One of the most popular shows on Netflix in 2024 was the thrilling docu-series Escaping Twin Flames. Millions of people tuned in to see how you can get out of a cult and what the ramifications of cults are on society.

I found the show to be incredibly engrossing, but what surprised me was how much care the filmmakers took with their subjects. The story was human, vulnerable, and poetic.

Cecilia Peck and Inbal B. Lessner are the director/producer/editor team behind the three-part series. I was so excited when we got the opportunity to speak with them about bringing this story to the screen.

Check out the full interview below.

Escaping Twin Flames | Official Trailer |

No Film School: Hey Cecilia and Inbal! As executive producers and showrunners on Escaping Twin Flames, you both developed, pitched, sold, and produced the show. Could you walk us through how you first discovered the cult and decided it would make for a worthwhile documentary subject?

Cecilia Peck: Outreach beyond the scope of our films has always been part of our process. Our website for survivors of rape,, providing resources and a safe space to share testimonials, has over 12 million unique visitors. After making SEDUCED: Inside the NXIVM Cult in 2020, we launched to provide information for people leaving cults or high control groups. We started hearing from people all over the world who were trying to escape or who had family members trapped inside cults.

One of our main participants, Keely, contacted us through the website the day she escaped from Twin Flames Universe. She was in shock and afraid for her life when she reached out. She told us about followers of Twin Flames Universe who had been sex trafficked to strangers, forced into servitude to the leaders, cut off from their families, and whose sexual orientation and genders were being manipulated.

Inbal B. Lessner: We’re interested in identifying systems of control that masquerade as something beneficial, but which are actually exploiting and abusing people for financial gain. Our work exposes manipulators and coercive control, and it was clear that this cult had a lot of elements that would make it a compelling documentary.

NFS: Escaping Twin Flames is impressive in its ability to sensitively broach complex and controversial topics such as trans identity and coercion. How did you navigate your treatment of these topics in the show?

CP: We knew we needed to pay particular attention to how, under the guise of being LGBTQ-friendly, TFU had successfully recruited within the gay, bi, and trans communities and then proceeded to force a strict heteronormative ideology onto its members. They paired same sex couples as “twin flames” and then pressured one of the members to transition because, according to their spiritual teachings, each couple had to be made up of a “divine masculine” and a “divine feminine.” Jeff and Shaleia state that “homosexuality does not exist.”

We consulted with GLAAD on how to tell this story without propagating the myth that transitions can be coerced, and we reached out to Dr. Cassius Adair, author, and professor of gender studies at The New School, to help us navigate the topic with utmost sensitivity to the trans community. The series is told through the voices of former members, and through the mothers who still have children in the cult. We wanted our viewers to understand how intelligent, professional people could be lured into what became such an abusive and controlling group.

IBL: The former members shared their materials with us, and we were able to access thousands of documents including photos, screenshots, emails, and communications as well as over 1,000 hours of TFU-produced videos, from former members and from the cult’s social media platforms. We used advanced AI tools to scan this mountain of evidence and identify the most compelling excerpts. Late in our editing process, we also received an additional hard drive containing recorded Zoom calls of the cult’s inner circle business meetings, and featuring the most troubling and potentially illegal interactions. We made sure to locate the most relevant nuggets, and we presented many of the excerpts to Dr. Adair—as well as to cult authority and sociologist Dr. Janja Lalich—to seek their analysis of the material.

We used the evidence not only to show how the group initially presented itself as a positive and welcoming space for people looking for love and community, but also to corroborate the testimonies of the former members and to present the inner workings of what we believe is a criminal organization, engaged in tax fraud, forced labor, and human trafficking.

NFS: Cecilia, you also directed the series, while Inbal you also served as an editor. What was the collaborative process like between the production and post-production teams?

IBL: The way we work, there is a symbiotic relationship between production and post. We relied on our in-depth development process to build a detailed storyboard and write a scene-by-scene outline before we started filming, but we remained open to new revelations, especially since events were unfolding in real time. The mothers of children trapped inside the cult were meeting each other for the first time to share information, and we were able to document those meetings.

We also followed one of our main contributors as she was coming to terms with what she had been forced to do inside the cult. Due to our accelerated schedule, we started editing while still filming and reviewing archival, so, while Cecilia directed and was showrunning in the field, I monitored most shoots remotely and was showrunning post. We had weekly meetings where all team members discussed the story and brainstormed what interviews, verité and visuals we needed to capture on location in order to make the cuts work better. With the exception of our editors, all our team members alternated between working on set and supporting editorial between shoots.

CP: Once production wrapped, we were all hands on deck in the edit rooms, shaping the cuts and adding archival, graphics, animation, and music. There are so many intertwined creative, logistical, and legal decisions that have to be made every day on a series like this, in addition to continuously holding space for and communicating with our cult survivors, so we must stay in lockstep and collaborate on every aspect from beginning to end.

NFS: Cecilia—The series includes several dynamic interviews. Could you describe your strategy for creating a comfortable and safe environment for your interview subjects?

CP: My relationships with many of our contributors began two years prior to filming. The development process of understanding the cult and contacting former members was very extensive. The decision to take part in a documentary isn’t easy, and we spoke at length about what it would require of them and what it would mean to their lives. In many cases I also spoke to their family members and answered questions about the process.

We did pre-interviews over many months about Twin Flames Universe, and discussed what they were willing to share both on camera and what evidence they felt comfortable providing. We were looking for videos, photos, emails, and documents that would show the pressure they were under to accept the belief system of the cult leaders. By the time our cameras rolled, we had developed relationships, and they knew their questions would be answered honestly. The fact that our previous series was a survivor-based investigation of coercive control definitely helped reassure them that they wouldn’t be exploited. Our contributors are trauma survivors and it was very important to minimize any further harm to them, and to not mimic the conditions of the cult, where they were coerced or afraid to question authority figures.

The participants wanted to use the documentary as a way of standing up against the abuse of power in Twin Flames Universe and we made sure at every stage to keep them informed and to give them agency over what they wanted to share. On the set we made sure that everyone in the crew was trauma-informed and able to provide support and reassurance. We went over the questions beforehand if they wished to, and allowed for breaks and deliberately did not rush them to talk about the most traumatic things until they felt comfortable.

We had therapy available before, during, and after filming, and raised funds ourselves to provide additional support when what was offered by the network or production company wasn’t sufficient. Our contributors were our collaborators in telling the story of Twin Flames Universe, and we had a very open channel of communication throughout the entire process and we are still in close touch with all of them today.

NFS: Inbal—Do you have any favorite moments or scenes that did not end up in the final cut?

IBL: We were hoping to make a four part series, and had material for four very dramatic episodes. However the sweet spot for the network was three, which meant we couldn’t go into as much depth as we would have liked. There was a scene where two of the moms whose children had transitioned in the cult went to consult with gender expert Dr. Cassius Adair on how to communicate with their children. Dr. Adair’s advice was that, even if the moms felt that the transition was forced, they needed to accept their children as they are identifying at this time.

This was a very emotional moment and a difficult scene to let go of. We also filmed other powerful reunions between former members who had been taught to distrust each other by the cult leaders. We filmed a survivor whose whole story ultimately had to be left out as we cut down to three episodes. And, while this process is familiar for us, we had to be extra sensitive to the on-camera contributors and help them understand these cuts and why they were necessary to serve the ultimate goal of the series.

NFS: You both previously collaborated on the Starz docuseries Seduced: Inside the NXIVM Cult. What draws you to these types of stories?

CP: Initially, the story found us, not the other way around. My first encounter with high control groups was when a former intern of ours tried to recruit me into NXIVM. I didn’t join, but it gave us access to a community of people trying to escape from that cult. As we documented their stories and attended Keith Raniere’s trial, we came to an understanding of how these groups operate as crime rings, using members to recruit others and forcing them to police each other.

These groups masquerade as offering something positive, whether in wellness, business, spirituality, or elsewhere, but they are basically MLM structures which sell expensive, unneeded courses and systematically enslave people for profit. There are over 10,000 cults operating in the U.S. alone, and we think it’s essential to expose the mechanics of recruitment, grooming, and manipulation that make educated, professional people vulnerable to sociopathic, manipulative narcissists.

'Seduced: Inside the NXIVM Cult's' Cecilia Peck and Inbal B. Lessner: 'Exploring coercion'

NFS: You also collaborated on the 2013 documentary film Brave Miss World, which played an instrumental role in raising awareness around sexual assault worldwide. How do you think about the intersection between documentary storytelling and political/social activism?

IBL: We’ve seen documentaries challenge commonly held perceptions and pave the way to social change, whether through legislation or heightened awareness. Brave Miss World was on the crest of a wave of films that created a conversation around sexual assault, culminating in the #MeToo movement. It’s a great privilege to create work that helps transform the way people feel and think about a certain issue, and we take that seriously. The stories we tell often follow subjects as they heal and recover from trauma and reclaim their voices.

We think that well-told, character-driven stories can help create empathy, and empathy has the power to move hearts and minds, so that makes us part documentarians/journalists and part activists.

NFS: With three acclaimed projects under your belt, you seem to have solidified yourselves as one of the industry’s most promising producing duos. Could you talk a little bit about your relationship and how you collaborate in your day-to-day life?

CP: We met in 2003, and after seeing each other’s films we started talking about collaborating. We shared similar taste and a desire to tell stories that matter, and we had a lot of respect and admiration for each other. When you’ve been in the trenches together for as long as we have, you get to know and rely on each others’ skill sets, and are able to work very efficiently without any delays. Our collaborations are actually velocitized because we know exactly what each other can do without even needing to ask.

NFS: Do you have any projects in the pipeline or topics that you are excited to tackle in the future?

CP: We have a slate of projects in development both together and separately in the true crime and cultspace. We have a focus on women’s stories and trauma-informed filmmaking, and we’re also interested in music, the natural world, and in people who turn challenges into activism.