Jenny Nelson discusses editing Life Below Zero for National Geographic and how this show is unlike another other show capturing the 40 below weather conditions.
As Summer comes to an end, Alaskans prepare themselves for the winter ahead. Those in remote conditions prepare to face brutal winters, brave the wild and face the challenges of basic human survival as winter approaches. National Geographic’s Life Below Zero captures a group of six people and editor Jenny Nelson discusses her work process to capture the stunning and captivating footage shot by her team out on the field.
Read our chat below
How did you get involved in this?
I’ve worked on a little bit of all the seasons. I had worked with an editor before and came in via that. At the time, he was a supervising producer and spoke to the EP of the show. When I came in, there were a few shows about Alaska on the air, but this was being pitched as something completely new and different new and different.
When it comes to your work, where are you located? Do you get to go out there and experience life below zero or do they keep you in sunny and hot LA?
I’m definitely in LA. None of the editors actually go out in the field and we’ve never been on the road for this show. We’re definitely not in the same conditions as the crew out there. The best I have for you is braving LA traffic every day and turning the AC down every day. It’s nothing like those guys do.
What is it like when you get to see the footage?
The show is really unique and as an editor each time I come back to work on the show I get really excited by the location. They’re getting beautiful footage and the people on the field do an amazing job at trying to get interesting shots and interesting angles. There is a lot of focus on the look and style of the show and that’s something you don’t get on a lot of other shows.
For us, the look we have helps to tell the story in a really dynamic way. We can let the images tell the story, someone doesn’t need to be speaking all the time. In today’s world, a lot of shows are very much dialogue driven, but we can really take what they shoot and use that to tell the story in a natural way. The show is very stylized and we can put it together that way because of the footage. Again, they have a beautiful and natural background to get that. They’re going above and beyond in their creativity to get angles that you wouldn’t normally be able to get or they’re putting themselves in conditions to get us that great stuff which makes it such a unique show.
What shots from this season particularly wowed you?
That’s such a tough one because there are just so many great moments to choose from.
What is your relationship like with the directors and how does that work over the series?
We don’t have a lot of direct contact with people in the field whether it’s the shooters, the producers or the directors. There are a few people like the EP who is the point person in between and our contact is mostly with them. The workflow here is that the footage comes in and there are field notes. There’s a story team who look at those notes and break down what’s going to be in each episode. We take those and do what we do to them and once the show is put together, there are people involved who make sure the show is told visually and storywise.
I have to emphasize, there are fantastic editors working on the show. From an editors point of view, those editors who had been here since day one were able to brand the show and do things differently than what other shows were doing. I am just so in awe of the crew that is out there because they give us such amazing footage to work with and it makes our job fun and interesting. The editors all feel the same way, we all feel lucky and fortunate that we are able to work on the show. We do a lot here with sound design. Between that and the sound we are building it, it’s stuff that is important to the show.