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Contender – Editor Peter Beaudreau, Beasts Of No Nation

December 7, 2015 05:40 | By

Peter Beaudreau

Peter Beaudreau

Editor Peter Beaudreau first met director Cary Joji Fukunaga at the Sundance director’s lab when they were participants as editor and director respectively. Unfortunately, when Beasts of No Nation went into production, Beaudreau was on a different film, so editor Mikkel E.G. Nielsen worked on the film until January 2015. In December 2014, Beaudreau came on as an extra set of hands for what he thought would be a couple of weeks, but which ended up being five months through the sound mix and digital intermediate.

“My sense is that Mikkel and Cary felt that the movie was pretty close at the point when Mikkel left,” commented Beaudreau. “I think Cary is a very iterative filmmaker, so he likes to build off of ideas. I think he needed enough time for things to cook and gestate. When I came on to do cleanup, he had some lingering feelings about a couple of scenes, a couple of things he wanted to try, and things he wanted to build upon. Out of that work on a handful of scenes, we ended up fine-tuning pretty much every scene in the movie.”

Beasts Of No Nation

Beasts Of No Nation

Because Beaudreau had the sense that everyone thought the film was close, he did not want to come in and “start blowing things up,” but he admits that it was a bit of a challenge to get the right flow and make the changes that ultimately became the finished movie. Although the film did not change that much structurally, the cutting and performances changed within scenes. Choices made in performances were not necessarily “better or worse.”

The film, which follows the story of Agu (Abraham Attah), a child soldier in an unspecified African civil war, had a large ensemble of both actors and non-actors. Beaudreau did a lot of work with the director to distance the character of the Commandant (Idris Elba) from Agu and the other soldiers. In an earlier version of the film, the Commandant was much more charming and fun for the children to be around. There were places where he needed to be less approachable.

LR-Beasts of No Nation 1a“We wanted him to be menacing. We wanted to give him flashes of softness, so it wouldn’t be completely devastating for Agu to get sucked into this group,” revealed Beaudreau. “We definitely wanted Commandant’s performance to be harder.”

Instinctively, Beaudreau felt that there was not enough separation between the numerous characters in the ensemble – these unknown faces that often had very thick accents. When he first started working with Cary, the director questioned him about a particular character. The editor needed to be reminded who that character was. That signaled a problem to the director, so as much as was possible, the editor worked to give individual personalities to each of the soldiers, spending some time differentiating characters.

Much of the film was shot documentary-style in long takes, with a lot of moving camera and an observational “fly-on the wall” feel.

LR-Beasts of No Nation 7“The coverage was really unique. It wasn’t your standard medium, close-up, wide. You didn’t really have the standard tools to structure scenes as you normally would have,” said Beaudreau. “Part of the work that we did was to bring some order to that coverage. Cary never wanted to make a conventional looking film, but there were places where we wanted to focus the audience on details that were important. While the structure of the film as a whole did not change, the structure of how scenes unfolded, changed dramatically in places.”

During the shoot, the company lost locations and time, so there were some sections of the film that were more difficult to pull off. The team had to mine existing footage in order to find moments that represented the truth of those scenes and communicate what needed to be communicated.

LR-Beasts of No Nation 1c“Ultimately, it’s a testament to the job Cary did shooting the film. We had incredible options,” stated Beaudreau. “Cary has a great eye and he comes from a documentary background, so for him to be the director of photography and also an operator on the film was to the film’s benefit. He knew how to capture those scenes, how to tell that story. He gave us hours and hours of material to work with.”

With such a brutal subject matter, it was important that the editing did not go so far across the line that the film became too violent and impossible to watch. The biggest challenge was figuring out where the line was, so they could tell the story in a compelling way without losing the majority of people viewing the film.

“We had to be really delicate with how we told the story,” explained Beaudreau. “That’s what I take away from the process. It was a difficult story to tell, but I think we did a good job balancing all the pieces.”

Although hard to pull off, Beaudreau believes the film is “naturalistic and poetic at the same time.” There is an immediacy and authenticity to performances and how the story was shot that goes a long way to making the world of the film believable.