are dramas with definitively distinct styles. “12 Years a Slave” takes a classical approach, while “Captain Phillips” employs an aggressive, modern method.

“12 Years” editor Joe Walker says the style “worked for our story, and for the main character, Solomon, because he has tremendous restraint. And because you want the violent passages to stick out, to not be a relentless horror film.”

A scene that exemplifies this is when Solomon is hanged, toes brushing the ground. “You dwell on it so it’s deeply uncomfortable,” Walker says. “That’s carefully landscaped. You rush time a little before and after, so there’s a sense that you’re waiting, in a monolithic slab of time.”

In contrast, the insistent pace of “Captain Phillips” presented its own set of challenges, says editor Christopher Rouse. Among those challenges: “Trying to keep Phillips active while he’s held hostage. And creating a series of builds that increased the tension, but didn’t feel repetitive.”

Rouse’s approach is revealed in a sequence where Phillips’ lifeboat is towed, and builds to the SEAL teams’ gunshots. “It had to be rhythmically right,” Rouse says. “Beginning in a tense but procedural way, evolving into chaos, and building to a strong climax.”

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