Sarah McIntosh spoke to cinematographer Gabi Norland at the Watersprite Film Festival this year. Norland was part of the Women in Film and Television workshop at Watersprite, and has worked on a range of music videos, commercials, short films and corporates. She has also worked as a camera operator on several feature films.
Sarah McIntosh: What made you get involved with Women in Film and Television and why do you think these kinds of initiatives are important?
Gabi Norland: Well, actually, I initially got involved with Women in Film and Television because I won a year’s free membership. There was a short film that I shot that won “Best Cinematography” at a film festival that’s also a women’s crafts films festival called Underwire, and part of the prize was a year’s membership. So I became a member, but towards the end of the year I looked at the events and realised I hadn’t managed to go to any; and so I went to a networking event.
“… if there was a ‘Men in Film and Television’ organisation it could just be called ‘Film and Television’…”
I discovered there that networking wasn’t as scary as I thought it was, and when it’s a group of all women, it’s actually more friendlier than you think it would be. Then I saw about their mentoring scheme and I thought that as I was making the step from being a focus puller to a cinematographer, the mentoring scheme might be very helpful to me. So I applied to the scheme, and that actually included another year of free membership. So I’ve been very fortunate in having two years of free membership, and I’ve found them really brilliant. They offer loads of great training schemes and networking events and useful educational things all for women working in the industry.
S: Why do you think it’s important to have women-specific inititatives like this?
G: Well, one of my fellow mentees made the comment that if there was a “Men in Film and Television” organisation it could just be called “film and television”. At the moment only 5% of fiction directors are women, 4% of cinematographers are women and 2% sound recordists are women so the industry, particularly the technical side, is still very male dominated. So, it’s very important to support women, women have a different perspective on story-telling and after all, story-telling is what film-making is all about, whether it be documentary or drama. It’s important to have balanced male and female viewpoints throughout the industry.
“You’d hope and expect that you’re judged on the quality of your work, not on whether you are male or female.”
S: Why do you think the numbers are so low? Do you think it’s sexism or do you think that women don’t feel they can do these kinds of jobs?
G: I think quite often, men have more confidence when they’re younger to go out and do these jobs or to give it a go. I certainly noticed that amongst the other people who I was an assistant at the same time as, the men in that group who wanted to be cinematographers moved up and became cinematographers more quickly than women. I think that that’s just that they were more confident in themselves or more impatient. I don’t know if it’s a good thing or a bad thing, that’s just how it was.
S: Do you think there are any advantages or challenges that being female in the industry entails or is gender kind of a non-issue once you’re in and people know who you are?
G: You’d hope and expect that you’re judged on the quality of your work, not on whether you are male or female. Everyone is an individual and has a different response to a story or a challenge. The key for me is the relationship with the director, so whether that director is male or female, whether I am male or female, it’s just a relationship between two people. It’s the quality of that relationship that’s really, really important.
“[Lynne Ramsay] is incredibly inspiring and just such positive, creative and forceful figure with such a strong vision.”
S: In the panel discussion, Susan Brand talked about peers and tutors that inspired her through being in the National Film School but a lot of the names she mentioned were male but within the theme of the panel. I was wondering, when you were starting out, whether there were any female role models that you looked up to or still look up to?
G: When I was on the mentoring scheme, my mentor was Nina Kellgren BSC, and she’s a wonderful cinematographer with a very deep understanding of her craft, and excellent skill in communicating and teaching people about that. I’ve also been very privileged to work with some excellent female directors who I’ve found very inspiring, but even as an assistant, I found some of the other assistants and the female DOPs that I’ve worked with very inspiring also. I recently assisted a female DOP called Catherine Derry. When I was a loader she was a focus puller and I recently operated on a feature that she was a DOP on. Working with Catherine has always been very inspiring because she’s very creative, very calm on set and very in control of the situation. All the things a good DOP, male or female, always is. I’ve also been privileged to work with Lynne Ramsay on a couple of occasions. She is incredibly inspiring and just such positive, creative and forceful figure with such a strong vision. That was absolutely brilliant.
S: Do you think that attitudes have changed, do you think it’s easier now than when you started out for women or is it kind of a myth that it ever was difficult?
G: I think when I started, it was reasonably easy for women to start out in film. From a camera department point of view there is almost an equal number of 2nd camera assistants who are female, then slightly less 1st camera assistants who are female, then considerably less camera operators who are female and then hardly any directors of photography who are female. So, there seem to be less women as you go up the ranks. That is, I believe, the same in business too though, that as you get to the top levels, there are less women so that’s probably something that needs to be addressed across all industries, not just across film.
S: If there was a young woman thinking about getting into the industry, what is the one piece of advice you would give her?
G: I’d say take advantage of every opportunity you’re given and don’t be afraid to try things and to push yourself forward. Though there has been a lot of talk about there being a celluloid ceiling, all I can say to women who are just starting out in film is, ‘don’t stop, just keep going, keep going and break through that ceiling’.