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Shannon Denny asked DOP Laura Gallop to take time out from her busy schedule shooting drama segments for Discovery+ and adverts for Neutrogena, Puma and Sipsmith to reveal how a Wallace and Gromit VHS tape influenced the course of her life.

“I’ve shot a lot of commercials, and I could count the number of female directors that I’d worked with on one hand.”

Could you tell us what you do in a nutshell?

I’m a director of photography, so head of department for the camera and lighting side of things. I work alongside heads of department such as art directors and production designers to help the director shape and realise the vision of the film.

How did your interest in film start?

I didn’t really have any other aim other than to do something creative. As a child, I really liked Wallace and Gromit and that’s what I wanted to do – make Wallace and Gromit! I didn’t have access to any kind of movie cameras or home video equipment in our family, but I had an old 35mm point-and-shoot camera, so I used to just go about taking photos with that. Around age six or seven, my grandparents bought me a book about Aardman Animation and I read it cover to cover. There were photos from behind the scenes that showed the lights and the cameras and mentioned the role of the cinematographer. I became quite fixated on that. Growing up I liked watching films and looking at the light, or walking in nature, thinking about what the light looked like and imagining it in a film. I was just really fascinated with it.

And I have to credit Film 4 for most of my film theory in my early life. They would literally show films back-to-back and I would just watch anything and everything that was on. My parents weren’t really worried about age ratings so I would watch all sorts – it gave me a broad sort of repertoire.

Were you encouraged to pursue film as a young person?

In secondary school I remember getting to careers in year nine, when you’re about age 14, and being asked, “What do you want to do?” I said I wanted to work in the film industry and was told to come up with something more realistic. So as a joke I said, “Oh I just want to be the prime minister”. And the response was, “Oh okay, well what you want to do is study history and politics”. That apparently was much more realistic than film!

So I did my own kind of careers advice and found out the Aardman animator Nick Park had gone to the National Film and Television School. I looked into what that was and what you needed, and decided to go to St Austell College in Cornwall for a BTEC in media and A-levels in film studies and photography. The teachers there were just fantastic. I really credit them for getting me to the next stage, which was uni.

I did cinematography at the MetFilm School, and at that point I thought I wanted to be a gaffer. Most of our cinematography teachers were male, and we had an old-school gaffer who came in. He was lovely. I remember looking at these lights that were absolutely huge and saying to him, “Could I actually be a gaffer?” He gave me a really good prompt and said, “If I had these lights and I had a team of male sparks, I would never let one person lift it by himself anyways. We work as a team in the lighting department.” I felt really encouraged. He was like, “Go for it!”

Laura on set with Sister Motion, October 2022 shooting the above film for Canary Wharf's "One Park Drive" Penthouse designed by Herzog de Meuron.

“Change is happening – there are way more ladies on sets, so others who see that can think, “Oh so I can do it!”

How did you go from wanting to be a gaffer to picking up a camera, realising your talent lay with shooting and eventually becoming a director of photography?

I started out my freelance career torn between the idea of being a career gaffer or shooting as a DOP. I gained my electrical qualifications at a construction college and worked within the lighting department as spark, then a gaffer. I was consistently shooting as a DOP alongside my lighting jobs though, so there came a point where I felt like I had to make a choice. Another gaffer offered me some solid advice. He said if I had even the slightest pull towards shooting, then I should pursue that path since I might never satisfy the creativity in quite the same way as a gaffer.

How did you get involved in Sister Motion?

I saw a message online, checked out the website and thought, “Oh my gosh, what is this?” I’ve shot a lot of commercials and done a lot of commercial work in general, and I have to say that I really could count the number of female directors that I’d worked with on one hand. Looking at the figures on the Sister Motion website – such as that only 7% of commercial directors are women – was what really drove me to get in contact. I felt like Sister Motion is a force to make change, and I wanted to be involved to help that process along.

Working to change the point of view that adverts are told from really resonated with me – especially for products that are aimed towards ladies. Change is happening – there are way more ladies on sets, so others who see that can think, “Oh so I can do it!” Having people that you can relate to in these roles is really important. It sends a message to other people who are trying to figure out where they want to be.

What was it like to work with Sister Motion on the One Park Drive shoot?

I had a fantastic time working with Nicky and the Sister Motion team. Whilst I had been on shoots with women before, it was my first time shooting with females making up a heavy majority of the crew. It was great to see female representation in the technical departments, such as grip and lighting. I feel that’s always a good thing, as it can serve to inspire others to approach a career in those roles. It was also a lot of fun to shoot an architectural film and to concentrate on highlighting high-end interiors. It was great fun to work with Nicky coming up with the best ways to frame them.

What’s your relationship to Cornwall?

I was quite a bumpkin. Before I went to uni, I remember a random family member gave me their A to Z and I got dropped off in London and that was it! But I’m really proud of where I come from. Back when I was younger, it felt like people didn’t really leave Cornwall. I’m from quite a small village, so if I can kind of inspire someone who is in a similar situation to go further afield, then that’s a good thing. I think growing up in the countryside gives you a slightly different viewpoint in film and in the world, and the beauty of the film industry is that it’s a melting pot.

What makes you optimistic about the film industry today and in the future?

Well the project I’m working on at the moment is brilliant. Both the creative director and producer are female, we’ve got a female grip, the camera team is female and the editor is female and the art department is female. We sort of turned round during the recce and we went, “Wow, this is really good representation!” It’s great to have that balance and diversity on a set, it’s just fantastic.

Laura Gallop is just one of many talented women in the Sister Motion talent collective.

Connect with Laura on Instagram @lauragallopdop