The trailblazing tale of Pauli Murray

Photograph of Pauli Murray.

Image source: Amazon Studios.

My Name is Pauli Murray, streaming now on Amazon Prime Video, documents the remarkable life of lawyer and activist, Pauli Murray. A consequential figure, Murray helped argue that the equal protection clause of the fourteenth amendment outlawed discrimination based on sex.

Cinque Northern, who served on the film’s writing team and as the film’s editor, spoke with us and shared how he used Premiere Pro to tell this trailblazer’s story.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uh4r95VBU2Q

Image source: Amazon Prime Video.

How and where did you first learn to edit?

I learned to edit at NYU where I cut my first short film on a Steenbeck. One semester later editing became a digital medium. I eventually went on to use Premiere Pro.

How do you begin a project/set up your workspace?

I like to use a stand/sit desk with the desk facing the room (instead of the wall). I try to keep the area clutter free and minimal. Editing can feel like an exercise of infinite choice with infinite elements to make decisions about. I try to keep those decisions on the computer and not in the room I’m working in.

Tell us about a favorite scene or moment from this project and why it stands out to you.

I have a few favorite scenes but I really like the letters between Pauli Murray and Renee Barlow. This was the love of Pauli Murray’s life and we didn’t have any pictures of the two of them together. The challenge was how to make the audience feel the intimacy of their relationship. When the directors and my assistant editor Hillary Crow sketched out a series of letters between Pauli and Renee, I loved the idea. I then gave it music and movement to essentially make a love scene out of letter correspondence.

What were some specific post-production challenges you faced that were unique to your project? How did you go about solving them?

We had some amazing audio of Pauli Murray telling stories but there were often no images of Pauli or the event itself. Murray getting arrested on the bus was an example of this. So the challenge was what do we see? I often took the approach of trying to use archival images to create the environment in which it happened. The goal was not to show Pauli but to put you in Pauli’s POV, seeing what Pauli would have seen.

Photograph of Pauli Murray.

Image source: Amazon Studios.

What Adobe tools did you use on this project and why did you originally choose them? Why were they the best choice for this project?

I’m a BIG fan of using markers and the various color options, especially on a feature film. I basically keep the whole pass on a single timeline. I use markers with assigned colors and notations to jump to any scene in the film quickly. I don’t generally like folders within folders within folders to organize material. I create additional Timelines for topics, ideas, types of shots and discarded scenes. With good categorization and markers I can pull up just about anything in seconds when the directors sit next to me for a session.

What do you like about Premiere Pro, and/or any of the other tools you used?

Premiere Pro is much more user friendly and intuitive for me than other industry editing software.

Who is your creative inspiration and why?

Editing for me is so much about rhythm. I’m inspired by music with any film and usually place music early. Even if it doesn’t stay it helps create a pace and mood. For me, once I hear the sound of the world of the story, the edits become more expressive and unified.

What’s the toughest thing you’ve had to face in your career and how did you overcome it? What advice do you have for aspiring filmmakers or content creators?

Hands down the biggest and most stressful challenge was feeling overwhelmed by impossibly tight deadlines early in my career. I didn’t realize it at the time but both me and my clients back then were simply less experienced at creating appropriate schedules. This changed over time as I got more experienced and more serious about recovery. When I started flat out turning down rush jobs and only taking on projects I could do well, my entire career changed. And my work got dramatically better. I still have the occasional late-night push but it’s not the norm.

What’s your favorite thing about your workspace and why?

We just moved into a new house, so my home office is still a work in progress, but I love how much light the room gets. For me, having a lot of light makes the job feel more fun.

My Name is Pauli Murray, is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video.