Sandro: Psychogenic Fugue with John Malkovich
After stumbling upon the work of the great Irving Penn in a copy of American Photography, Sandro Miller dedicated his life to photography from the early age of sixteen, and it shows. His personality and connection with those around him help to create an environment in which his artistry can thrive. This is evident in his reoccurring collaboration with the acclaimed John Malkovich. I had the pleasure of speaking with Sandro about his 20-minute short film, Psychogenic Fugue in which some of David Lynch's most iconic scenes are recreated.
Interview by Mamie Heldman
You’ve worked with Malkovich before in your homage to photographic masters and in your short film Butterflies. What is it like to continue to work with someone like John?
When you have a long-time friendship and relationship with someone, a lot of the little introductions and things that get in the way of the shoot are over and done with. We are very familiar with the way each other works, we have tremendous respect for each other’s talents, and we know that we’re both in it for perfection. So working with John has become very natural. We are very comfortable together, it’s always enlightening and fun and I really enjoy the whole process. He's a very interesting character. I always think of John as me walking into my kitchen, taking out my vitamix and putting in a two-year-old boy, a Stein-type genius and a Mohammed Ali greatest of all time type. Blend them together and you have John Malkovich to work with.
Psychogenic Fugue was made to benefit the David Lynch Foundation, which focuses on transcendental meditation as a healing source for at-risk populations. Why were you drawn to this project specifically?
In reality, it all came together somewhat of a full circle. I started meditating as a 17-year-old young man. And after John and I did the homage to the masters together, we approached Lynch to possibly work with him on a project and I think the stars aligned when David was planning for the Festival of Disruption which was this last weekend. Squarespace contacted the David Lynch Foundation and said they’d like to help support him. David loved the homage project very much and I think that he thought I would be able to represent his sytle, his ideas and his genre of filmmaking, so he chose us to work on this film. It did very well for the foundation which continues to raise a lot of money and we hope that David’s dream is fulfilled.
I’ve heard you speak about the importance of human connection and trusting in your own intuition as key aspects behind your method of photography. How does this shape your work more specifically and personally?
To do a film of any magnitude, it really takes an army to fulfill all the components of something great. I depend on my people a lot and have a circle of friends that I continue to work with. They’re like family to me. My hair and makeup, Randy Wilder and Leslie Pace, my stylist. I've worked with these two for years and years. My music producer Eric Alexandrakis has been with me on the last few projects and has become a part of my team. My post-production house Utopic are family. We all get a long so well, go out for beer together, know how to celebrate life together and I think it shows in the work we’ve done alongside each other.
And what about your role on a team vs. on your own in the studio?
Director, but chief really. I’m the one who organizes everything and sets the mood. I make sure that no matter what’s going on in my personal life when I walk downstairs into the studio or we’re on location, my demeanor has to be very easygoing, loving, respectful, and always in a good mood because I am the reflection. People pick up on my energy and I’ve been told over the years that people enjoy working with me because of that which I bring to set. I care about people tremendously and I’m a huge hugger. It’s very important to have human contact on set. I like to touch my talent’s hands, or put my hand on their arm or chest in order for them to feel the connection between us. When someone knows that you care and truly respect them, they can become vulnerable and these beautiful little secrets come out of them that truly in film is that something extra they’ve given me that makes the scene so much more powerful.
What is the biggest challenge that comes into play when you’re working in film?
I think storytelling. The idea. There is so much crap out there. We are bombarded with so much shit left and right and it’s really difficult to get through all of it to something really good with a solid idea and effects me emotionally, something that will start a conversation or change the way I think. That to me is the most important thing and goes beyond logistics.
Is this the same when you’re working with film vs. on your own in the studio or do you see it as all the same process coming directly from you?
For me it can be one in the same. I don’t see a huge departure from shooting stills going into motion. It’s very similar, but it’s a bigger ferris wheel. In shooting stills I may have 15 people with me, and with motion, maybe 80. I’m inside of this clock working with different gears trying to keep those wheels greased so that everything moves smoothly. I find that there are transitions you have to think about moving from one scene to another. I think it’s sometimes more difficult to make a single image that is powerful, where in motion you have a time span to actually connect with your people.
What advice would you give photographers and working artists who are trying alternative mediums as a means for more visceral storytelling?
Get past the fear. Believe in yourself. Go beyond the perception of what you think your potential is. We go through life and think, “I can only do this. I can’t do this here.” You know, I haven’t painted but I believe that if I had the time to pick up a paintbrush, I could make something. Push yourself. I push myself all the time. I deal with anxiety, but if I can open that door and push past that anxiety and believe in myself, I feel like I can do anything in the world. So I think it’s about pushing the fear aside and going beyond what you believe is your potential.
Psychogenic Fugue can be downloaded for a small donation to the David Lynch Foundation. It will be shown at Miami Basel in December before hitting the film fest circuit in 2017. A portfolio of 15 art prints will be available through the Catherine Edelman Gallery in Chicago.