At the core of any good film or series is a good story, and just as with any story, the tone and mood are key. In a book, an author can simply tell the reader that the night is dark and stormy. In film, setting that tone takes a lot more nuance. Rather than relying on written words, filmmakers must use dialogue, ambient sound, curated scores and above all, meticulously orchestrated lighting. That’s where Ekaterina Doldjeva’s expertise becomes invaluable. As both a camera operator and an electrician, Doldjeva knows better than anyone just how important a role lighting plays in the storytelling process.
Born and raised in Bulgaria, Doldjeva found a passion early in her life for the film industry. Fascinated by the craft of cinematography, her seemingly limitless skillset covers the spectrum from the creative to the technical. As a lighting technician and electrician she is responsible for overseeing the proper and safe setup of lighting, and for ensuring that when the cameras roll and the cue is given, those lights work flawlessly. As a camera operator, she works closely with the cinematographer to ensure each scene captures the full essence of the director’s vision for the production.
“For me, every time I am lighting a set, it feels like I am painting with light,” she said, describing how her work lies at the confluence of science and artistry. “However, being a camera operator is a true passion of mine. In order to be a cinematographer you have to be able to translate words from the script into visuals.”
Doldjeva’s first big step into the field came when she began work on the critically acclaimed NBC series “Chicago Fire.” Centered around a tight knit band of firefighters in Chicago, the series honors the brave men and women who risk their lives everyday to protect their city and its people. Starring Jesse Spencer (“House”) and Taylor Kinney (“Zero Dark Thirty,” “Shameless”), the brilliantly written series features themes of fraternity, courage, sacrifice — and a whole lot of fire.
“It is breathtaking to see how a certain scene is done, especially on a show like ‘Chicago Fire,’” Doldjeva said. “Most scenes include lighting buildings on fire and heavy stunt work, but helping and contributing to create those scenes, and afterwards seeing it on TV when the episode comes out, it repays for all the hard work I have done. I feel grateful that I am able to be apart of the crew at such a high level.”
In the few short years since her work on “Chicago Fire,” Doldjeva has gone on to work on an array of star-studded productions, such as the upcoming film “Office Christmas Party.” Doldjeva worked as the electrician on the film, which is directed by Josh Gordon (“Blades of Glory,” “The Switch”) and scheduled for release just in time for the holiday season this December. Starring Jennifer Aniston (“Friends,” “Cake”), Jason Bateman (“Arrested Development,” “Horrible Bosses”) and Olivia Munn (“The Newsroom,” “X-Men: Apocalypse”), the riotously hilarious film is guaranteed to be a box office smash.
Filming on “Office Christmas Party” provided a laundry list of challenges and obstacles, which Doldjeva was uniquely qualified to overcome. While shooting on the streets of Chicago she found herself in a battle against the elements. Despite a nonstop barrage of complications, Doldjeva kept her cool and saved the day from what could very well have been a disaster.
“Throughout the day, we experienced short blizzards, rain and clear skies — all within 30 minutes. A rapid weather change like this is never good for a lighting setup. At times I had to separate from the crew and follow the weather every 10 minutes, so I could tell the gaffer if there would be a lighting change,” Doldjeva said, recalling just how many fires she had to put out. “We had lights on every intersection… we were shooting at, and inside buildings and along trees. I had to stay close by to… decrease or increase the lights every time the sun changed, and to let everyone know so they could tell production. This was crucial for the lighting continuity within every shot and scene.”
Doldjeva has earned a reputation as one of the most sought after professionals in her field, a fact proven time and again by the illustrious list of projects she is credited on. In 2015 she served as the electrician for the hit Fox series “Empire,” starring Academy Award nominee Terrence Howard (“Hustle & Flow”) as a hip-hop artist and recording mogul whose legacy is placed in jeopardy after being diagnosed with ALS.
A much different project than any other she had previously worked on, the logistics of shooting a series as thoroughly original and unprecedented as “Empire” proved to be an exciting challenge for Doldjeva. In particular, the show’s frequent use of musical performances kept Doldjeva on her toes.
“I often had to navigate a spotlight and follow the singer across the stage,” she said, explaining the high expectations and higher stakes involved. “Sometimes there would be a long shot where the performance might get interrupted when the singer would go off stage or dance. A small mistake on a giant production like this could be inexcusable.”
Doldjeva’s myriad projects have also seen her working alongside Academy Award nominee William H. Macy (“Fargo”) on the Showtime series “Shameless,” directors Lana and Lilly Wachowski (“The Matrix Trilogy,” “V For Vendetta”) on the Netflix Original Series “Sense8,” and Academy Award Winner Charlize Theron (“Monster,” “Mad Max: Fury Road”) on the upcoming film “American Express,” scheduled for release next year.
It isn’t luck or coincidence that has made Doldjeva such an omnipresent figure in some of the biggest productions over the last few years. Countless productions have relied not only on her expertise behind the camera, but on her unrivaled ability to turn lighting into an artform in its own right. With her years of experience, vast understanding of her craft, and a knack for quick action and quicker thinking, it’s no surprise that experts throughout the film industry have come to think of Ekaterina Doldjeva as the beacon that guides them when the waters get choppy.