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Hiatus Helper: Cinematographer Michael Wale, CSC, Discusses Working on the CW’s iZombie 

Hiatus Helper: Cinematographer Michael Wale, CSC, Discusses Working on the CW’s iZombie
Photo Credit: Katie Yu
Photo Credit: Katie Yu
Photo Credit: Katie Yu

The return of the CW’s iZombie is just around the corner. And we couldn’t be more excited. To help make this long hiatus just a little bit easier, we’re providing you with the chance to find out what it’s like to be a cinematographer (aka the Director of Photography) on the show.

According to Wikipedia, the cinematographer “is the chief over the camera crews working on a film, television production or other live action piece and is responsible for achieving artistic and technical decisions related to the image.”

iZombie‘s resident DP, Michael Wale, CSC, let us in on what it takes to be a good cinematographer; his favorite Season 1 episode; and what he considers a typical day on the job.

TV Goodness: What qualities does a cinematographer need to possess to excel at their job?

Michael Wale, CSC: I would suggest creative vision and technical proficiency, the ability to work well with others, the capability to manage stress, as well as being in possession of time and resource management skills. To be able to pay attention to details, to listen and communicate would also well serve a cinematographer.

TV Goodness: How did you figure out that this is what you wanted to do?

Michael: My father introduced me to photography at an early age. He built a darkroom in the basement where he taught how to load film into a camera, shoot, process and print. I was also an avid art student. I studied drawing and photography at university before volunteering on a student film. It was this experience of working with a group of people that drew me into cinematography.

TV Goodness: What do you consider your big break and what do you remember about it?

Michael: I was fortunate to have several breaks. A scholarship from the Academy of Canadian Film and Television introduced me to several influential people. I worked as an assistant in commercials at Circle Productions and later as a camera trainee in IATSE. Demonstrating the ability to work hard and the generosity of others is what paid off.

TV Goodness: What does working on a season of a show look like in terms of a cinematographer? Does the DP work with every single director? What’s that like? What are the challenges of working with all these different directors? What are the benefits?

Michael: One might say working on a show is like running a marathon (although I have yet to do that). It is an endurance test. The days are long and the work, although hard, is very enjoyable and rewarding. If not alternating with another DP, a cinematographer would work with every director. Each one is different – most bring a new perspective to a show while others may simply “call it in” and rely on others to carry them through. The first case is certainly the most common and with it brings some variety to the series, although it is a cinematographer’s duty on a show to maintain the “look” and at times maybe called to defend the fort.

TV Goodness: You’ve worked on a number of genre shows, everything from Continuum to Almost Human to Smallville. How different is it being the DP for iZombie?

Michael: iZombie is the first show in many years in which I am not alternating with another DP. The benefits are the continuity of the visuals; however this comes at the expense of preparation. With an alternate, a DP is afforded the time to work with the director during prep. This means having a dialogue with the director prior to shooting, developing a creative relationship before rolling, as well as having an active say in the scouting of locations and scheduling. Alternating also provides the DP with a change of pace between shooting and prepping, which can be a very welcomed relief.

TV Goodness: Describe a typical day for you on iZombie. What does it involve?

Michael: A typical day would start with me arriving on the lot at North Shore Studios and saying good morning to the crew at the catering truck before entering the stage to block the first scene of the day. I usually arrive half an hour before the call time to meet the director and first AD to talk about any specifics of the scene we are about to shoot. The cast will be called in where we will then block, light, rehearse, and finally shoot. We will enjoy a tasty lunch at some point, have a couple of laughs, shoot some more, go home and have it start again the next day. We usually end up working twelve hour days shooting five or six scenes a day. After eight days, we have a completed episode.

TV Goodness: Is there a particular episode from Season 1 you’re proud of? What is it and why?

Michael: I’m proud of episode three in Season 1….

Trailer for Episode 3 “The Exterminator”

We shot some of the scenes at an old shipyard at night. In the story, Liv (Rose McIver) and Ravi (Rahul Kohli) come across a zombie trapped in a storage tank. When Ravi falls into the tank, we get to see what a zombie is like up close. I’m proud of being able to combine location and studio work along with some green screen, prosthetics and make-up to build a great sequence. I hope the viewers enjoyed it!

TV Goodness: Can you tease a Season 2 episode that you can’t wait for fans to see? What can you tell us about it? Is there a particular scene we should be looking out for?

Michael: I’ve sworn to secrecy. Stay tuned…

TV Goodness: Describe your signature style — what touches or elements do you like to add that really helps shape the look of a show?

Michael: Simple, efficient lighting. Large, soft sources, naturally motivated.

TV Goodness: What do you enjoy most about working on a TV show as opposed to film or commercials?

Michael: The advantage of a TV show would have to be predictability and security – knowing one has work for several months (hopefully) and being able to plan a bit of life around work. If you are fortunate to be working with a great cast and crew as with iZombie, working is truly a pleasure. Having said that, I also welcome the opportunity to return to my roots as a commercial cinematographer.

TV Goodness: What’s your favorite episode of television you’ve ever made and why?

Michael: That’s a tough question. I would have to say it’s the one I’ve yet to shoot. I’m always looking forward to the next challenge!

Make sure to look for Wale’s work on the CW’s iZombie. New episodes return Tuesday, Oct. 6 at 9/8c.

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