At a time that builds upon the momentum of movements like Me Too and LGBTQ Pride, female filmmakers are finally starting to get the recognition they have always deserved. Holly Dale, the award-winning director, producer, writer and editor(!), gets up from her seat within the audience and faces them as she enters the Vancouver Film Festival’s (VIFF) stage. As her long-time colleague and friend Norma Bailey says proudly, Dale has a perfect record of five plots proposed, and five directed. On top of this, she has directed 200 hours’ worth of screen productions.
You probably already viewed many of Dale’s works: Durham County, Mary Kills People, Flashpoint, Being Erica, Dexter, The Americans, The X-Files, Law & Order True Crime, Limitless, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Falling Skies, are some of the most popular ones. Dale is currently working on the highly anticipated Batwoman (2019) series, in which she is producing and directing. Batwoman aired on CW just last week, and already has the internet people talking! It currently sits at a high 73% on Rotten Tomatoes; however, it has also been a victim of the toxic fan culture because of its nonapologetic characters.
It seems that Dale will gather a lot of attention while the Batwoman debates catch fire. Meanwhile, I had the privilege to attend Dale and Bailey’s masterclass in October and meet her personally. Unlike someone who has so much experience as Dale, she was very humble; she wanted to connect with every single person in the audience. Hence, why she stayed for another hour or so to answer questions and guide aspiring filmmakers in their individual journeys.
Holly and Norma Kill People
As the moderator and co-director of Mary Kills People, Bailey cheerfully states, she and Dale met at a time when both directors decided to move away from documentary filmmaking and into drama. When filming documentaries, Bailey felt she was exploiting people to do what she creatively wanted to accomplish, and that was to tell stories. On the other hand, documentary filmmaking was never Dale’s intention either. However, through drama, Dale rightfully obtained the title of being an actor’s director; someone who knows how to approach an actor’s needs.
As Dale states, setting up the visuals truly set up what Mary Kills People (MKP) stood for. Camera angles, colors, location and all that you could see on the final screen product aimed to service the characters. As an example, the visuals of dull-colored tunnels in MKP were intended to walk the actor through the tunnel of light, often associated with death. The entire piece was made to relate to life and death in various ways.
Drama in the Industry: A Female Perspective
“When I first started directing”, Dale says, “there were only 5 female directors in the industry”. Dale made sacrifices and traveled a lot. Her hard work paid off, especially when she shot a documentary on female filmmakers, Calling the Shots in 1988. As she reminisced those days, Dale exclaimed, “I met so many great males in the industry, too—they were sons of single mothers”. The audience burst out laughing.
“Women tend to collaborate and nurture more, but they also need to be careful,” says Dale. Through her experience in the industry, Dale realized there are people on set who definitely won’t want her to succeed. At the end of the day, she suggests the important skill aspiring filmmakers need to obtain is to use their energy only when they need it. A director’s job is to make decisions. Dale exhales, and gives a piece of valuable advice, “you don’t want to make a decision quick”. According to Dale, there is a delicate line between helping the producer in terms of cost and convenience, and the look and feel of the final product. She adds, “you need to filter ideas and use them for your benefit”.
When talking about times she is mostly involved in the process of selecting an actor, Dale states, “firstly, the actor needs to be a reactor”. In other words, actors need to be reactive to what’s going on around them in the scene. For Dale, another important factor is that the actor needs to know their lines. Specifically, “casting for TV is very fast,” she says; hence, seeing these two qualities stand actors out from the hundreds of tapes that are viewed every day.
Dale continues on about the ideal director-actor relationship, “Actors are very nervous most of the time. You need to tell them your processes and do not stand away”. Dale says that a director’s job is to go ahead and tell the actor, “Hey, that’s a great job”; simple as that. If a director wants the production to succeed, Dale argues “[they cannot] talk to an actor in results”. A director needs to tell the actor what causes the happiness or sadness and let them walk through the emotion. When Dale was asked about the best way to set up an emotional tone to the production, she stated, “it is best when they (the actor) wants to work with you”. When the actor and director understand each other, the character starts telling her story.
Insights from Dale: Marvel vs. DC
Marvel (Agents of the S.H.I.E.L.D.)– Executives are very hands-on during production.
DC (Batwoman) – Finally has the best superhero on-screen for the franchise!
The rise of Batwoman
Dale defines Batwoman as “a groundbreaking series” that welcomes a lesbian superhero on screen, and adds, “it (Batwoman) is the best in the franchise”. She says she is on set a lot these days; she practically “live(s) there now!”. But Dale seems to put her heart out directing Batwoman, as she “always excels to be beyond the script”. And, we are beyond excited to see where Batwoman’s journey will take her; because we want to go there with her, too!