The image is a soft duvet - interview with cinematographer Evelin Judit Tóth
"Yes, I am completely happy with my profession."
May 10, 2023
She graduated as a cinematographer from the Budapest University of Theatre and Film Arts in 2018 in the class of Ildikó Enyedi (On Body and Soul) and Tibor Máthé. She won the award for the best student cinematographer, shot dozens of short films, video clips and commercials. Her first feature film, Eviction, was released in 2021.
"When we shot Eviction, my son was one year old. So I specifically asked for an early start in the morning, so I could come home for bedtime and bath time. It wasn't easy, of course, but I think I suffered more from guilt and his absence than he did from mine," Evelin sums up the biggest difficulty of being a female cameraman. It is no surprise to anyone nowadays that a film is directed or edited by a woman, but it is still special to have a woman behind the camera. "By the way, my son's father is also a cinematographer, so we knew that our son would not have an ordinary life, and we also thought that it would be easy to have a child with his father for a longer period of time, and luckily we could even count on the grandparents. But I'd also really like the next time I do a feature film, his dad could bring him out to the set a few times for him to see what I'm doing when I'm working."
Even though more and more directors and producers are taking it for granted that a female cinematographer will design the visual world of a film, Evelin is still a curiosity in the industry, as she was the only girl in her college class, along with six guys. "As a female cinematographer, I consider myself quite sensitive, not only to the way I make a film, but I think I can easily tune into the state of mind of the actors. For example, when to keep my voice down, when to send out crew members who are not really needed, when to take a break, when it's not comfortable for them to be too close to the camera, etc. I can be similarly empathetic with my fellow creatives, and I can typically assert my opinion in a way that no one feels it’s forced, and I'm always willing to compromise. I think this skill has developed even further since I have also become a mother."
When asked what she wanted to be when she grew up, Evelin had various answers. At one point, she wanted to be the girl who turned the letters on the Wheel of Fortune, while at another point, she wanted to be a painter. She was also interested in photography and at times, thought about becoming a makeup artist. Although she didn't have a clear direction in her childhood, she knew she wanted to pursue something creative. She doesn't know exactly what drove her in this direction, as there was no one in her family who pursued this type of work. Her mother was a teacher, and her father was an aircraft mechanic engineer who tried to expose her to many different opportunities. She learned to play the piano, sing, and began competitive swimming at the age of five, then became a synchronized swimmer. After completing a musical primary school, she continued in a sports high school where she didn't feel comfortable because she felt that the humanities were only superficially taught to them.
Evelin Judit Tóth on the set of Evacuation
Lottery ticket and Minolta
During high school, Evelin discovered photography as a hobby. Her mother had an old Soviet Smena camera at home, and she started taking pictures with it without any knowledge, or as she says, without any sense. "Then, after taking many pictures, one was born that evoked feelings in me, and in others too, because many people said they couldn't take their eyes off it when they saw it. That's when I first felt the essence and wonder of creating an image. I had this photo enlarged to poster size and put it on my wall." Later, her mother won a lottery ticket, and Evelin received a semi-professional Minolta camera from the prize money, which had a lot of features. "This camera came with a manual booklet that, along with pictorial examples, described how certain settings would affect the image: aperture, shutter speed, ISO, depth of field, etc. For me, it was much more than just a manual, it became a textbook, and I learned the technical basics of photography from it." Then came the moment to decide what to do after high school. "All I knew was that I was heading in a humanities direction, but I still didn't know what I wanted to be. So in the end, I became the most generic liberal arts major and took up the film specialization."
Although she always loved going to the movies, she never looked at films as works of art. Then, as it often happens, there was a teacher at the department - András Szekfű, a film historian and media sociologist - who became her mentor. "I fell in love with filmmaking here, not analysis or criticism, but making films. This was the first time I articulated that I wanted to make films as a cinematographer." She first enrolled in an OKJ training program and learned as a camera assistant, although she didn't get any closer to her dreams here. However, there was also a defining teacher here, József Rák - Balázs Béla Award-winning cinematographer, director, university professor - who also taught at the SZFE. He saw Evelin's dedication and it was here that she decided to apply for the cinematography program. "I prepared for a year, developed myself technically, took a lot of photos, watched a lot of films, so I got ready for the five-round admission process. Because then I felt that there was no turning back, this was the only thing that interested me, and it is still true to this day. Seven hundred of us started with the cultural test, and finally, seven of us were accepted."
The Light is Everything
From that moment on, there was no stopping her. With her exam film "Zsibvásár", she won the award for best student cinematographer, and after making short films, she already shot her first feature film. "What I love most about this profession is that there is always a diverse range of assignments and tasks, and I get to meet different people every time." Along with its versatility, she considers lighting to be the most magical aspect of cinematography. "With light, you can express everything, emotions, moods. I believe that with light, you can even make viewers smell and sense different scents. Whether it's a feature film, a commercial, or a music video, the point is to create a perfect unity." Evelin compares this creative process to playing with Legos, where the building blocks are the set design, lighting, shot length, camera movements, music, and of course, acting. "We do everything to create a soft blanket into which the actors' performances can fit perfectly, and which can serve as a background from which they can rise and return." In advertising, creating a unique or even stylized world is what excites her the most. "I would gladly take on more commercials because it inspires me how spectacular they can get. And if the budget allows, there can be camera-moving tools, colorful lights, different camera filters, interesting lighting, which is an exciting game, and overall, there are more opportunities to create stylized worlds."
What can be loved
The sparkle in Evelin's eyes during the conversation actually made the question of whether she made the right decision when she fell in love with filmmaking and did everything she could to become a cinematographer into something poetic. "I work and make a living from what I love, and I think this is becoming increasingly rare in today's world. Most of the people I know hate their jobs and only do them for the money. Of course, I sometimes have tasks where the money is the biggest motivation, but 90 percent of my work involves creating, and I already enjoy even the smallest bit of creativity, so my answer is: yes, I am completely happy with my profession."