Eben Bolter BSC
Eben Bolter BSC is a cinematographer based out of London, England. Known for his cinematic naturalism, Eben has been shooting professionally for 9 years and has shot features for Netflix and TV for Amazon and BBC One.
How did your cinematography career begin? Was it always something you had interest in?
I had a somewhat nontraditional path into the industry actually. I grew up a cinema lover as most of us do, obsessed with Spielberg at a young age and expanding my tastes into European and Asian arthouse cinema. But career wise, I initially went down the path of sales and distribution. I studied Business at University and almost landed a big distribution job that would have sent my career in a very different direction. Not getting that job turned out to be a blessing as it led to me meeting a group of filmmakers, and through a part-time interest in photography, I became the ‘cinematographer’ of the group.
What was your progression into shooting feature films like? What were you shooting before features? Did you make your way up through camera or lighting department?
In the above mentioned group, we shot self funded short films, which eventually led to working with new directors. I had a period of a couple of years where I was just shooting everything I could get my hands on, reading everything I could find, and just living and breathing cinematography. This led to my first feature film, which led to signing with my first agent, and I’ve just kept on shooting and learning ever since.
How do you think British cinematography and filmmaking differs from that in America? Is there a big difference?
I do actually, yes. I have a theory that British TV historically came from those working predominantly in theatre, and so remains a more actor and script based industry. In U.K. TV, we have to slip our visuals in without too much disruption and even if scripts are unfinished or late, the writer tends to take most of the credit. In the U.S, their TV came more from film-makers, so the visual storytelling is given slightly more priority. When it comes to films, the U.S. has a richer economy for film-making, so there’s a more established industry, crew unions etc, - a higher level of professionalism which leads to more polished and refined imagery. In the U.K., our budgets are so squeezed that often our films are constrained by time and equipment, which naturally leads to a more naturalistic and vérité film-making style. That’s not to say either way is necessarily better or worse, I just think there are different environments for creativity in both countries.
So far into your career, what has been your favorite project to shoot? Why?
There have been so many great projects that I’ve been lucky enough to be involved in, so it’s hard to choose a favourite. The feature film “MUM’S LIST” is an example of a recent production I felt very lucky to be involved in. We were telling a true story of a family affected by cancer, shooting in many of the real locations and with extras who knew the real family. We had a fantastic cast in Rafe Spall and Emilia Fox. Their performances were so moving, there wasn’t a single crew member who wasn’t moved to tears on set. It sounds like that could be awful, but was actually incredibly motivating - it felt like we were making something important with real meaning.
In what ways do you approach shooting features that’s different from projects such as music videos or commercials?
So much of my career has been focused on feature films that I’ve actually shot relatively few commercial pieces. If I am asked to shoot a music video or commercial however, it’s usually because the director wants a feature film aesthetic, or some visual storytelling collaboration, so I’ve been lucky to be able to bring what I usually do on features into the commercial world.
What has been your most difficult project to light? Why?
For “THE WOMAN IN WHITE,” the director and I wanted to approach the period setting in an untraditional way; We decided to use modern, wide-angle lenses, viscerally close to the actors to create a psychological connection to their emotions. We wanted to treat this as a modern thriller, but set very loyally in 1860’s London. As such, we had daylight, moonlight, candles, and gas lamps to motivate our light, but using such wide angle lenses it was very difficult to hide any film lights out of shot. This culminated in a 3 minute walk and talk through dark woods at night. The director wanted the ability to walk and talk with a steadicam for the full 3 minutes, illuminated purely by moonlight and with the light playing in a way to illuminate our protagonist, Walter, but keeping the woman in white shrouded in shadow.
You have also shot some Documentary work. Are shooting docs a nice change of pace from features? What do you like about docs that features or TV might not give you?
Yes, exactly, they’re a lovely change of pace. Very recently, I DP’ed feature documentaries “TEA WITH THE DAMES” and “MCKELLEN: PLAYING THE PART” where it was simply a privilege to sit and listen to these legendary actors discuss their incredible careers. There was still a lot of planning and prep involved to create an environment suitable for each film, but once that work was done, I was able to sit back behind the camera and just listen to these wonderful stories.
What inspires your cinematography?
I watch an awful lot of films and TV series, so I’m constantly inspired by other’s work, but I also look for inspiration in art, photography, books and video games. I carry a camera with me most of the time, so I’m always looking for interesting light effects or compositions. The strongest inspiration from my work always comes from directors though. I love starting a new project and getting inside their head and imagining together what visuals would best tell the story.
What advice would you give a young cinematographer wanting to shoot large projects and gain representation?
To just keep shooting. For me, it was a case of shooting as much as I could, learning or trying something new on each and every job and just being open to new ideas and stories. Large projects are the same as small projects in most ways, the core principles stay the same.
Any upcoming projects you would like us to know about?
I’m currently prepping a new HBO series set aboard a ginormous spaceship called “AVENUE 5” for director Armando Ianucci, and I recently wrapped a new Prime Original series called “THE FEED,” for director Carl Tibbetts who I also worked with on “THE WOMAN IN WHITE.”