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In conversation with Eduard Toperter

After working for two years in Miami as a photographer, Eduard moved to London to pursue cinematography at the London Metropolitan Film University. He was awarded the prize for 'Best Cinematography' in his year.

By Eduard Toperter

Eduard, like many artists, began his career in a different field before moving to cinematography. He started as a journalist also dabbling in reporting, editing, and producing. His camera, however, never left his side. As an individual with a strong passion for people, he realised that photography and film were two things that were very close to his heart.

The Moonworkers team was thrilled to have a chance to hear of Eduard’s journey across the Atlantic from being a photographer in Miami, to a prize-winning cinematographer in London.

From Miami to London! Tell us a bit more about the journey and the shift?

I came from the United States to study here in London because from what I researched; the universities are far better here than in the United States. It’s also easy to apply for student loans which made my decision all the more concrete.

Did you find any difference in working in the United Kingdom from the United States?

Honestly, the main difference lies in the fact that in the US freelance work is not as common as it is here in the UK. I’ve worked on a lot of big productions like QLR, Mission Impossible 6, and Fast and Furious. In the US they usually avoid hiring freelancers and go for agency staffed candidates, but here self-employed people are employed extensively. It makes a job much more stable and secure in New York versus here in London. Unfortunately, they probably practice this here because it’s easier to hire and fire people who are not protected by agency employment laws and contracts. Also, self-employed workers handle their taxes here, which makes it easier to pay them and is one less headache for studios to manage. In other aspects, the UK and the US are very similar. Take New York and London, for example, the main creative hubs for films from both countries are multicultural with lots of diversity and house the largest and most well-known production houses and studios.

What were your key learnings at the London Metropolitan Film University?

The most important skill I learned as an artist was how to motivate and inspire people with who you work. It’s not just about doing my job, and for example, I would bring my composer onto the set and help him find inspiration after which he would sit at the piano and compose a beautiful piece for the movie. This was something fundamental that I learned from my time at university because as an artist, our job extends to helping other people find their story too. To operate a camera is easy, you press a button, to adjust the light or switch it on and off. As a cinematographer, you have to curate an emotional story through a film and to tell an actor why he should be sad, or why he has to play the character of being angry, that is a communication skill I had to learn, and probably the most important one. Hence my key learning would be “People skills.”

If you would like to give a tip to fresh graduates on cinematography, what would that be?

I would say, at least once a month, to work on ONE project that is personally satisfying for them, that they are passionate about and proud of. Even if that constitutes only 10% of the work that they do that month, it will have the power to change 90% of their life. As a cinematographer, I’ve realised that it’s impossible to get good skill-appropriated work immediately. You have to do a lot of small, seemingly irrelevant jobs before you can get to cinematography. But if you find time to work on a little project of your own, once a month, you find a way to express your creativity on your terms, and hopefully someone will see or recognise that, and give you the chance to work on a proper feature film. If you stick to only doing the smaller, disconnected jobs before getting to actual cinematography, it’s difficult for people to identify your true potential. “Work work work”, and never forget that a 10% investment on your part every month, could change the rest of your life.

How much do cinematographers charge per day in London?

Officially the charge rate is about £400 a day for a cameraman, and if you operate a Steadicam, it’s £600. A cinematographer is a sort of a director for the camera crew, lighting, and color-grading. A cinematographer can have 2 or 3 operators, such as a crane operator and a drone operator. In short films, the budget is low, and the cinematographer is the cameraman too. I never get paid according to this. Unfortunately, there is a lot of volunteering, and unpaid work one has to do especially when they are starting. That’s just how the industry is. I charge £250 per day. I have to do this to compensate because I usually get work for only 2-3 days in the week.
Also, if we are talking realistically, most cinematographers get paid on a ‘project basis’ not a daily basis. So a fixed amount is decided for the length of the project, and if we work an extra day, we are paid on the above mentioned daily rate. There are so many factors that affect this, it’s a difficult question to answer. For big-budget feature films – like ‘The Fast and The Furious’ – one can charge up to £1000 a day. But as I said, it all depends on the project.

You mentioned Steadicams earlier on, which brand would you recommend?

Well, in my opinion, it doesn’t depend on the brand. It depends on how many hours you put into your work. What you put in is what you get out. It’s as simple as that. You don’t get better at something just because you buy a better camera. The more you shoot, the better your work will get. For instance, my photography teacher told me that the first 10,000 pictures I took would be terrible. But after that, I would start to understand my work and appreciate it. Now I have around 400,000 pictures in my portfolio, and my work has improved vastly. All I’m saying is, it doesn’t matter what brand, Nikon or Canon! Your effort and how many photos you take for practice is what counts more, always. People often learn on and operate automatic cameras now, but I would suggest manual ones. That’s what I use because it makes you more skilled and confident. The electronic ones don’t allow as much control but create smoother and more perfect footage. I think it’s essential to have more control with manual cameras and work on your craft and skill to create equally smooth and perfect footage by yourself.

Eduard has some fantastic insights into the film industry in London, with important perspectives as a foreign national on how work processes have their pros and cons here in the UK. We hope his tips on dedication, hard work, passion, and resilience can inspire the creative talent out there.