Whether it’s your first job or you’re an experienced veteran, it’s always important to speak up, especially when you have a good idea that could help out the team. That was an important takeaway for cinematographer Gayle Ye as she worked as the Director of Photography (DP) for the first time on Odd Squad. As a DP, Ye worked to keep the visual language of the series consistent from director to director.
Ye opened up about the experience to The TV Junkies as part of our Women Behind Canadian TVseries. She also shared why gender parity and diversity are so important to storytelling, and what she thinks still stands in the way of women and people of colour getting the experience necessary to advance through the system.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
The TV Junkies: Have you always wanted to work in film and how did you land on cinematography?
Gayle Ye: As a child, I grew up around computers since my dad was a computer technician. I became pretty tech savvy very early on and was enamoured by creating things digitally. I was first interested in graphic design, but then shifted to film when I came across some DIY music videos made by a couple of teens. I was shocked at how seemingly accessible making films were and how ruleless it was. Although I started in editing, it wasn’t until later on that I decided I much preferred being on set and working with cameras instead.
TTVJ: Before you got into cinematography, what other positions on sets have you held?
GY: I came up in the world of cinematography through the camera department. After film school, I camera assisted for a couple of years, then took on the role of a Creative Director at a video agency before becoming a full-time cinematographer.
TTVJ: I know many people have heard of cinematographers, but maybe don’t necessarily know exactly what they do. Can you explain the role of a DP on a TV series?
GY: As Director of Photography, my job is to establish the visual storytelling through camera movement, lighting, and framing. My role is ever shifting depending on the medium and the kind of director. On a long format series specifically, I ensure that the visual language is consistent from episode to episode, and director to director.
TTVJ: We heard you just had your first chance to DP on Odd Squad. What was that experience like? What were some of the biggest challenges and takeaways?
GY: I was fortunate enough to DP the third season of Odd Squad, and yes, it was my first opportunity to DP a long format series of that scale. The sheer crew support I had was a big shift from my usual work. As the head of several departments, it can be very easy to just outright call the shots to get things done quickly, however, consistently I’ve found when you empower your team with as much knowledge as possible, and lean on them to collaborate, some of the best work comes out. That kind of mentality makes your team more passionate about the story, and having team members invested in the story as much as you are can be really encouraging after filming 12 hour days almost every day for 6 months.
TTVJ: What are some of the challenges for you in trying to maintain the look of the series over the course of the entire season, even as new directors come in and out?
GY: Because this was the third season of an existing successful series [Odd Squad], I was definitely more critical about how my own take on the visual language would come off as refreshing but still familiar. Admittedly, I was probably less vocal about my ideas earlier on in the series, but once I felt like I got the hang of the visual language — through watching how episodes were being cut and keeping an open dialogue with the showrunner and producers — I started to be able to justify more bold ideas, as long as I still felt like they resonated and served the story.
TTVJ: We hear a lot about the gender gap at the director position, but what about DPs? What is the gap like at your position, and do you find that it’s improving at all in recent years?
GY: I often hear about the gender gap and how it relates to the lack of female, trans, gender non-conforming, and non-binary folks in the respective fields. However, increasingly I’m finding the gap to be in the opportunity and not in number of people. I know of so many amazing aspiring cinematographers that just don’t get the chance to tell stories since they lack experience. It’s a constant cycle of not having experience because they aren’t given the chance to have that experience. I think the awareness of the gender gap, and the hiring of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Colour) people, has gone up. But I think we have a long way to people fully understanding why gender parity and diversity is so important to the process of storytelling, instead of it being a way to pat yourself on the back.
TTVJ: What are some of the biggest steps and initiatives that you have seen as positive strides, in regards to increasing diversity and helping women, in the industry?
GY: Nathalie Younglai is a superhero. Her passion and drive to build, develop, and empower fellow BIPOC filmmakers is incredible. She’s effectively created a very supportive ecosystem. Her dedication to growing the community is infectious.
TTVJ: Do you have any advice for other women looking to get into cinematography?
GY: You’re only as strong as your team, so give them agency, start with trust until proven otherwise. Also, there’s not one way of doing something.
TTVJ: Do you have any other upcoming projects that you’re working on that we should know about?
GY: I have been slowly working on a documentary about the tunnels of Moose Jaw for the past couple years. It’s a short documentary / personal project I’ve been chipping away at on my off time. It’ll hopefully be completed by mid next year.
Editor in Chief Bridget Liszewski comes from a long line of TV Junkies who fostered her love of television from a very young age. She's channeled that passion into covering both US and Canadian television shows, and is thankful everyday for the invention of the DVR. A graduate of the University of Notre Dame, she loves college football and is a fan of sports in general. Bridget is always up for talking TV and you can follow her on twitter at @BridgetOnTV.