REEL WOMEN: Colette Gabriel, GM of Keslow Camera


Editor’s Note: They are leaders. They are inspirational. They are mentors. They are visionaries. They are, quite frankly, badasses. They are our 2020 Reel Women During Women’s History Month, you will be able to meet these incredible personalities in Advertising, Entertainment, Media and Production. Get ready.

Colette Gabriel is the General Manager of Keslow Camera Chicago and has been on the camera side of filmmaking for almost two decades.  After graduating with honors from Columbia College Chicago Colette started as a camera intern on the Dean Cundy shot Looney Toons: Back in Action, then Garfield.  While crewing on many low and no budget films in Los Angeles she started working for Panavision where she was fortunate enough to visit dozens of sets and see firsthand how many Cinematographers worked.  

Not long after joining Panavision Colette was hired out by Cundy to work as Camera Loader on Garfield 2: A Tail of Two Kittieswhich gave her the opportunity to join the IATSE Local 600 camera union.  From there Colette was in high demand working on the Sylvester Stallone directed Rocky Balboa, Nancy Myers’ The Holiday, and settled in for a stint in the camera department on Desperate Housewives before moving back to Chicago. While in Chicago she was called back to L.A. to work on Fast and Furious.

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After her return to Chicago in 2008 she quickly took a position as Operations Manager with a photography service but with the increase in film and TV work happening in Chicago at that time it wasn’t long before she nabbed the role at Keslow Camera.  The position at Keslow evolved from just her working from home to a two-story office located on the lot of Cinespace where she manages nine employees and a plethora of commercials, TV shows, pilots, and films. 

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In 2018 Colette became a board member of Filmscape, the cinema trade-show and educational event located at Cinespace.  She is a firm believer in supporting the local filmmaking community and through Keslow Camera is a sponsor of many local events like the Midwest Independent Film Festival, Patrick Lives On, and Industry Days at the Chicago International Film Festival.

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What did you originally want to be when you grow up?
An architect.  I still love architecture, but I love film as well.  Once I got into photography and then into film I never looked back.  Studying architecture is a hobby of mine.

How did you get into the film industry?
When I was in high school learning and loving photography I found out what a cinematographer was and thought, “Wow!  I could be a photographer for movies!”  I decided to go to Columbia College Chicago to study film.  Sadly the local industry had mostly dried up when I was finishing school so I attended Columbia’s Semester in LA program to start my career out west.  They encouraged us to find internships and I landed one as the camera intern for Dean Cundey, ASC on “Looney Tunes: Back In Action.”  That set me on my career path working with cameras

Who were your mentors?
I was fortunate enough to intern for Dean Cundey, ASC from pre-production through the end of production on “Looney Tunes: Back In Action.”  I got to learn so much from him about the cinematographer’s process and continue to work for him on many movies.

What is your greatest achievement?
I’m so proud of leading Keslow Camera Chicago since the beginning – from initial construction at Cinespace almost 8 years ago, to building a team who all work to grow our business and community, and the expansion of our space to offer our clients even more.  I came to Keslow Camera with a varied skillset that made this position the perfect fit for me.  

After moving back to Chicago from a 5 year stint in LA and before the current industry boom here I helped open a wine bar.  That helped me develop skills in construction project management that I’ve used for our two builds at Keslow Camera.  Those skills along with what I learned working on set as a camera assistant and also at another rental house gave me a good base to build off of and establish Keslow camera as a leader in our industry


What are your biggest pet peeves? 
Some people quickly forget how things were done in the recent past and rely too much on technology.  When technology doesn’t work they panic and don’t know what to do. People made great work without wireless everything so keep your physical skills sharp!

What are your predictions for the film industry over the next decade?
Things seem to change more rapidly every year. I think we’ll continue to see new outlets for varied content, but with that I think we’ll reach a content overload and some services will die off or scale back.  Anyone who stays flexible and adapts will continue to thrive in this growing industry.

Name a job you had that would surprise people.
I was a puppeteer’s apprentice the summer I turned 16.  My friend’s mom ran the local Jewish Community Center and recruited me to be a camp councilor one summer and work with the puppeteer camp.  Two professionals came down from the Oregon Puppet Theater to lead the camp.  After that was over I helped with the lead puppeteer’s one-man marionette show.

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Who plays you in your life story?
My husband always tells me I look like a younger Sigourney Weaver.  With the latest VFX capabilities allowing actors to play younger versions of themselves I guess she could play me.  Plus I just like her as an actor and she’s a total badass.

What do you wish you had more time to do?
Travel.  There are so many places to see and so much to learn from other cultures.  I’ve traveled a decent amount and lived in 3 different countries (on 3 different continents), but there are many more I haven’t been to yet.

Do you talk to yourself?
Not aloud, although I hear it’s healthy to do in moderation so maybe I should take it up!

What inspires you to be creative?
Other people’s creativity.  I’ve always been a creative person, but it’s so easy to not give myself the time for creative outlets.  I’m focusing on finding ways to carve out the time and push myself to create more.