SOS Sly Stone

Summer of Soul gets Academy Award Nomination

2021 documentary about the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival and Academy Award Nominee was graded using Streambox Chroma products.

Often referred to as “Black Woodstock,” the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival featured performances from many notable black artists, including B.B. King, Stevie Wonder, Sly and the Family Stone and Nina Simone. The event took place during a particularly tumultuous time in American history, with the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. occurring only a year before. As many interview subjects note, the festival served as celebration of Black culture and artistry, bringing the Harlem community together during a time when tensions were high.

Although over 40 hours of footage was recorded from the festival, it sat untouched in a basement for 50 years until it was uncovered during Questlove’s efforts to preserve its memory. As a result, this footage is now being seen by many people for the first time in history, including by those who were there. One particularly emotional moment from the documentary features a performance of “To Be Young, Gifted and Black” by Nina Simone with interviewees reflecting on the impact of the event 50 years later.

Summer of Soul has been released to critical acclaim, earning an Academy Award nomination for Best Documentary Feature along the way. While it’s been over half a century since the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival took place, it’s legacy and impact on music and Black culture will remain preserved in the film for future generations to enjoy.

Yohance Brown color graded the film and reached out to us to share his story

Brown, a freelance colorist and editor, worked remotely on Summer of Soul from his home studio and conducted review sessions using Streambox Chroma X.

Yohance brown

How did you get involved with Summer of Soul?

I was brought onto the project by producer Joseph Patel. I've worked with Joseph before at RadicalMedia, which is one of Questlove's production partners on the film.

Tell us a bit about your background.

I started out doing work with RadicalMedia on Oprah's Master Class. My background was mainly working on independent feature films, then started doing commercials. Did “high end commercials” early in career (i.e. beauty and fragrance ads), and was recruited by Radical Media when they were looking for someone with beauty work experience for Oprah.

You mentioned that the project started during the height of COVID - how did you deal with that?

RadicalMedia sent me a RAID drive with the conformed media. The grading was done with DaVinci Resolve and we conducted review sessions online, using Streambox Chroma X to share the live video and Zoom for communications. I worked exclusively from my home studio and was able do point-to-point reviews to another Chroma X at RadicalMedia's office, where they had a Sony X300, so we were both seeing exactly the same color. In cases where they were working from home we would switch to Streambox Cloud and the reviewers were able to view the session on their iPad Pros.

Streambox also provides and Apple TV app for video playout, which is great because it provides another option for conducting remote reviews - that is really important for me as a freelancer.

How did you deal with the combination of recently shot interview scenes and the 50-year old original footage?

The basic idea was to maintain the "classic" look of the 1960's but avoid a visual disruption when cutting to the interviews. We made subtle tweaks to the interview footage to soften the transition, such as adding film grain and playing with saturation to bring them closer together in terms of overall look, but being careful not to overdo it.

It was a definitely a creative challenge, which is something we always face as colorists.

How will this experience influence your life going forward?

Summer of Soul really prepared me for working remotely on new projects. It has influenced my career trajectory because it was so easy and seamless an experience. Working remotely allows me to offer my services anywhere in the world - I am currently reaching out and hearing back from companies in LA and UK, so it really opened up a world opportunities.

Streambox Chroma X is an important tool for me in this new world. The excellent color fidelity, which is obviously really important for color grading, and the flexibility of having many different client-side playout options is a real game changer for me.