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“Porn and Sex Work in General is Very Stigmatized”: Editor Amalie Westerlin Tjellesen on Pleasure

Pleasure

Ninja Thyberg’s Pleasure is an unforgiving exploration of the adult entertainment industry in Los Angeles. After arriving to California from Sweden, young Bella Cherry (Sofia Kappel) has many expectations of what working in porn will be like. Pleasure pulls no punches in showing just how brutal of a world it can be. Editor Amalie Westerlin Tjellesen stresses the importance of the film being about the conditions of sex work and less about why women do sex work.

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?

Tjellesen: I studied with Ninja Thyberg and two of the producers, Eliza Jones and Markus Waltå. I have edited two of Ninja’s short films, The Stallion and Girls And Boys. I guess that knowing each other from before where a big contributing factor for me getting this job. 

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?

Tjellesen: It was Olivia who edited the first versions of the film. 

A lot of the scenes in the film are improvised so that means that we often had different possibilities for what the characters could do or talk about. The film took two years to edit partly because of this method of filming. In the editing it was important for Ninja to balance between certain statements she wanted to make in her film while having it entertaining and touching. We thought that it was important to be with Bella. We were balancing those parameters a lot. 

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

Tjellesen: We experimented quite a lot in the editing and honestly sometimes we made really terrible versions of the film. I believe that the producers of the film have been amazing in giving us the freedom that we had. Experimenting takes time and producers would rarely be okay with the amount of time that we needed. 

We had quite many screenings for friends working with film. When we got carried away in the material the fresh eyes on the editing was very valuable. 

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

Tjellesen: I am from Denmark but I studied at a film school in Stockholm and after school I have been editing short films, documentaries and feature films. I am, as many other editors, an emotional person. My main tool in my work comes from my own perception or empathy towards what the characters are going through. Of course I watch films and get inspired, but I still find that my own compass is my biggest advantage as an editor. 

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

Tjellesen: Avid.

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

Tjellesen: The most difficult scene to edit probably did not end up in the film. We had a lot of scenes that did not make it into the final cut because of many different factors but mostly they did not fit into the whole. Many of these scenes have been edited over and over again to try to see if we could fit them into the film somehow. 

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? 

Tjellesen: Porn and sex work in general is very stigmatized and we knew that audiences would ask the question “why does Bella do it?” Ninja had made the possibility to answer this question in multiple scenes throughout the film. While editing we were balancing scenes trying to explain or answer a question that could not be answered. Because Bella does not have only one reason to do porn. People are complex and the film was never intended to be about why women choose to do porn but more about how the work actually is. So in the end we ditched most of the explanation and thereby actually helped the audience to stop judging Bella for her choice in life. 

Every time I have worked with Ninja she has given me new perspectives. With this film I have learned so much. One emotion I am carrying with me is a big admiration for women who knows how to take advantage of their sexual attributes. Those women are often looked down upon as being unintelligent when in reality they should be looked at as clever and skilled for playing their cards so well in a patriarchal world.

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