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‘Fresh Dressed’: Editing the Documentary in Style (and Adobe Premiere Pro CC)

'Fresh Dressed' chronicles the history of hip-hop fashion, from its birth in the Bronx in the 1970s to its evolution into a mainstream industry.

The Sundance Film Festival is always a great event to showcase not just innovative dramas and comedies but also new documentaries. This year brought good news for Adobe: 21 of the documentaries screened were edited in Premiere Pro, more than double last year’s count. One such film is Fresh Dressed, which chronicles the history of hip-hop fashion, from its birth in the Bronx in the 1970s to its evolution into a mainstream industry.

Fresh Dressed is the first film written and directed by veteran producer Sacha Jenkins (Being Terry Kennedy, 50 Cent: The Power and the Money), who is also the creative director of Mass Appeal magazine. The film features interviews with Pharrell Williams, Nas, Daymond John, Damon Dash and Karl Kani, among others. It includes archival footage from the 1970s, 80s, 90s and present day, as well as some animation.

Director Sacha Jenkins.

Samuel Goldwyn Films picked up North American distribution rights to Fresh Dressed, a Mass Appeal production in partnership with CNN Films. CNN plans to air the film after its theatrical release, which begins June 26.

I spoke with Andrea B. Scott (Florence, Arizona; A Place at the Table), who was brought in to complete the editorial process to get the film ready for submission to Sundance. Scott explains, “Sacha and the team started shooting interviews in September of 2013. Initially, there was another editor on board who handled the first pass of cutting and organizing of the project. I came to the film in May of 2014 after a basic assembly had been completed. This film was being produced by CNN and they recommended me. I definitely agree with the sentiment that editing is a lot like ‘writing with pictures.’ It was my job to streamline the film and help craft the narrative, and bring Sacha’s vision to life as a moving story.”

Editor Andrea B. Scott.

Scott has worked on several documentaries before and has her own routine for learning the material. She says, “I usually start by watching the interviews through a couple of times, making notes with markers, and also by reading interview transcripts and highlighting certain passages. Then I’ll pull selects to whittle down the interview to the parts that are most likely to be used in any given section. On Fresh Dressed, because I started with an assembly and needed to work quickly to get to a rough cut, I relied heavily on interview transcripts—going through the film section by section and interview by interview, and pulling selects—going back and forth from reading the transcript to watching the interview. Fresh Dressed involved about 30 interviews and totaled approximately 200 hours of raw footage. A lot of the archival search had already been done by the time I came on board, so I also had to watch that footage. I had a lot of good material to pull from.”

Successful film editing relies on a strong working relationship between the editor and the director. Scott says, “It’s always a process of gaining the trust of the director. I come from the suburbs and I’m a bit younger than some of the crew, so it was a steep learning curve for me to understand the history of hip-hop culture and fashion. It basically evolved from the urban gang culture of the 1970s, moved out from New York City, and went global from there.

“Inevitably, as the editor, you bring fresh eyes to the project, and part of the editing process is to refine,” Scott continues. “The goal was to tell the story without voiceover, so we used the interviews to create the narrative thread. I put in a lot more archival material than was there before, which served to enliven the film with moments of nostalgia and infuse it with a fun energy. In a written script or book there can be a lot of side stories, which make sense on paper and are easy for the reader to follow and digest, but the film we were making had to be more direct, with a linear timeline. Part of what I did was to strip away tangents that took you away from the main story.”

Scott’s touch also extended to the music. “The film was originally delivered to me with wall-to-wall music,” she explains. “I stripped out the music at first so I could really think about story. Then I added temp score back in places to help steer the audience and underscore certain moments with another level of meaning. In the end, we hired a talented composer, Tyler Strickland, to write the bulk of the score, and we also used some popular tracks from critical moments in the history of hip-hop.”

Fresh Dressed was Scott’s first experience with Adobe Premiere Pro CC. She’d previously worked in Apple Final Cut Pro (the “legacy” version). She found the transition to be a relatively easy one. “The production company had already started the edit on Premiere Pro and so I continued with it. I welcomed being pushed to a new editing platform. It took about a week for me to get the hang of it. Since we were on a short deadline by that time, I simply ran it like I was used to running Final Cut. I really didn’t have the time to learn all of its nuances. I used the FCP keyboard settings, so everything felt natural to me. There’s a lot about Premiere Pro that I really like now—for example, the way it works with native media, and using Adobe Media Encoder to export files.” The workstations were connected to shared storage, allowing Scott to access material from any computer in the production office.

Photo by Jamel Shabazz.

Editors considering a shift to Premiere Pro CC will wonder how it handles long-form projects. Scott says, “I was editing on an iMac and performance was fine. One tip I found that helps to speed up the loading of a large project is to discard old sequences. When I edit, I generally duplicate sequences and continue on those as I make changes. On a large project, you tend to build up a lot of sequences that way. While it’s good to save the past few versions in case you need to go back, you still have a lot of the oldest ones that simply aren’t ever needed again. These tend to slow down the speed of loading the project, as all the media is relinked each time you launch it. By simply getting rid of a lot of these, you can improve performance.”

To handle the final stages of post, Scott exported an OMF file from Premiere Pro CC for the audio mixer and and an XML file for the colorist. The final color correction of Fresh Dressed was handled by Light of Day in New York, which also completed the conform and re-created all moves on archival stills.

Scott concludes, “The film was made in New York, for the most part, which makes sense because Fresh Dressed really is a New York story at its heart. Working on this film, I gained another level of love for New York, a deeper appreciation for all the many stories that start in this city, and for the deeper context that surrounds those individual stories. Plus I had a lot of fun along the way.”