There is a lot that goes into creating some of the most popular television series on the market today. From a team of writers to directors to a cinematography team and editors working tirelessly to create a dynamic season, there are many hands at work behind shows like Outer Banks and Bel-Air.

With both shows on a new season, we are excited to see where the team behind these stellar shows will take us and how they will further develop the visual language and storytelling to keep us engaged in these worlds we are already fond of.

No Film School chatted with Nicole Vaskell, one of the editors behind Season 3 of Netflix's Outer Banks and Season 2 of Peacock's Bel-Air.

In the interview, Vaskell shared insights into working on coming-of-age stories, the challenges of editing a documentary-style show, and her experiences as a female editor.

220110140555-02-bel-air-reboot'Bel Air'Credit: Peacock

Editor's Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

No Film School: What attracts you to say yes to a project? What do you look for in the project when it's first offered to you?

Nicole Vaskell:I like to work with funny, interesting, and eccentric people. Working with caring people generally makes any project enjoyable. I also try to choose projects where I can personally identify with a character or element of the story, so I can connect with what’s happening.

I usually have a strong gut feeling that a particular project will be a good fit. If I hit it off well with the creators, laughing and making jokes during our first talks or expressing similar tastes in music and film, then I know it will be a good match. I like the collaborative aspect of filmmaking a lot, so I look for projects where the directors, writers, and producers like to be hands-on with editing. Stylistically, I love working on character-based stories that employ heavy use of needle drops and the score to punctuate the story. When I’m reading a script, I look for moments that seem especially stylized, so I can think about how I might be able to elevate it with my own take and perspective. That being said, I try to remain open to all different types of projects.

NFS: Outer Banks has a unique documentary style of shooting but feels more elevated than a documentary series. How do you achieve this final more cinematic look?

Vaskell: This is one of the main elements that attracted me to the show. The look and feel of Outer Banks had been well-established before I joined the team. It’s such a unique blend of naturalism and stylized drama, especially with hand-held shooting, that I’m sure it was a tricky balance for the creators, Jonas Pate, Josh Pate, and Shannon Burke, to hone in on. But the team obviously did an amazing job with seasons 1 and 2, so I just tried to follow in their footsteps while trying to put my own touch on things where possible. 

The show’s look is the brainchild of Jonas Pate, our director and executive producer. He likes to shoot with three to four cameras rolling at a time, with a drone camera capturing vast scenery. Directors of photography Gonzalo Amat, Itai Neeman, and Bo Webb threw themselves into the environment, always striving to frame up the characters in a beautiful way, especially composing shots with lots of layers and dirty foregrounds to help keep it feeling alive and real. So my job is to pick out the best-looking film from a wide range of incredibly beautiful footage. It’s a challenging task! 

I’ll start editing a scene by pulling out my favorite visual moments, which to me are shots that act like glue for the scene. From there, hopefully, ideas will populate in my brain of how I should lay out the pattern for the scene. Then, of course, there is a script that I follow, but the sheer amount of footage on Outer Banks presents the opportunity to interpret the material and create something new from it. 

I also have to shout out Fil Eisler, our composer, whose score pretty much bow-ties the series. His thematic music drives a lot of the show’s movement and helps reinforce the feeling of being on a cinematic journey. This combination of music, cinematography, direction, and design creates a very specific cinematic palette. I just try to be continuously cognizant of that as I assemble the edit, so I can help identify moments where each element can shine through.

Kkkyp'Outer Banks'Credit: Netflix

NFS: Both Outer Banks and Bel-Air focus to a certain degree on coming-of-age stories. How do you approach those stories?

Vaskell: Working on coming-of-age stories requires a certain sensitivity when approaching the footage. I have to be incredibly aware of nuances in expressions of frustration, tension, inhibitions, and a sense of invincibility. I have to find the line between the characters being mature and immature; they can’t always have the perfect response to situations. Sometimes they can have a sophisticated response, and seem beyond their years; other times, they seem like kids and make mistakes. They are allowed to be inconsistent. 

The teens in both Bel Air and Outer Banks face difficult obstacles, pressures, and issues, so it’s important to ensure their stories are as grounded as possible. Many characters in these stories embody the “me against the world” feeling.

The way I structure scenes heavily relies on which character’s perspective the story needs to be told from. From there, I’ll make sure I am spending enough screen time with them or finding shots where the composition of the frame in comparison to their emotional state is either complimentary or juxtaposing how they feel. For example, Sarah Cameron sitting alone in front of JJ’s house in Episode 306 of Outer Banks, really hitting rock bottom, and cutting from a tight profile CU and huge aerial drone pulling out to show how desperate and sad she is feeling and to punctuate that she is feeling all alone in her life. 

With that being said, editorially, coming-of-age dramas are handled similarly to other stories in that I am just looking to help build believable characters. My approach is to be sure I am choosing the most authentic takes, paying close attention to nuances and subtleties in moments, looks, smiles, blinks, etc.

A lot of storytelling happens between each line of dialogue, so making sure I am using those moments is key in helping sell the natural angst and emotion that goes hand in hand with this genre. In addition, music plays a huge role in my approach, and I use it to help build the world of each set of teens in these shows. I came on to each show after the tone was established, and established very well by Jonas Pate, Josh Pate, and Shannon Burke in Outer Banks and by Morgan Cooper in Bel Air. So, I move forward with building the world by staying true to their vision and interpretation of the characters. 

NFS: Can you walk us through the two most challenging or rewarding sequences, one from Outer Banks and one from Bel-Air?

Vaskell: In Bel Air, in episode 203, Compromised, the most challenging aspect of this story was to cut the leadup to Carlton’s panic attack into Will deciding to lead the protest. I started out using wide shots to build the scope of the protest. Then I kept going in tighter, checking in with Carlton, slowly isolating and raising the dialogue volume of his friends talking to him and ensuring I was cutting into moments of Carlton’s breath or nervous gestures.

I pulled my favorite slow-motion take of Carlton getting overwhelmed and started to cut that against his friends verbally checking in on him and created a frenetic back and forth that culminated in him being overwhelmed. Ultimately, this led Carlton to run out of the group by himself, where I then took out all natural sounds and replaced them with impressionistic sound design and score. That soundscape, with the slow motion and voice-over, really helped to sell his full-blown panic attack. 

Outer Banks, episode 309, Welcome to Kittyhawk, has two sequences that I remember being very enjoyable to edit. First, there is a sequence where Kiara arrives at a Wilderness Therapy Camp called Kittyhawk. Jonas Pate captured such beautiful imagery of the camp. He really nailed the coverage and direction of Kiara, allowing me to heighten Kiara’s emotional state as she is separated from her family and friends.

Another fun fact is that at the beginning of the season, Josh Pate puts together music playlists for us editors to listen to and pull from. I remembered listening to this Shannon and the Clams song, Midnight Wine and knew I wanted to use that for a montage. So, when I read this episode’s script, I immediately knew Kiara's entrance to the Wilderness Camp was the perfect spot for the song, as it helped bridge the seriousness with the absurd in the scene.

Another scene in this episode I feel very proud of is at an airstrip, where the Pogues are trying to leave OBX, and Ward and Rafe show up unannounced. It’s a tense scene. Editorially, this scene plays a bit like a western showdown. There is so much weight and tension bubbling up to the surface. So, it was essential to check in with each character consistently visually. Once Ward gets onto the plane, each set of characters has their own issues they are confronted with in the scene.

That was interesting editorially because I had to basically cut five mini scenelets within one scene while also selling the fact that the police would be coming to catch the Pogues any minute. It was a juggling act to interweave all those elements while continuing to ratchet up the tension and emotionality of the scene as it built toward the climax. 

NFS: What is your experience as a female editor, and what advice would you give to women who are trying to enter the industry?

Vaskell: I still feel like we have much to do in post to create a more diverse and well-represented workforce. Most of the time, I am the only female in the room during interviews, which doesn’t go unnoticed. In addition, most of the shows I’ve been on still have an unequal percentage of men to women in post. Whenever I have the ability, I always try to hire female assistant editors and recommend other female editors to producers. I’m constantly thinking of ways I can open the door and keep it open for other women. It’s all about helping each other and looking out for other women.

I’ve been lucky enough to work with my assistant editor, Jennifer Macfarlane, for almost three years. I always try to give her opportunities to actually cut and co-edit — she is a tremendous talent. We are both mothers, so I value having a healthy work-life balance, too, and I try to be incredibly respectful, setting boundaries for work for myself and Jennifer, so we don’t get burnt out and can spend time with our kids and families.

One amazing aspect of Outer Banks is that our supervising editor, and main liaison to our executive producers, Sunny Hodge, is also a woman. She also values the importance of hiring women in post. Being surrounded by these women helped create a strong feeling of camaraderie.

For me, being a mother helped me change more as an editor. It greatly enhanced my power of empathy and shifted my perspective, which I was able to translate into my work— how I reviewed performances in my dailies, what I gravitated towards, and how I identified with certain characters and certain situations. My point for saying that is I think each person brings their own unique set of circumstances and ideas to the table that makes their decisions theirs. So, the more diverse the representation is in the post, the more unique and diverse the storytelling becomes.

It goes without saying that women have a unique perspective and life experiences that are much different from men. So, it’s important for women to know how essential it is for us to bring our voices to the table in post and to use our experiences to help tell the stories we are working on.

Img_2905bNicole VaskellCredit: Jason Miller

NFS: What motivated you to start your own post-production company? What is your favorite project your company worked on?

Vaskell: I started my post-production company, Editree, back in 2010. The idea was born from a desire to work on various projects across genres and mediums. I had a great network of friends from film school, who were out there making short films, documentaries, and music videos, and they had always called on me to edit their projects. One small project or a short led to another, and I connected with Stephen Buchanan at More Media. We partnered on many projects, including several documentary-based commercial campaigns for FX and Netflix. At that point, my partner, Aaron Naar, was a huge asset in helping Editree get off the ground and into an actual, physical space. We opened an office in the Arts District in Downtown LA and hired a few editors, assistant editors, colorists, and mixers. 

With the two of us leading Editree, we were able to bring in more work and still focus on our own personal editing careers. To this day, we still like to take on documentary-based projects and commercials, especially ones that lend themselves to a more cinematic or poetic flair. We pride ourselves in our attention to detail, elevating each project however we can and constantly pushing ourselves and our collaborators to try new things.

My favorite Editree project has to be the feature documentary we edited for director Justin Krook called I'll Sleep When I'm Dead: The Loud Life of Steve Aoki. Justin captured the crazy life of DJ Steve Aoki in an incredibly cinematic way and wanted me and Aaron to juxtapose Steve’s high-octane antics and professional journey with a more controlled, emotional father-son story. Justin is also a really talented editor, making it a very fluid and rewarding experience.