By Michael Solender
One of Beverly Penninger’s most valuable story telling lessons came from a noted journalist early in her Emmy-award winning video production and filmmaking career.
In 1996, only three years after Penninger established her production company, Naka Productions, she secured legendary broadcast journalist Charles Kuralt to narrate “Wild in Corolla,” a one-hour public television show about the feral horses on North Carolina’s Outer Banks.
Kuralt’s agreement to participate in the project came with one stipulation.
“He asked for the rights to edit the script if appropriate,” recalled Penninger. “I wasn’t about to say ‘No’ to Charles Kuralt and sent him the script. He sent it back with his notes and 95 percent of his changes were simply cuts. If I had a five-sentence paragraph, he’d pare it down to two. If I used a big, flowery word, he’d change it to something simple. It was a master class in writing for film. He took what would have been a 40-second voiceover in my writing and made it 10 or 15 seconds – and it accomplished the exact same thing. I learned how less can be more when it comes to storytelling.”
Penninger’s deep body of work over three decades has garnered significant acclaim and recognition, including Emmy, Telly, Gracie, IABC Gold Quill & Gold Crown and Cine Golden Eagle Film and Video awards. In 2010, Penninger was chosen as one of only 25 producers for the PBS Producers Academy.
Her 2018 independently produced documentary, “In Good Faith,” about a Native American tribe in Montana and their unratified treaty with the United States, was screened at four film festivals and highlighted at the National Public History Conference.
Her 2014 film, “The Newport Effect,” created partly as an homage to her life-long love affair with the Newport Folk Festival, was broadcast nationally on PBS via American Public Television and premiered at The Rhode Island International Film Festival. The film was an official selection at Asheville Cinema Festival for the Audience Choice Award and garnered a Regional Emmy nomination for Best Historical Documentary.
In addition to her independently produced documentaries and films, Penninger enjoys a solid reputation supporting corporate clients with her video work. As an active community advocate and social justice activist, Penninger has leant her talents to projects with Time-Out Youth, the National Coalition for Community & Justice, Equality NC, Shelter for Battered Women and Mecklenburg County Civil Court System’s Self-Serve Center.
Today Penninger looks to storytelling in a different medium for her next set of challenges. She’s shifting gears mid-career to express herself as a novelist. A 2020 ASC Creative Renewal Fellowship allowed her to concentrate on her lifelong dream of writing a novel.
“I’m using (the award) to explore my writing on a deeper level and focus on storytelling without the support of video, interviews and music – just my words,” Penninger said. “The themes in the novel I am writing are about civil rights and gay rights and are very personal issues for me.”
Penninger sought creative feedback and mentorship and has worked with a couple of people, including a retired English professor, to review and critique her work. She also signed up for a virtual writer’s retreat later this year and is exploring writer’s residencies to expand her skills.
“My main focus is finishing my novel and having it published,” Penninger said. “I’d love to turn it into a screenplay and then into a film I can have produced. That would be the ultimate marriage of my experience and skills. Creative writing has taken hold of me and I’m running with it.”