As a young lesbian, Holly Dale says she would have relished a TV show like the new series Batwoman, with its gay protagonist.
That makes it fateful that Ms. Dale is now working as a director and producer on the shot-in-Vancouver series, the latest chapter in a remarkable career that has seen the Toronto-born filmmaker go from making documentaries to becoming an elite director of U.S. and Canadian TV series.
“The reason I took the job is I just think it’s a groundbreaking series. I love the fact that there is a lesbian superhero," Ms. Dale told a masterclass session of the Vancouver International Film Festival.
“I grew up addicted to Batman comics and it would have been great to have a Batwoman,” she said, referring to the current iteration of the character.
In an interview after her session, Ms. Dale said a lesbian superhero while she was growing up would have been inspiring.
Ms. Dale has directed episodes of The Americans, Dexter, three of Dick Wolf’s four Chicago series – Chicago Fire, Chicago Med and Chicago PD – NCIS, Quantico and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D and Rizzoli & Isles.
Now, she is in Vancouver, working on Batwoman – the latest in a series of comics-inspired series for The CW Network, which have become institutions for the B.C. production sector. The show, starring Ruby Rose as Bruce Wayne/Batman’s cousin Kathy Kane, fits into the universe of Arrow, The Flash, Supergirl and DC’s Legends of Tomorrow.
Ms. Dale said she did not do the series pilot, or first episode, which aired on Sunday. That episode was directed by Marcos Siega, a friend of Ms. Dale’s. He recommended Ms. Dale for her current role.
Ms. Dale said she had just finished producing and directing work in Montreal on Transplant, a new series created by partners including CTV and NBCUniversal International, about an ER doctor who settles in Canada after fleeing Syria.
She said she saw the Batwoman pilot – “It was fabulous” – and thought it would be an interesting new experience to work on the show.
Unlike most shot-in-Vancouver series that stick around the region, production of Batwoman has, she said, taken her to Chicago, where some material making the most of that city’s grand and imposing architecture is being shot as Gotham City.
Chicago was first used as Batman’s battleground against crime in the first two of Christopher Nolan’s classic Batman films, Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, and Ms. Dale said that shooting there creates a consistent visual look. The third film, The Dark Knight Rises, was shot in Pittsburgh.
Ms. Dale said it has been challenging to come this far. When she began as a TV director in the 1990s, she said there were barriers to women getting jobs. “I always wanted to do drama. I always wanted to tell stories, but back when we started, women just didn’t do drama. They didn’t get the jobs,” she said, referring to director Norma Bailey, who was moderating. “Things have changed a lot.”
She said she was “ghettoized” in documentaries such as the 1984 film Hookers on Davie, which she made with fellow director Janis Cole, about the sex trade in Vancouver. “It was a blessing in disguise because I ended up really learning about human nature, and people in real situations,” she said.
“Through that experience, when I finally did get to do drama, I really understood how to approach an actor and work with an actor because I was dealing with a lot of really sensitive people where, if you say the wrong thing, you’re really in trouble,” she said. “I learned to be cautious and gain trust, which is also the same thing you need to do with actors.”
In some shows, she has had the opportunity to set the tone such as Mary Kills People, for which she directed the entire first season, and established thematic motifs, colour tones and the look of the show.
As a director, Ms. Dale says her work is largely working within the creative, stylistic framework set by directors that have come before her.
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