Editing is a craft that arguably never gets its due in the same way outwardly flashy crafts like cinematography and costumes can. It’s the invisible art, and one can argue it’s an easy one to overlook and underappreciate (look at all the “superstar” cinematographers you can name vs. say all the “superstar” editors). Take something like Netflix’s award-winning limited series “The Queen Gambit,” a very beloved, well-watched series that audiences seemed to adore, and it received major love at the Golden Globes. But outside of Anya Taylor-Joy’s terrific performance, there’s not a lot of it that gets greatly singled out aside from overall excellent craft, at least by the general public (though yes, it does have plenty of those Guild awards too, including DGA, ACE, the Art Directors Guild, ASC, CAS, and many, many more)
Directed by Scott Frank (Netflix’s equally-excellent mini-series, “Godless”), some of that is by design. Frank’s a storyteller, and “The Queen’s Gambit” wasn’t particularly flashy, but many agree it was still a taut and hyper-engrossing limited series. And much of that is because of the subtle, carefully orchestrated design of the increasing stakes built through editing. Edited by Michelle Tesoro, many of the chess sequences of “The Queen’s Gambit” are essentially the action sequences, the set-pieces of the series: carefully building in tension, drawing the viewer in, and even hypnotizing with its call and response of chess attack and defense techniques. It’s further impressive when you consider that many people watching the series might not have fully understood the game of chess and all its intricacies but could still easily follow along thanks to the visual storytelling told through camera and editing.
Much of it is “invisible storytelling,” but nevertheless, the kind of setpiece you love to see: one that has a conversation between characters and gives you so much information about their emotional states. And in the case of ‘Queen’s Gambit,’ often done rather silently, wordlessly, and through the simple anxiety of framing, where to place shots and that exact moment when and where to cut and escalate the emotional drama unfolding.
This is all to say, one of the arguably unsung heroes of “The Queen’s Gambit” Tesoro. To illustrate what we’re discussing and to demonstrate her uncanny skills, in this exclusive video clip, “The Queen’s Gambit,” editor Michelle Tesoro walks us through one of her favorite scenes from the critically acclaimed series, a sequence largely built in the absence of dialogue as a game of chess slowly reveals story and character. Watch this clip, and marvel at the way she breakdown all the minute moments of emotion, character, and story. It should really give you a revelatory appreciation of the top-shelf work being crafted here.