Sandeep Abraham is an award-winning cinematographer based in Zurich, Switzerland. After falling in love with the 7th art while watching Fight Club, he dedicated his life to filmmaking through commercial works as well as personal projects where he could fully express his visual style. Production Paradise had the chance to talk to him and to immerse itself in his exciting and fascinating life.
Production Paradise: What were the major stages of your professional life? Can you tell us more about your influences and your way of working?
Sandeep: I started my career in some broadcast companies in Switzerland where I have learned to write short stories for online content and to work fast. Afterwards, I went to a small production company, who’ve had their main focus in fashion and commercials. There I have learned how to be a perfectionistic about every single frame and how high-end commercials look like. I have tried taking the best of both production methods and to work out a workflow that combined the best of both sides.
After trying out different cameras, lenses and working with all kinds of clients, directors and directors of photography (DoP), I was able to gain a lot of experience on finding out how to get my personal look and the best out of myself.
Production Paradise: As a director and director of photography you have worked on many advertising projects, including Microsoft, Samsung and Disneyland Paris. How did you reconcile the artistic aspect with the directives given by the brands? Is it difficult to keep your visual identity on these types of projects?
Sandeep: Yes, it can be difficult sometimes. For once, if the client wouldn’t like my style, they wouldn’t have asked me for the job. But still, big companies like those mentioned have a dossier full with their corporate design rules and a predefined look you have to conform to. Especially as a young director of photography I often have to invest more time and effort to convince everyone that I have spent a lot of time and thoughts on the ideal look.
Production Paradise: Your horror short movie Dark Snap has been very noticed in many festivals and ceremonies. Its way of using the new video tools (smartphone, Snapchat) as narrative elements is quite ingenious. How did you come up with this idea?
Sandeep: I was always interested in new technology and trends. During my studies, I have noticed that the quality of smartphones and their lenses were increasing progressively, but that there was not enough attention paid to them in the film and photography industry. At that time, filming with smartphones was just a no-budget alternative for first-time filmmakers and there were no visually good examples because nobody dared to invest external light for a smartphone film project.
Without controlling the light, you (almost) can’t make a visually good film even with a large sensor camera. So I started my research by comparing smartphone film production with low budget productions and created an experiment in which I produced a short film several times with different equipment (DSLR, RED…) and analyzed and evaluated them according to time expenditure and quality. I was able to get a better idea of where the strengths and weaknesses of smartphone film production lie and started creating more smartphone movies.
Production Paradise: Speaking of technology, you are using a RED, which is a digital camera. What do you like about it? And what do you think are the most exciting new video technologies of the moment?
Sandeep: For a commercial job I needed a higher quality camera and I was able to directly compare different cameras like RED and ARRI at a local rental at that time. I was positively surprised how easy it was to work with the RED on set and in post-production and how good the image quality was for the size of the camera. Also, the possibility to upgrade the sensor and work with a camera on a long-term basis convinced me to invest in such a camera.
Furthermore, I like the fact that the company is constantly trying to develop itself further. And the result speaks for itself. RED has released an 8K camera and soon a smartphone that can film raw and seamlessly switch between holographic multi-view and 3D content.
Production Paradise: Being an experienced young Director/DoP, you must be constantly solicited for many projects of all kinds. What are you looking for first? What are you working on now?
Sandeep: Yes, in the beginning, I had trouble saying “no” and accepted almost every project in order not to lose a customer. Meanwhile, I have put together a crew who have a similar style to me or are very strong in their field. Therefore, I can hand one of them a project without hesitation, which I have no time or interest for.
At the moment I am working on a video series I wrote (for no client), which must draw attention to violence in the household. The idea had been on my mind for years and I finally wanted to implement it and found the perfect actors for it.
Production Paradise: If you had the choice of your next collaboration, who would you like to work with and why?
Sandeep: There are so many brands and actors I would like to work with. I think the most important thing for me would be that we could be creative or innovative. It doesn’t have to be the next Super Bowl commercial… but on the other hand, why not?
Production Paradise: How has Production Paradise helped you in your professional life?
Sandeep: I was contacted by production companies from all over the world with whom I would otherwise never have had contact. From the United Arab Emirates to Russia. Last December I even had a small shooting in Cuba for a local beer company. I am looking forward to the next inquiries.
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