Jamaica's Throne'n DP + Director | Gabrielle Blackwood
Updated: Oct 16, 2020
I grew up in theater. Doing plays at school and church. I went to summer programs that were focused mainly in theater and art. I was also able to apply my artistic talents to theater by drawing art work, building set pieces and etc. I love the community feeling theater gives and the talents you are able to use. I especially liked when I could take pictures with my disposable camera of all the art I contribute to the plays on stage. I'm just now realizing while writing this - that a camera in my hand wasn't far behind the art work when I did it. I really tried to get the right angles of my work on stage and any where else so I could show it off and get more work to do. This was all for the fun, passion and love of it. I saw the cameras ( video recorders from parents) in the audience but nothing clicked.
However, at my performing arts high school, I was casted as an extra in an independent film and I started to look at cameras in a different way. Also, taking photography at summer camp broaden my horizons as well. Then one day I realized there were women doing cinematographer (director of photography) for films, videos and etc. It clicked to me that they used a camera to do this and I realized I was doing the same thing as a 2nd Unit Director when I worked at a photography studio. I saw angles, and I would collaborate with the photographer about it. I discovered more and more over the years the women in that position, I became a fan and have recently developed an interest in being a "DP" ( director of photography). A director of photography also known as a cinematographer (sometimes shortened to DP or DOP), is the chief over the camera and light crews working on a film, television production or other live action piece and is responsible for making artistic identity and technical decisions related to the image. This is a position that was mainly dominated by men only...like directing and acting once was.
It's exciting that women DP'ing is becoming more and more acceptable. One day while on instagram I typed in women in film/DP's and came across this beautiful and talented woman DP'ing/directing in paradise. I just saw this image of her in her swimsuit, in the ocean with this massive camera on her shoulder and she was smiling. I had to know who this was. The image was beautiful and powerful to me. I found myself on the inside saying "that's gonna be me one day...looking bad ass, in the ocean, DP'ing an awesome project that I'm also producing!". I clicked on the image and saw more pictures of her and finally her name...Gabrielle Blackwood.
Gabrielle, who studied film at the University of Auckland in New Zealand, seems to love playing around with natural lighting for projects and I believe I see her style taking shape. Meet the beautiful Gabrielle Blackwood, she was a finalist in the Miss Jamaica World 2011 Competition. With less than a decade of work, this cinematographer and director is slowly building an impressive résumé. She's been featured and interviewed on a few TV shows and in newspapers. Gabrielle grew up in Kingston, Jamaica and I had to reach out to her because I wanted to know more. I have looked at a few things she's done so far and I am a fan. I am honored that she was willing to do an interview with me for my series/blog "Goddess Revelation".
Checkout our Q & A below.
1. Were you named after someone?
No I wasn’t.
2. How did you get involved with film?
When I was younger, maybe from the age of 7 or 8, I would inveigle my neighbourhood friends to do mini theatre productions of something I’d either seen locally or excerpts from disney films. I was always cutting up curtains to make costumes and anything else I could get my hands on. A few years later in eigth grade/second form, I was looking through a college booklet which had a list of occupations at the back. At that time I was a movie buff and used to critique films quite a lot, as well as religiously watched the oscars every year (still do), so when I saw cinematography on the list, not even quite knowing what it meant at the time, I decided that’s what I wanted to do.
We didn’t have a film school here then, so I did my first degree in Media & Communication specialising in Multimedia then pursued a practical masters in film in New Zealand.
3. What or Who inspired you?
I’ve always been fascinated with westerns and period dramas, anything historical and in a far off land. I was obsessed with ‘The Far Pavilions’ with Ben Cross, ‘The Other Side of Paradise’ by Noel Barber and the Japanese drama ‘Oshin’ all of which I watched on local tv. Now it’s ‘3:10 to Yuma’, ‘The Last Samurai’, ‘Amelie’, ‘Shawshank Redemption’, ‘A Very Long Engagement’ and ‘The Young Victoria’. In my own projects I’ve used storytelling techniques from the French both visually and literally and I love the cinematography of Bruno Delbonnel, Mandy Walker, Janusz Kaminski, Roger Deakins and Vittorio Storaro and the direction of Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Edward Zwick, Mira Nair and Gurinder Chadha.
4. Why did you choose the career path of a Director of Photography (DP)?
I’m a very visual person. I love seeing the beauty in things, I love making things visually interesting, appealing and different from what people expect, but always informed and driven by story. I also have a background in graphic design so visual communication has always been a strong suit for me. It’s also why I love colour grading footage so much. It’s always fun when a challenging project comes along and my imagination runs wild. It always forces me to be more resourceful and creative.
5. When is your favourite time to create and do you have any rituals to help with the process?
Sometimes a location, an anecdote, a fashion piece or an article inspires me to create something visual. I always pay a lot of attention to production design. It’s the single most important thing outside of lighting that makes an image what is. Understanding composition and colour theory in production design is also paramount and fun for me.
In terms of preparation/ rituals; I’m obsessed with collecting images that inspire me on a daily basis of unique lighting designs, colour grades and compositions. Most times I already have an armory to sift through when a project comes up. Pinterest, instagram, camera forums, vimeo and blogs are some of my go-tos . I’m also a book worm so any visual research is also an excuse to do more reading and soak up new information.
6. What has been the hardest part of becoming a Director of Photography and does living in Jamaica play a part?
In North America, Europe and Oceania female cinematographers are more widely accepted. It’s very difficult here for people in general to picture a girl managing a large camera rig and directing a lighting crew. Rate negotiation is also another issue, no matter how much people love your work some either aren’t willing to pay what it’s worth or will choose to pay a male cinematographer more because they trust them more. It’s been a long haul but I’m still here.
7. What would you tell your younger self when it comes to where you are now in life?
I would have told my younger self to enjoy my youth a bit more and not worry so much, go after what I want but also to be prepared to work twice as hard for it.
8. What do you want to be known for?
I want to be known for my integrity, great work and creative mind.
9. How would you describe your style as a filmmaker?
I’ve found that recently I’ve been doing a lot of metaphorical pieces and visually I like either moody, slightly underexposed visuals or slightly overexposed, less contrasty ethereal looks. I also love playing with shadows. Some filmmakers like a lot of camera movement in their pieces, which works well most of the time, but I’ve recently come to like the stillness of a shot and long pauses in a scene that either heightens tension or an understated emotion in a character or story.
10. What have been 3 key points in branding yourself and/or building your client base?
That’s a tricky one.
Cinematographer and Director: I definitely push my cinematography and directing on social media. It’s important for people to recognise me for my work as a Cinematographer and not just as a female cinematographer. It's also important that they don't mistake me for a producer which happens a lot as most female film crew in Jamaica are either producers, make up artists, wardrobe consultants or talent. Cinematography is my bread and butter. Ever so often I may also include something personal to switch it up, but cinematography and directing is what is most important to me.
Ensuring authenticity: Whatever images I put out on social media is real. My work is my work and I want to be known for it’s quality. I also don’t pose with a piece of equipment because it looks impressive. If you see a photo of me looking through the view finder of a camera, it’s not pretend, I’m legitimately using the camera. So as the client you can be assured that what you see is what you get. I also believe in crediting other individuals whenever I put out any work; crew or otherwise where necessary. We’re all in this together.
Frequency of posts: I try to put out something on social media (Instagram, Facebook, Linkedin etc.) at least once per week. If I post more than twice per week especially on IG, I tend to give it a bit of a break. People can get tired of seeing frequent posts and become immune to them.
11. What advice would you give aspiring female DP's?
I would tell anyone interested in being a female DP to value their work and time. I wouldn’t call myself a feminist but I do believe in equal pay and treatment and too often we are overlooked, underpaid and undervalued. Be prepared to work twice as hard to prove yourself. Unfortunately it’s the nature of our industry to see a man in our shoes and we have some great male cinematographers, but our work is just as good as theirs and in some cases even better, so have confidence in that, don’t settle and get paid your worth.
Now for some fun questions.
12. What is your go to camera of choice?
Right now I have two: either a Black Magic Ursa Mini Pro or an Arri Alexa Mini.
13. What do you do to relax after filming?
I love to grab a bite, lie on my sofa with my food spread all laid out and chill with a movie or episodic drama, preferably something that will eventually put me to sleep.
14. What is a must have wardrobe item when on set?
I always have my special Jamaican made steel toe black boots. It’s something I’m now known for on set. Crew actually ask me about my boots when I don’t have them on.
15. What country would you like to produce a film in and be the DP... of course?
I’ve always wanted to shoot something in an African nation or perhaps Greece, Australia or Iceland. Anywhere with unique landscapes, people or culture. I definitely would not be producing the film. I would either be directing it or would have written it, outside of DPing it. I’m formally trained in directing and screenwriting but have a serious soft spot for screenwriting and critiquing screenplays. Cinematography and screenwriting are two of my favourite aspects of filmmaking.
You can follow Gabrielle on instagram @gabrielle_blackwood or visit gabrielleblackwood.com