Meet Sandra Valde-Hansen
Walking the halls of the American Film Institute, Sandra started her education in the world of cinematography through shooting on film, a medium that allows for very little wiggle room in mistakes. When wasting film was wasting money, it was essential for a DP to control a scene as much as possible before the camera even starts rolling. This required her to learn how to “bake” the final look into the film itself which morphed into her current meticulous shooting style.
“I was trained in film, so you have to previsualize as much as possible. I try to make it look like I want it to all the way through by building it into the film.”DP Sandra Valde-Hansen
Learning the ins and outs of camera department, Sandra moved up to DP where her early work focused mainly on documentary shooting. This influenced her style by emphasizing on a naturalistic method of lighting and movement. She had the pleasure of working under accomplished filmmakers such as Steve Poster ASC, Stephen Lighthill ASC, and Nancy Schreiber ASC. Eventually Sandra transitioned into the world of television and features with such works as: Now Apocalypse, Plan B, and The L-Word: Generation Q. She also continues to walk the halls of the American Film Institute as a Cinematography Senior lecturer.
On the set of The L-word: Generation Q
Her latest project has been working as a Director of Photography on the series The L-word: Generation Q, a Showtime series that follows up the original The L-word from 2004. Earning the position of Director of Photography on this project was a serendipitous moment. The plan for the series was to have two Directors of Photography in order to tackle the series simultaneously. This was a match made in heaven, because Sandra’s co-DP was her former AFI student, Moira Morel. The team quickly knew that these two would have no issue working with each other. Especially when it comes to co-DPs, where it’s paramount to rely on trust and communication to execute a consistent look and style. Luckily, they were in the type of environment that not only left room for collaboration but built the foundation of the show around it.
“We had so much collaboration time so once we are on set then we take off running. I’m more methodical and ridged while she is “go with the gut” but the tone of the show is carried across.”DP Sandra Valde-Hansen
In regards to the style of the series, Sandra knew that the team wanted to take a different approach from the first season of The L-Word: Generation Q. The biggest change came from the Showrunner, Marja-Lewis Ryan, who felt handheld shooting would create an intimacy between the characters and the audience.
“The reasoning was because the Showrunner really felt handheld was more visceral, you’re in the moment.”DP Sandra Valde-Hansen
This also allowed the actors to express themselves in a more dynamic sense, having the chance to move around the set and around the camera. No longer bound to one spot or framing as is the case with most studio style shooting. Taking her skills from documentary shooting by working with all angels of lighting and set design while simultaneously allowing for a faster shooting schedule. This also meant that Sandra needed a camera operating team that was nimble, predictive, and expressive. A team that possessed the ability to move around each other while covering the entirety of the scene.
“It’s hard to find operators who can work in that type of environment but we found two amazing operators that truly understood the style and execution. We were running two cameras at the same time, nd the operators could dance around each other methodically.”DP Sandra Valde-Hansen
Creating Style with SIGMA Cine Classic Lenses
One way Sandra was able to show off her training from film, adaptability from her documentary work and the collaboration between her and the showrunner, would be best exemplified by the wedding scene from episode 201. She was also given the opportunity to take the SIGMA Cine Classic lenses for a stylized spin. In this wedding themed scene, Sandra needed to create a sense of grandeur and fairytale love.
“One of the things the showrunner told me, all through out the process was ‘make me feel something’. Shoot it in a way so that people could turn the sound off and people would still feel something. It’s our job as the cinematographer to make people feel something.”DP Sandra Valde-Hansen
Unfortunately they lost the chance to rely on the original set design because their beautifully staged outdoor wedding needed to switch to indoors at the very last minute. Due to extreme weather, they shifted the scene into a small ballroom type setting in a near by building. Without being able to rely on the set as much for the momentous occasion, Sandra knew she could turn to her lenses instead to bake in that emotion. Using the intense flares from the SIGMA Classic lenses, Sandra was able to instill the gravity of the moment, creating the essence of a fairytale romance that the audience was craving.
“It’s a little wild, shooting some light straight into the lens, it flared much more intensely than expected. Its not subtle, I thought it would have been too much but the Showrunner loved it. When I have a stylized look in mind, I’m never subtle about it. When I want style, I want style. These lenses bring about that ethereal look AND they cover large format.”DP Sandra Valde-Hansen
By controlling the look in the camera through the coating of the lens, Sandra was able to bake in her stylistic look without worrying about that signature being removed in post production. Through her years of education and experience, the collaboration of her team, and the unique style of her gear, Sandra helped to create a show that represents those who often go unrepresented. Sandra’s final thoughts about her experience working as the Director of Photography on The L-word: Generation Q:
“It makes you proud to work on this type of show, the diversity and representation. You’re able to create a legitimate queer space.“DP Sandra Valde-Hansen