Bitchin': The Sound and Fury of Rick James recently screened at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City. The documentary profiles legendary funk/R&B icon Rick James, looking at the highs and lows of his storied career.
Directed by Sacha Jenkins, the documentary was shot by cinematographers Hans Charles, Bryan Donnell and Antonio Rossi. Jason Pollard (pictured) edited the feature, which runs just under two hours. Here, he shares insight into how the project came together.
How did you get involved with this project?
“I've worked with the director, Sacha Jenkins, on a few projects already and have always enjoyed the experience greatly. We had recently worked together on series for Netflix and Hulu, and when he approached me about working on this film, I couldn't say no.”
How did you approach this project from an editing standpoint?
“The original stylistic approach for the film was to use a mix of archival, talking-head interviews and recreations. Unfortunately, the recreations had to be scrapped due to COVID, so for me, that really transformed the film into an archival-heavy piece, which I was happy to do. There was great archival footage from Rick’s life and career, as well as fantastic supporting material, so I really had a lot of fun digging into all of that stuff and using it to help illustrate the story.
“The main thing that I wanted to focus on was really telling this story through Rick's words. Rick had an extremely unique perspective on life and had a myriad of experiences that he could call upon at the drop of a hat. The extent and usage of his vocabulary fascinated me. This was obviously a very worldly person who truly had a flair with words. My goal was to let Rick tell his side of the story and show a different side of himself in order to hopefully show the audience that it wasn't all about his troubles with the law and his hit song ‘Superfreak’. Rick was an accomplished musician, who had unstoppable drive and was determined to make it. And once he did hit it big, he was able to use his intelligence to craft hit songs for himself and others.
“Editing wise, making sure that Rick said this or showed this was important to me, and then bringing in other supporting voices to echo these sentiments was the topping on the cake.”
Is there a scene or sequence that you are particularly proud of?
“The scenes/moments that were the most enjoyable to work out were the beginnings of Rick's solo career with Motown. Rick’s song ‘You and I’ is super energetic and really funky, and just gives a bounce to the whole sequence and really helps illustrate his rocket-like ascension from that first single and album. The song, combined with a really energetic interview with Berry Gordy’s son, also helps set the tone for the sequence.”
What kind of dialogue did you have with the director as the project evolved?
“The discussions around the film were primarily around making sure we covered the highs and lows of Rick's life and career, while figuring out how to insert personal, behind-the-scenes moments into the film as well. We also wanted to relay the excitement and funk of Rick's music throughout, so we constantly talked about how to keep up the pace in the edit.
“The great thing about working with Sacha is that he’s always looking for a different angle or a different perspective on almost any subject. This usually manifests itself in different ways. With Rick James, it was embracing Rick’s crazy retelling of his amazing stories. The discussions were usually about bringing that out in Rick. We also discussed how to make sure that his bandmates got to tell their stories and recollections about Rick — good and bad — to really help paint a full picture of him.
“Sacha, Steve Rivo — one of the producers — and I also had a lot of discussions about Rick’s musicality, and really highlighting and bringing that out as well. There were also some great gems found by Steve in the different interviews that helped illustrate Rick’s life.”
There is some interesting use of media to illustrate different parts of Rick James’ life. Can you talk about that?
“The strategy was to set up Rick’s life through a brief synopsis at the beginning of the film, and then again, really let Rick take the wheel and guide us through the story. As he is doing that, I tried to use archival in the most imaginative way possible to help illustrate Rick’s words. Throughout, I tried to break out of using archival footage and stills in the same old way. When I introduced Rick’s band I wanted to combine archival and present day footage in a different way.”
What’s next for you?
“Right now I am working on a documentary about Louis Armstrong with the same director, Sacha Jenkins. I also have a short documentary entitled Game Changer that [played] in Tribeca as well.”