Sandro Miller: How a still master mastered motion

Sandro Miller
Sandro Miller

If you’ve seen his work, you’ve been spellbound. Because when you look at a portrait by Sandro Miller, it’s as if his subjects are looking right back.

This is magical, iconic stuff. A walk through his studio is like shaking hands with the world. There are bikers with souls and ink laid bare. There are moody sports heroes like Michael Jordan and Muhammad Ali. There are fearsome headhunters from New Guinea.

These aren’t just images of people presented to us — it’s more like they’re being personally introduced. Sandro has a way of capturing a person’s essence. And if you ask him, much of the magic happens before he ever picks up a camera.

“Often you only have a few moments to get to know your talent,” Sandro says. “It is so important to be sincere and caring. Be their friend not their boss. Treat them like family and genuinely really care about them. Then and only then will they give you everything they have of their talent. They will go deep and give you everything they got.”

So why, you may ask, would someone who has achieved so much and has such passion for still work venture into directing films?  Isn’t being recognized as a master photographer enough? Taking on moving pictures isn’t a risk every still shooter is willing to take. We’ve seen photographers try to make this transition before — and often, it doesn’t end well.  But, for Sandro, new challenges are the essential foods that feed his creativity. Still, Sandro’s penchant for perfection gave him pause.

“I always knew I could make films and make them well,” Sandro remembers. “But to sacrifice any bit of my life as a photographer for anything less than immediate success, I felt, would be a failure.”

Of course, the move was never about leaving his first love behind but, rather, finding new, exiting ways to tell his stories and share his unique point of view. He had encouragement from many of his long-time collaborators. Josh Bodnar, an editor in LA, told Sandro, “I know you’re going to make the change to motion, and I want to be your editor when you do.”

Sandro vividly recalls what drove him. “I have always loved making the powerful, storytelling image but I really needed to go further in my process. Motion was a natural format for me. My life has been full of emotional times, empathy, victories, and real-life experiences. I needed to convey these experiences in a way that felt true and relatable, Motion allowed me to present my inner feelings to the masses in a way that I couldn’t with the still image.”     

Sandro first foray onto the screen was an avant-garde film called Butterflies. It starred John Malkovich and was an examination of the alienation of a recent retiree and a deep dive into ageism. Like all of Sandro’s work, it focuses as much on how the characters feel as how they look.

Malkovich has glowing praise for Sandro’s talent and temperament. “I’ve always liked his ideas, they are like little plays,” Malkovich reflects. “In my life there are a few people and Sandro is one of them that I work with over, over and over. It’s always been easy, it’s always been fun, it’s always been worthwhile. I love working with Sandro, I’ve always enjoyed the strange things we’ve done, he has a great team and always well prepared.”

Butterflies

Butterflies is an absolutely gorgeous film and it was a favorite at festivals and among his fellow Chicago directors. Sandro’s early success was a tremendous confidence builder. He had taken a leap of faith — in himself — and landed firmly on solid ground.

Less than a decade later, there are awards of every kind 3-deep on Miller’s mantle — including Cannes Lions and a new Emmy.  His work for Southern Comfort is an exuberant celebration of life. His film for Black Lives Matter is a haunting look at the damage social injustice and violence leave behind. And his AICP Best Of Show work for The University of Chicago Hospital extols doctors and health care workers for what they are: superheroes who fight disease and illness with a vengeance every day. There’s no denying that Sandro has put himself firmly on the directorial A-list.  

Southern Comfort – Comfort Zone

Black Lives Matter

AICP Best Of Show

Tom Sullivan, group creative director at TBWA told Sandro, “Dude, you are no longer a photographer who shoots video. You are a director who happens to be a world-class photographer. Well done.”

His work, alone, is reason-enough to seek out the “Sandro experience.” But spend some time with him and you’ll see why. His personality is magnetic. The people who work with him and  the talent in each of his films quickly look to Sandro as a person they can trust, open up to and collaborate with.

“If you can’t begin a sentence with ‘I’ll never forget the time we were shooting with Sandro Miller,’ you are missing out,” Susan Credle, Global CCO at Foote, Cone & Belding tells us. “Sandro is an artist that takes creative ideas to original places that become unforgettable. If you only know him for his photography, you should experience what he brings to moving images.”

For many creatives, Sandro is now first and foremost a director. Dennis Bannon, executive director of production at Shafer Condon Carter and at the center of the team that made the The University of Chicago Hospital work is a Sandro super fan.

“I’ve primarily worked with Sandro as a live action director and find him to be among the best I’ve worked with. He’s able to pull  the rich, impactful tonality of his stills work into live action where the results are emotionally charged, vibrant, or exotic. Sandro always get to a remarkable piece of film. Locations, lighting, performances, casting … Sandro delivers.”   

Today, Sandro is in the very enviable position of being able to pick and choose his projects. Agencies and documentary producers are calling about films, stills and content. Galleries are calling about showings and events. And Sandro leaves time each year for his own ideas and passion projects.  

Sandro is a modern master of light and emotion. He is a technician, as skilled at capturing a moment with real light as he is with complex lighting setups. He has the ability to perfectly capture a mood with his empathy  and experience. And, as a collaborator, he is exceptionally generous and inventive. He is someone everyone who appreciates a true artist must explore.

Joe Sciarrotta, Ogilvy’s worldwide deputy chief creative officer raves, “Not only is Sandro one of the greatest creative talents in the world, but he’s also one of the most compassionate and collaborative people that I’ve ever worked with.”

These days, what more could anyone ask for?


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