Going into Season 2, the three “Pen15” co-creators, which includes the series’ two leads Anna Konkle and Maya Erskine, never really put their finger on how their Hulu series would change after becoming a surprise hit and critical darling.
“We wanted to evolve the show, but the conversation stopped with that,” said co-creator Sam Zvibleman, when he and Konkle were on the Filmmaker Toolkit Podcast. “None of us quite decided, or pointed to exactly what that meant.”
Some of the natural evolution came from the mining of the creators’ personal stories of their middle school years, like the exploration of Konkle’s parents getting divorced and her first bouts with depression at that age.
Another part of the series’ evolution came with Zvibleman directing all seven episodes of Season 2A. (The seven episodes that’ll make up Season 2B were almost done shooting last spring, before the pandemic shut down production.)
While on the podcast, the director talked about a conscious effort, based on his experience directing the last four episodes of Season 1, for there to be greater restraint in the approach to shooting “Pen15” this season. Specifically, the attempt to “live in moments” and shots longer, which came from taking a more observational approach to capturing Konkle and Erskine’s performances and relying less on a comedy-through-editing approach.
“Sam directed the last [four] episodes, which are kind of my favorite of Season 1, and he brings this awesome cinematic aspect, which usually ends up slowing down your filmmaking,” said Konkle. “Sam is so visual that often the best cuts, in my opinion, were longer. Having to figure out if it can still play well by bringing it down, that was really hard.”
Zvibleman fully admits he preferred the 55-minute cuts of episodes, in particular the last two of Season 2A. While he was very happy (surprisingly so) with versions that aired, he said cutting them down was a daunting challenge.
“Sometimes we’ll take away whole scenes, or storylines,” said Zvibleman. “And sometimes it’s, ‘Yeah, we love how awkward that is watching you walk across the room for 30 seconds, but do we love that more, or do we love finishing the episode more.’ Somehow there’s some magic, and we have wonderful editors.”
Watch Konkle and Zvibleman break down Season 2 Episode 3 (“Vendy Wiccany”) below:
Konkle gave a special shout out to “Pen15” editor Taichi Erskine, who is also her co-star’s brother and has been working with the duo since their early web series days. Maya’s brother on the show, played by actor Dallas Liu, is, according to Konkle, a loving to tribute to Taichi.
“He gave her a lot of shit, the cool big brother, and it’s still like that,” said Konkle. “It’s still very fun in the editing room because it is a different experience [from] when we’re editing with any of the other editors. [Taichi and Maya] get very real. It’s entertaining, and I love it.”
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The Filmmaker Toolkit podcast is available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Overcast, and Stitcher. The music used in this podcast is from the “Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present” score, courtesy of composer Nathan Halpern.