Inspired by organizations such as The International Collective of Female Cinematographers (ICFC) in the United States, female cinematographers around the world are creating their own local associations to support and to promote the work of women in the television and film industries. In Mexico, Apertura DOP recently launched a website/directory featuring the work and contact information of 35 female cinematographers that work in the industry. One of them is Consuelo Saldaña, a director of photography who has been working in film and television for the last decade. For this interview, Saldaña offers her insights, projects, and challenges as a DP.
Claudia Pretelin: Will you tell us a little bit about your background and breakthrough?
Consuelo Saldaña: Yes, my career started about sixteen years ago after I came back from Spain where I received a Master’s in Cinematography at the Cinema and Audiovisual School of Catalonia. I started shooting small television commercials and serials including XY (a Mexican television series produced by NAO for Once TV Mexico) where I worked as the camera operator. For the second season of XY, the cinematographer Diego Rodríguez, with whom I’ve worked on different projects, gave me the opportunity to be the director of photography of the second unit and to continue operating the camera through the second and third season.
CP: How do you prepare for work on a new project? What’s your work process like?
CS: First I need to read the script, see what it’s all about and I start from there. I think it’s important for me to like the script. It has to make me feel some kind of emotion so I can translate it into something visual. After reading the script, I start working on dividing the sequences and I think about how’s it going to look. I talk a lot with the director; to see what they’re looking for and what their expectations are for the project. One of my rituals is to do research. I go to museums, art exhibitions, and I look at my photography books in order to find some inspiration. I also have to decide which cameras and lenses I will use. Once the project has been approved, and depending on the budget, I start shooting tests with the cameras and lenses I’ve chosen.
CP: What’s been a favorite project?
CS: One of my favorite projects has been the shooting of the TV series XY. Not only because it was my first job as a DP, but also because I had the opportunity to work with great people, screenwriters, and directors. XY was a controversial project that started conversations about issues that were not openly addressed on TV. The series was nominated for Best Fiction TV Series, Best Production, Best Actress, and Best Actor in the Television Festival of Montercarlo in 2011. To have the opportunity to work on this project allowed me to learn a lot about working with very few resources.
In the United States last year, according to Martha M. Lauzen at the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film, San Diego State University in California, “women comprised 20% of all directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors, and cinematographers working on the top 250 domestic grossing films”. A very small increase compared to the 18% from 2017.
CP: From your experience, how hard is for a woman to have a career as DP in Mexico?
CS: Things have changed in the last few years, but when I started it was really hard. This particular job in both industries has traditionally been reserved for men. For me to be able to work and lead a team of mostly men wasn’t easy at all. However, it was a man who first gave me the opportunity to start a career in the industry. Just recently in Mexico, a collective of professional female cinematographers created an organization called Apertura DOP to provide each other with community support and industry advocacy. Not only in Mexico but also around the world, there’s a movement of women advocating for better professional opportunities in the industry.
CP: If you had the opportunity to change something within the TV and Film guilds, what would it be?
CS: I would start with the idea that the guilds are only for men. We need to close the gender gap. Both women and men can do this job equally. But the mental shift has to happen in both men and women. Unfortunately, some women don’t allow other women to move forward in the industry. So it’s a problem of both genders.
CP: And what do you think is happening to change that? What needs to be done in Mexico to support more female cinematographers not only in the country but also to promote their work in other film industries around the world?
CS: We need better employment opportunities. The percentage of female cinematographers in Mexico is high. There are many women doing interesting things in the industry. We just need to be trusted with better projects that can be seen not only in Mexico but also in other countries.
CP: Anything else that you want to add?
CS: I’d like to invite your readers to check out Apertura DOP. We’re promoting the work of female cinematographers that are currently working in Mexico. Follow us on Facebook and Instagram and check out all the initiatives that we’re working on.
Consuelo Saldaña is a DP based in Mexico City where she was born and raised. With a background in Communications, in 2003 she received a Masters Degree in Cinematography at the Cinema and Audiovisual School of Catalonia in Spain. She has attended many film workshops, including one with French cinematographer Agnès Godard and a Master class with Australian-Hong Kong cinematographer Christopher Doyle. She has worked extensively in television and on shorts, documentaries, and commercials in Mexico and abroad.