Behind the Scenes: Eric Cayla Talks About His Time as DP on ‘Shadowhunters’ & the Challenges of Season One

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I had the opportunity to talk to Eric Cayla, the Director of Photography (DP) on season one of Shadowhunters. His other work includes Haven, Bomb Girls, and Bellevue.


Music In the Dark: How did you get involved with Shadowhunters?

Eric Cayla: I got involved after shooting a series called Haven. I was strongly recommended by the producers to the show runner and creator of Shadowhunters, Ed Decter. After reading the script for the first episode and the concept for the series I was hooked. I thought it had a lot of opportunities to create strong atmospheres and different looks for different worlds, very challenging for a cinematographer.


MItD: What was “a day in the life” like as a director of photography on Shadowhunters? Did you find the supernatural element made it more challenging, or more of a chance to get creative?

EC: The days were pretty stressful, lot’s of locations and characters with their own stories to follow. The supernatural element is time consuming when you have special effects, fight choreographies, and visual effects elements to incorporate. Although very creative to find the look, it can be very challenging pending on the time and budget allowed.


MItD: How much did you collaborate with the director on an episode?

EC: The collaboration with directors varied. Some were very visual and had specific shots, some more focused on the performance of the actors, in those cases we found the shots together on the day. Whatever the type and style of a director, as DOP I adapt myself to their needs, I make sure we can make the days on time for production while maintaining the look for the show and of course the best possible lighting on the actors.


MItD: How did you approach the look of a Shadowhunters episode? What were the challenges of scenes in the “real world”, versus the “Shadowhunter world” as they have such different looks, and a lot of the Shadowhunter world takes place in the dark.

EC: I had a lot of discussions with the show runner, Ed Decter, the director/exec producer of the pilot, McG, and the production designer [of season one], Rob Gray. We all agreed on having rich colors whether we were in the real world or the supernatural world. The differences between the worlds were mostly in the atmospheres, the cold blue tones vs warmer tones, the contrasts in the lighting, the sets, and the wardrobe. It’s always tricky to get exactly what you want because many are involved in the final process, different producers, show executives, and the networks. It takes time for everyone to have a comfort zone for the look of a show, especially when you want it to be dark. You need strong creators and producers to back you up as DoP.

That said, the most challenging aspects, especially during the first season, was to find how the ShadowHunters were to be fighting. Their speed, their style, the tools they would be using, and the look for every tool. Again, lots of executives had their ideas, we tried different approaches, some worked out and some technics had to change.


MItD: Do you have any stories about crazy moments on set where things went wrong or something unexpected happened and it turned out well for the episode? Did you have a favorite episode to work on and if so, is that your favorite episode to watch as well?

EC: Episode 4 – the scene with Katherine McNamara drawing a pentagram on the floor, then all characters had to stand outside the circle and hold their hands. We created a wooden rotating cylinder driven by a motor at the base, a 5k bare bulb in the middle and attached a gelled gobo all around, a very home made rig! Everybody wondered how it would look. The final result worked out really well, the effects on the actors faces timed out well with the visual effects in post.

My favorite episode remains the first one cinematically, directed by McG.

About the actors being protective, I don’t recall any actors too concerned about their look. They were trusting us, designers, choreographers for the fighting, directors, myself for the lighting, lenses and framing with the camera operators.


MItD: Is there a particular scene you’re especially proud of? Conversely, was there an episode or scene that was particularly challenging to film? Were any of the actors particularly protective/concerned about how their characters looked?

EC: In episode 2 – [There was a] challenging lighting situation, where the two main characters descend underground to meet the silent brothers. Very moody and dark, loved doing it!

There were many other scenes and sets that were challenging to film, especially at the beginning of the shoot. Some sets weren’t finished and other sets changing to a different look. The Shadowhunters headquarters in season one was very challenging with all the different levels and glass everywhere. They needed to change for the following seasons because it was too time consuming and too many bright elements, walls, pillars etc.

About the actors being protective, I don’t recall any actors too concerned about their look, they were trusting us, designers, choreographers for the fighting, directors, myself for the lighting, lenses and framing with the camera operators.


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