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“It Was Primarily a Process of Just Grinding It Out. And Grinding…And Grinding”: Editor Joe Beshenkovsky on Into the Deep

A still from Into the Deep by Emma Sullivan (courtesy of Sundance Institute)

On August 10, 2017, journalist Kim Wall accompanied Peter Madsen on his homemade submarine in order to report a story about the charismatic inventor—but she never emerged to write the story, as Madsen murdered her while the submarine was submerged in the waters outside of Copenhagen. The murder shocked the global community, prompting discussions about protections for journalists and the underlying cruelty of Madsen. Director Emma Sullivan had actually began documenting Madsen the year before he murdered Wall, eventually culminating into the documentary Into the Deep about the culture surrounding Madsen and what led to Wall’s murder. Editor Joe Beshenkovsky talks about how the team grappled with representing Madsen on screen. 

Filmmaker: How and why did you wind up being the editor of your film? What were the factors and attributes that led to your being hired for this job?

Beshenkovsky: I was contacted by the producer, Mette Heide, and was attracted to the story and the nature of what was captured, which felt unique to me and held the possibility of exploring some structural and thematic ideas I’d been looking to try. Emma, the director, and I connected on how to approach the story and we went from there.

Filmmaker: In terms of advancing your film from its earliest assembly to your final cut, what were goals as an editor? What elements of the film did you want to enhance, or preserve, or tease out or totally reshape?

Beshenkovsky: The general goal, like any film, is just trying to make it better and tighter, losing fat, collapsing beats, that type of thing. The initial pass, I think, was pretty solid—most of the core ideas and construction, the little flourishes and thematic elements were there and many beats remain relatively unchanged. But this film has a lot of necessary exposition which is always a challenge to get right, so lots of time was spent with that. And figuring out the correct balance of how much Peter Madsen was in the film, or how much he personally drove the narrative—that was also something we worked with throughout and it required blowing things up and rebuilding.    

Filmmaker: How did you achieve these goals? What types of editing techniques, or processes, or feedback screenings allowed this work to occur?

Beshenkovsky: We did screen for people to get feedback, it helps shake ideas loose, particularly when you start to lose perspective. But it was primarily a process of just grinding it out. And grinding…and grinding.

Filmmaker: As an editor, how did you come up in the business, and what influences have affected your work?

Beshenkovsky: I have always gravitated to editing, as far back as high school, and as I set out to become a filmmaker I decided that it was the best avenue to learn. Internships led to assisting led to cutting, and I just tried to navigate my career in a way that created new challenges and put me in the room with talented people. I’ve been very lucky in that regard. 

In terms of influences, I almost always reference narrative films and television. There are certainly documentaries that have influenced me, say Fast, Cheap and Out of Control or Looking for Richard, but I find that whatever my approach is, it comes from this place of just trying to make it feel cinematic, to immerse the audience to the point that it all falls away and there’s no distinction between narrative and documentary, it’s just a raw emotional response. 

Filmmaker: What editing system did you use, and why?

Beshenkovsky: I generally cut AVID. For doc projects with any substantial amount of media, it just works. ScriptSync is a crucial tool, for instance, particularly when working with characters speaking English as a second language.  

Filmmaker: What was the most difficult scene to cut and why? And how did you do it?

Beshenkovsky: Perhaps what I called the “Meet RML” beat, where we are back in time and first really meet Peter Madsen, his “rocket lab” and our core characters. There’s a lot to move through, establishing this place and the emotional connection between the characters, their reason for being there. Then there’s a lot of informational minutiae that is necessary to track the rest of the plot but nothing you want to get bogged down in. Ultimately and most importantly, you have to understand why they loved being there and what gravitated them to this man who ultimately reveals himself to be a monster. So the stakes were high to land it right.

Filmmaker: What role did VFX work, or compositing, or other post-production techniques play in terms of the final edit? 

Beshenkovsky: There is some compositing. We did do substantial motion graphics work (with a frequent collaborator, Stefan Nadelman, who is supremely talented) for newspaper and internet based information that appears in the film.

Filmmaker: Finally, now that the process is over, what new meanings has the film taken on for you? What did you discover in the footage that you might not have seen initially, and how does your final understanding of the film differ from the understanding that you began with?

Beshenkovsky: We just finished color a few weeks ago, this one is going to require a bit more distance before I have proper perspective on everything. There’s a strange dynamic in which every project seems to have some personal parallel to your own life, and informs you, but it takes time to realize that. But I do hope that this can somehow help the characters in our film, the interns and volunteers of RML, who had to deal with the outside world questioning why they couldn’t or didn’t stop this crime from happening, surely they had to know—my hope is that this film redeems them in some way. Because they are heroes, and helped put Peter Madsen in prison.

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