Edgar Dubrovskiy on New East Cinema, being an expat, and getting into the film industry

Edgar Dubrovskiy came to the UK in 2005 from Latvia and has lived half his life here in London. In 15 years he managed to forge a successful career as a cinematographer, shooting in over 20 countries: commercials, drama, documentaries. His latest projects include commercials for Adidas featuring David Beckham, series with Will Smith and a feature documentary about an unsolved airplane hijacking for the BBC and HBO. A Latvian expat, he shares his advice on breaking into the UK film industry.

 

 

When and how did you come to London and did you know then that you will be working for the film industry?

I think I knew pretty early in my life I was into “media”. Using my parents’ camera to make home movies about the family, that kind of stuff. Then I was very into radio shows – listening to the kids shows every weekend and recording my own fake ones to tapes. And then I discovered photography – and that sort of took over my life. I came to the UK at the age of 15 – studied at a college, then I did a BA in Film & TV Production at the University of Westminster, specialising in cinematography.

What do you think are the differences you see between Eastern-block film schools and UK ones?

I actually think there’s a massive difference. First of all, the UK ones (if they are good) are much more hands on. In Eastern European film schools, especially it seems to happen at Moscow’s VGIK, for example – they are much more theoretical and practice comes second. From my understanding, cinematographers don’t even shoot exercises until the second year, limited to using a still camera for the first few. It’s definitely flipped in the UK – it’s all about understanding how the industry works, what cameras are on the market, crew structures, how to pass an interview, how to use this and that camera. Sometimes I felt that the tilt towards the practice might’ve been a bit too much, actually. I would’ve loved a bit more theory and discussions in my classes. I feel the perfect balance would be a film school somewhere in-between the two approaches. Eastern philosophy and the western industry.

Tell us about your projects. How long you have been working as a cameraman in the UK?

I’ve been in the camera department for about 11 years now. The film/commercials industry is a fairly structured one here in the UK – I did assisting for the first few years, and only after going through all the steps of the ladder (from trainee to clapper/loader to focus puller) I’ve become a DP. These days I shoot commercials, documentaries, music videos, drama – I am lucky not to be pigeon-holed as a DP. So I shoot all sorts, from Bentley commercials to documentaries about a Kazakh shaman and Will Smith (not in one project though – that would be amazing!).

Going back to the cinema of the New East, what are some of your favourite directors?

The New East has a really impressive array of short-form filmmakers these last few years: Gina Onegina, Aisultan, Lado Kvataniya, Aleksandr Gudkov – a whole new wave of music video directors. It’s like they’ve sponged all the western looks and approach to the edit for some years – and started producing their own unique voices. It’s amazing to watch! I can’t wait to see what they will show in the longer-form.

Cinema-wise, Aleksander Hant is my favourite new discovery. The guy has a unique eye and attention to details our ex-pats usually lack. Plus his approach to work is beyond impressive. I spent some time with him and saw the way he preps for his films – I have to say it’s fascinating and professional to the highest level. I’m really interested to see his next feature, In Limbo coming out next year. Also, I’d mention Rezo Gigineishvili and Kantemir Balagov – their latest Hostages and Closeness are very strong pieces of cinema. I feel there’s a whole wave of new New East directors that will come crashing down very very soon, judging by their debuts. Good times. If you look at the directors generation older than the ones mentioned, I’d say Serebrennikov, Zvyagintsev and Bykov stand out.

How would you identify New East Cinema? Are there any trends, characteristics? Do you think foreign language cinema could ever be equal to English language and what would it take for this to happen?

I think it’s already equal. And in some way the giants like Netflix are at the forefront of it. Most streaming platforms are pushing massively for the Spanish-language films, for example (the numbers of Spanish-speaking people obviously helps). Unfortunately it’s not as big for the New East at the moment. But I actually think the lack of New East films on streaming platforms is not solely because of the language. New East cinema has to stamp out the piracy – it would help massively if New East audiences start paying for the films they consume. Your dollar is your voting power, it’s as simple as that. You look at some great films coming from Russia, for example. Take Bykov’s The Fool – it was tragic to hear Yury tells at a recent Q&A that they basically embraced torrents as the official distributor for the film. You could argue that people don’t have money to go to cinema in some parts of the region, but if they own a computer and can pay for the internet. I feel it’s a bit of hypocrisy not to pay, say, $2 for a film rental online. It’s just in the culture: if you can get it for free – why pay? Unfortunately the film industry suffers gladly, especially at the smaller-budget end. The blockbusters will always collect their buck, as they can sell multiple big territories and people want to see these movies on a big screen. But if it’s a small $100K Latvian film, people might watch it at home. And if they do, it would be so cool if they paid a small fee, so the filmmakers can make more films like these! It would be great to see an emergence of a streaming platform that focuses on New East-produced content and films. I’d pay for that! Mubi comes closest, I guess.

What would be your advice to newcomers, to those trying to get into the film industry in the UK?

I’d say be ready for a lot of rejection. But not because you are from abroad – simply because there’s such a fierce competition to get in. Start at the lowest of the industry ladder, do that as much as you can, on as many shoots as you can for as long as you can sustain yourself financially. You will amass tons of contacts, and more importantly – you will understand what position suits you best, or at least which department. It’s not all the same, and there’s a lot to choose from: production, directing, cinematography, editing, sound, hair and makeup, art department etc. It’s an amazing industry, but it does take a bit of time to break in. So take every job that you can get, be polite, stay healthy (including mentally).

Are there any portals to look for entry-level jobs in UK film?

Yes – there are several Facebook groups (UK Film Jobs, Last Minute and Short Notice Film/TV Production Needs & Jobs & Casting Call, People looking for tv work: Runners etc.). Also there are websites like ProductionBase and Film&TV Pro where you can find all sorts of jobs advertised. I remember going through these daily and trying to get onto any set I could – sending 15-20 CVs a day. And it works, believe me! Bit by bit that CV of yours will grow, you do a bunch of random jobs in crazy locations and finally you meet the right people – and off you go! The start is definitely the toughest, so give yourself several months at least. But all it takes to kick-off, I find, is a couple of right contacts who will eventually introduce you to the rest of this mad industry.