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“I Hope Watching Her Will Spark That Curiosity in All of Us”: Editor Celia Beasley on Penelope

A white teenage girl with a camping backpack looks up in the forested Pacific Northwest.Still from Penelope. Courtesy of Sundance Institute. Photo by Nathan M. Miller.

With Penelope, Mel Eslyn, director of last year’s Biosphere and a producer who has worked with the Duplass brothers and Lynn Shelton, enters the world of episodic series. The series follows a 16-year-old girl who, feeling out of place in the world, ventures into the wilderness.

Penelope will screen as part of Sundance’s Episodic Pilot Showcase. Below, editor Celia Beasley discusses the importance of Washington state’s indie film community and how the series reignited her love of the outdoors.

See all responses to our annual Sundance editor questionnaire here.

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?

Beasley: Mel Eslyn and Mark Duplass were committed to making this film in Washington state from start to finish, so that included post. Mel and I have known each other for nearly 15 years, coming up through the same tightly knit Seattle indie film community. She has produced many of the projects I have edited over the years (Outside In, I’ll Show You Mine) and is one of the trusted voices I call upon when I need feedback on a project (and vice-versa). Even though we had never worked together as director/editor, I felt confident in my understanding of her vision, and when we sat down together in the edit room for the first time, I couldn’t believe we hadn’t been doing it for years!

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

Beasley: The series brings us deeply into Penelope’s experience. As a viewer, we are with her all the time—watching her, or seeing what she is seeing, like a mouse on her shoulder. At times we actually go inside of her head to live her experience without any separation—almost like an alternate consciousness, where thoughts are nonverbal, atemporal and asynchronous. Some of these moments were shot with a particular treatment, and some were not, so it was an exciting challenge to figure out how to transition the viewer from being alongside Penelope to truly stepping inside her head and living her experience with her.

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

Beasley: Many important scenes were shot in high speed, so it gave me a lot of flexibility in the edit to use time remapping to explore the transition between the various levels of Penelope’s consciousness. I also used score and sound design to emphasize that shift, which included establishing dialogue as asynchronous to the world around us. Mel gave me a huge amount of creative freedom to play in the sandbox with these scenes, which allowed me to go way out on a limb and try some really crazy stuff! Some of it worked and a lot of it didn’t, but it all helped generate ideas and speaks to how much trust Mel gave me as a collaborator, which is so essential to the creative process.

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

Beasley: I didn’t go to film school and have no formal training in film. I became interested in documentaries after working as a fixer for a PBS series in France. I moved to Seattle in 2001 and joined our tightly knit indie film community—helping each other make interesting things with whatever resources we could get our hands on. Over the past 20 years I’ve edited every kind of project under the sun, from shorts to docs to experimental film, including six feature films, all with Seattle-based women directors. Penelope is my first scripted episodic series, and it was a joy to work on.

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

Beasley: For this project I used Adobe Premiere Productions. It was essential in allowing me to collaborate with my LA-based assistant editors, Kenzie Woodrow and David Robbins.

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

Beasley: There is a pivotal scene that takes place on a moving train. True to our indie roots, it was shot very simply—and beautifully—with just a handheld camera by our DP Nate Miller. Because the train was an actual working train, the footage reflected the passing environment as well as the changing light (from end of day to dark). It was challenging to cut the scene and maintain a logical progression of landscape and light, but it was so worth it because of the beautiful tone it creates in this moment.

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?

Beasley: When Mel first told me about this project and its genesis, I understood the idea intellectually. But it was only once I started digging into the footage that I really understood Penelope’s motivation on a deeper level. Being immersed in the jaw-droppingly beautiful Pacific Northwest wilderness awakened me to a deeper desire to connect with our natural environment in a profound and uncomplicated way. I have always loved the outdoors for the simplicity and focus that it imposes on us and how we are forced to draw upon ourselves, sometimes tapping into resources we didn’t know we had. I love that Penelope is searching for that and I hope watching her will spark that curiosity in all of us.

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