Something unexpected happened on the way to 2021, chess became cool. Very cool. The game that was often relegated to select few was suddenly the talk of the town. The sudden rise in popularity did not happen by chance. It was a direct result of Netflix’s award-winning limited series The Queen’s Gambit. The series, starring Anya-Taylor Joy as a troubled chess master, Beth Harmon, caught the attention of viewers and did not let go.
The series expertly combined elements of endless style, complex characters, and perfect music to deliver a character study that captivating with the most exciting chess matches ever put on film. One of the reasons it all this works so well is due to the work of editor Michelle Tesoro who masterfully heightened the tension while also balancing the story of the characters. As a result the series not only entertained it changed the way the world thinks about chess.
We spoke with Tesoro about her career and experience working on the limited series. She is no stranger to prestige television having worked on Ava Duvernay produced When They See Us, House of Cards, Godless – to name a few. She joined the project after being contacted by longtime collaborator Scott Frank, whom she worked with on Godless.
“I’m gonna do anything that Scott does just because I love working with him and his tastes and mine collide a lot. We like the same things, and anything that he’s willing to direct, I think is going to be good,” said Tesoro.
She enjoyed the challenge and bringing her own touch to the story. While the series can be enjoyed at face value there is much more, like Beth, there’s always more below the surface.
“I think the overall hypothesis that Scott had us really think about throughout the whole thing is, the story’s supposed to be the cost of genius. That is sort of this underlying story in everything. On one hand she doesn’t really ever achieve balance in her life with one thing or the other, it’s sort of an all or nothing thing. As the cost of it, she’s a little too heavily tilted in being really wonderful at chess, but just very horrible at life.
Being given an extended amount of time in the editing process, where she would collaborated with Frank and her team, allowed Tesoro the creative freedom to help shape the scenes and, in ways, the characters through the edits.
“The truth is, for you to kind of understand the story that’s being told to you yourself as a viewer, you’re bringing certain ideas to it. I’m sure there’s tons of ideas that people think about the show, about The Queen’s Gambit that were not our intentions at all. But because of what their point of view is, they’re adding there – a plus b equals c, you’re, they’re adding other elements in there. So it’s sort of interesting to me to see psychologically how you can play with that manipulation as an editor and how far you can take that.”
This is just a glimpse at our fascinating discussion. Be sure to check it out in its entirety (above). She digs into the conversation of the chess matches, picking just the right music, her process, the incredible cast and much, much more. Enjoy!