Focus Features’ latest documentary film, “The Sparks Brothers,” which was directed by Edgar Wright and first premiered at Sundance earlier this year, and made its official release on June 18.
The documentary tells the story of the pop/rock duo, Sparks, and their 50-year career in the music business. Editor Paul Trewartha, used Adobe Premiere Pro to shift through years’ of video content as well as interviews to create a seamless look into the Sparks’ half-century music journey and influence.
Editor Paul Trewartha talked to us about his collaboration with Wright on the documentary as well as how he used Adobe Premiere Pro to edit the film and how editing is a powerful tool in further bringing captivating stories to life.
PH: Hi Paul! What has work looked like / how has it changed the past year or so?
Paul Trewartha: I’ve been freelance for over a decade, working from my own suite more often than not so fortunately I was already set up to cut remotely, it’s a place I feel incredibly comfortable working which allows me to focus entirely on the creative challenge at hand.
I think I’ve been incredibly lucky, I’ve managed to work everyday through the whole lockdown period on two feature docs. I do appreciate how different it could have been and I’m very grateful.
PH: How did you get into editing? Did you know you wanted to pursue it as a career?
Paul Trewartha: I think the best thing about the film industry is that it is a huge team effort that requires the specific skill sets of very different kinds of people. I’ve known that I wanted to work in film from a very young age and after looking into it I quickly appreciated that I’m definitely not suited to work in any other area of production so I guess it was always clear to me that editing was the way to go.
My first experience editing was at university using a VHS tape to tape setup which was hilarious as there were about 10 people crammed into the smallest room you can imagine. It was very cosy, I managed to elbow my way to the front to operate the kit and I’ve been doing that ever since.
PH: Can you share how you came to work on “The Spark Brothers?
Paul Trewartha: When the production team originally approached me to work on the film I was busy working on ‘Ronnie’s’ – A feature doc on Ronnie Scott and his jazz club so I wasn’t able to come onboard however we kept talking and fortunately after I finished that project we were able to make it work.
I’ve worked with Edgar and Nira Park for over a decade now on many behind the scenes docs which have always been great to work on as they place so much love and attention into their bonus content therefore Edgar and I have a good shorthand and we share a similar aesthetic in terms of pacing and approach.
PH: What was it like collaborating with Edgar?
Paul Trewartha: I think everyone is aware from Edgar’s output that he is an incredibly creative and meticulous film-maker. However, I think what is less easy to appreciate from the outside is the environment that he creates by consistently prioritising creative intent over everything else. He genuinely makes everyone believe that anything is possible which allowed us all to push that bit further, research that bit deeper and work that bit harder to make the best film we could.
PH: What was the process like sifting through years of video content? What were some of the challenges with that?
Paul Trewartha: I’m very used to being presented with a vast quantity of assets when I kick off on any documentary however The Sparks Brothers it was pretty exceptional. Edgar interviewed eighty people and recorded the brothers themselves eleven times. We had footage from shoots in five countries, over 6000 separate archival assets which include hundreds of full performances, boxes of personal photos, contact sheets and 345 songs to choose from.
The project was huge and could have become unwieldy but the production team was amazing. George Hencken, Kate Griffiths and Tess McNally Watson all had an encyclopaedic knowledge of the archive so between us and Edgar we were able to keep our heads around the vast quantity of material we had to hand.
I’m pretty fastidious when it comes to breaking down the archival content which was a big task but it’s the only way that you can put yourself in a position to find what you need when you need it. This is reliant upon great assistant editors – which I was lucky enough to have – and lots of communication and hard work.
PH: Adobe Premiere Pro must’ve been a lifesaver! How did that program help you achieve the goals you had?
Paul Trewartha: We used Premiere Pro, After Effects, Audition and Photoshop over the course of the edit. I created all of the graphics and name-straps in the offline and then exported them as QuickTimes straight to the grade. I was able to animate billposters, flyers and album covers in After Effects and also manipulate hundreds of contact sheets directly in Premiere by importing the stills as high res files and then cutting and repositioning to bring them to life. I can’t see how we would have achieved the final aesthetic in any other way.
We were working with countless formats, aspect ratios and frame rates that we were constantly interpreting as frame for frame in the project window to remove blending at every opportunity. My incredible assistant, Andy Laas then reproduced this interpretation with the hi-res material after lock and completed the full conform in Premiere, eye matching over two thousand separate cuts of archive alone before feeding these mix downs out with associated XMLs to the grade. It was a lot of work but allowed us to troubleshoot in a controlled environment before feeding it out.
PH: Overall, how does editing bring stories to life in impactful ways?
Paul Trewartha: In narrative features people often refer to the edit as the final pass of the script, with documentaries it’s more often the first and last. You discover the story in the process of making the film so without the edit there is no film.
I love the challenge of identifying the thematic beats and then working together with the director to then find the best way to lace these together and present them in the most impactful and engaging way. Everybody’s story is different therefore the approach and the result is by definition always different. I’m always at the same keyboard but never in the same world and that’s why I love what I do.
PH: What other project(s) / general life things are you excited for this upcoming year?
Paul Trewartha: I can’t talk about my current project unfortunately but I am very excited to see the last documentary I cut being released pretty soon. It’s called ‘Kipchoge – The Last Milestone’ and it tells the story of Eliud Kipchoge and his attempt to break the two hour marathon. He’s an amazing human being, unbelievably talented and humble in equal measure. I think the world needs to hear his story and learn from his example so I’m looking forward to it being released.
I’m also looking forward to getting out more with my family, they’ve been amazing over the past eighteen months dealing with this new world and all of the challenges it has presented but it definitely feels like it’s time to rediscover what we used to think of as normality and embrace it once more.