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Interview with Sameer Reddy by Jeevi
Date: 28th August 2005

Ram Gopal Varma's Shiva changed the lives and goals of many youngsters. Sameer Reddy is one among them. Sameer Reddy is one of the brilliant cinematographers Telugu film industry boasts off today. met him on the evening of 27th August 2005 to have an exclusive personal and technical interview. Here are the excerpts -

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Ek Rishta
Hum Tum Pe Marte Hain
Naa Autograph
Avunanna Kadanna
Modati Cinema

What is your background and how you became a cinematographer?
I was born in Hyderabad and raised in Rajahmundry. I studied till intermediate in Rajahmundry. As my parents are in leather industry, I am sent to Chennai to do graduation in Leather Technology. I joined Footware Institute in Guindy, Chennai. We are supposed to under go a workshop program before taking up lessons. On the day one, they sent me to work shop where I saw guys and girls stitching chappals by sitting on the floor. I got so scared that I did not return to that institute later.

Rasool is my cousin and Shiva was just released. He took me to watch Shiva film. Watching Shiva film changed the direction of my life. I was never interested in films earlier and did not watch films when I was in Rajahmundry. Rasool studied the operation of steady cam in USA and used it for the first time in Telugu films for Shiva. Rasool was working as assistant to S Gopal Reddy for the department of photography for Shiva film. That is when I decided that I should enter the field of cinematography.

I approached S Gopal Reddy and asked him to take me in his department. He said that there is no wide range for cinematography and asked me to learn graphics. He also spoke to Ramesh Prasad and made me join in Graphics Department of Prasad Labs that is headed by Sai Prasad. I did not like it over there.

One day, I noticed a brand new Beta camera (used for TV) lying there on the floor. I opened that camera. Read the manual and took it on to the building of Prasad Labs. I learnt how to operate it by reading the manual and tried to zoom it on to the road near by. Then I realized that it was Ilayaraja and Venkatesh who were having chitchat. I shot them with Beta camera. I went down, took out the cassette and played it on a high resolution monitor. When I saw the result, it struck me so hard that I wanted to become cinematographer again.

I approached S Gopal Reddy again and asked him to give me a chance. He said that there was no vacancy. That is when I met Teja. Teja was selected as cinematographer for Ram Gopal Varma's Raat. It was Teja's debut film as cinematographer. I approached Teja and Teja immediately took me in as his assistant. I worked with Teja for films like Antham, Rakshana, Money and Baazee.

I got my break as cinematographer with a Hindi film titled Bhai (Sunil Shetty, Sonali Bendre and Pooja Batra), which is a remake of Telugu film Anna (Raja Sekhar). Later on I did five Hindi films Jaanwar, ek Rishta, Hum Tum Par Marte Hain etc. Those projects used to take more than an year each to complete.

During that time, a Hollywood film titled 'Crocodile 2: Death Swamp' (2002) is being shot in Ramoji Film City in Hyderabad. Rasool was the cinematographer. He wanted me to be the cinematographer for the second unit of that film. I accepted it. Then I was offered the job of cinematographer for a Hollywood film titled 'Quicksand' which was to shot in RFC.

Usha Kiron Movies was planning to produce Anandam film in the direction of Seenu Vytla. They took me in for that film. Anandam is my first Telugu film as cinematographer. After that worked for films like Kalusukovalani, Jayam, Manmadhudu, Malliswari, Nijam, Satyam, Naa Autograph, Dhairyam, Avunanna Kadanna.

I am currently doing Modati Cinema in the direction of Venkat Kuchipudi. I would be doing Teja's latest film which would be going to floors on 10th September. I signed a Tamil film in the direction of Nivas (Shool fame).

What is cinematography is all about?
I feel that cinematography is all about how you control the light and manipulate it to suit the mood and requirement of scene/film. One need to use commonsense and the experience derived by observation. Technical courses might help you technically, but it is commonsense that differentiate the right one from the rest.

Talking about the lighting aspect, I observed that you threw better light more on the actors/actresses that are important and give inadequate lighting for others in Avunanna Kadanna film?
Yes, there are many scenes in that film that involve more than 10 people at a time. But only one or two people are important and others would be standing there just for the sake of it. To make sure that audiences are focused on the important characters, I deliberately disparaged the artists with different kinds of light.

What kind of coordination Cinematographer need from director to give good output?
If a cinematographer were involved from the script level, we have netter understanding of mood and soul of the film and shoot the film to complement it. All the new directors are doing lots of homework and making cinematographers involved from the script level. Venkat Kuchipudi gave me a bind script even before starting of the shooting of Modati Cinema.

Cinematographer also needs to set the mood for a film. There are certain good directors who can't express what they want. It is the responsibility of cinematographer to understand and grasp what the director wants.

What is the role of cinematographer in exploring locations for films?
We have very limited locations where the films are shot. And our directors specify certain locations which are already exploited in numerous films. For example, Venkat Kuchipudi asked me to shoot a song for Modati Cinema in Warangal where a song in Varsham film was shot. He wanted me to watch the video of the film to get an idea. I refused to watch that film and went to Warangal location along with my departments to choose the locations and framing patterns. We have to exploit the places from new angles.

What kind of cameras cinematographers use now?
We used to work with ARRI3 cameras earlier. And now we use 435 cameras.

What is the advantage of 435?
We can do certain things like ramping shots and changing the frame rate from high speed to normal using camera. For cameras used earlier, we need to do ramping and change of frame rate by using visual effects by transferring spool into digital format and. Transferring the spool into digital format and revert it back would cause the loss of quality. Usage of graphics needs more money, time and manpower. By using 435, we can do these things right on camera by using some user-friendly controls.

When you mention about ramping shots and altering frame-rate, do you think certain mass directors tend to misuse these felicities by overusing it for unwanted scenes?
That is right. We should use them selectively for the right scenes to produce right impact. When we go to films with family, my mother used to ask me why camera is shaking so much (for ramping shots). He used to tell me not to shake the camera so violently in the films I do. These ramping shots and altering frame-rates do disturb family crowds if they were used in unwanted scenes.

What about Super35 camera which is used for Sarkar film?
Super35 camera helps in getting sharper images. 435 camera cans films in scope (70mm). Super35 camera shoots film in 35mm. Then it would be blown in 70mm later in post production stages. Sarkar and Kisna films were shot using Super35 camera.

What about digital cameras? Why have they become a failure?
George Lucas made 'Star Wars: The Fanthom Menace' using digital camera. The work of digital camera was not appreciated due to loss of glossiness in film. Digital camera creates artificial colors, which would not look pleasing.

What is your best work till date?
Anandam is my best work so far. It was a very good script. Seenu Vytla had faith in my ability and never interfered. There were many our-door locations. We shot the film by following odd timings in order to give importance to the lighting. We used to start shooting at 5 PM when we needed fog effect. When waited for the right time in order to have good backlight for certain scenes. A cinematographer needs lots of time in order to get his best work out and I got it all for Anandam film.

Anandam had debut artists and who could come to sets anytime you want and could wait for what ever time you need to get the right light. What about senior artists?
When we make films with small time artists, we have the luxury of enhancing the quality of the output with nice cinematography. When busy artists and big stars are involved, their time becomes more important that any other time. When a busy character artist or comedian comes, all he asks is when we are going to let him free as he has another crew waiting for him for another film. When we are faced with certain conditions, we can't perform our duties to the fullest.

How do feel about working with Nagarjuna in Manmadhudu. It was Nagarjuna's Shiva that inspired you to become cinematographer?
It is like my dream come true. Nagarjuna is my favorite actor. I was impressed with Shiva on the screen. When I worked in photography department for Antham, I was in awe of him. I carried reflectors for Antham film and I was the cinematographer for Manmadhudu film. It feels so good. I have put in extra efforts and more passion in my work to do justice to the opportunity provided by Nagarjuna to me.

However good the cinematographer is, if it were released in a bad theater the total work would be useless. Right?
In many of the theaters, they try to save the cost of burning less carbon which effects in bad projections. In some theaters, the size the screen does not match the film and upper part of the film (usual hair) of actors get cut. I find only few theaters in Hyderabad to have right projection system. After Prasad Multiplex has come up, I stopped watching films in other theaters of Hyderabad. However, I find that the projection systems in most of the theaters in rest of AP are good.

You seem to have done 90% of your films to the directors from Varma School. You have done most of Teja's films. Is it not dangerous to be associated to one group, which restricts others from approaching you?
I have soft corner for Teja because whatever I am today, it is because of Teja. I am proud of film and would love to associate with all his films. At the same time, I am open to all the directors.

Do you follow certain ground rules while shooting scenes of various types (comedy scenes, action scenes, songs etc)?

Comedy scenes: People come to theater for entertainment and laugh their hearts out. When we shoot comedy scenes we make sure that the image on screen is clean without any distractions. We use glossy light for pleasantness.

Fight sequences: We select a scheme depending on whether the film is shot outdoor or indoor. Since lots of fight sequence have rope work we need to use contrast light in order to make the graphics guy life easier to remove them during postproduction stages.

What are uses of trolley shots?
To build up tempo. Trolley shots enhance the film's grammar.

Do you follow any books for reference?
I am an avid reader of a monthly magazine called American Cinematographer. It gives complete technical details and analysis about latest Hollywood films. Since most of the films are simultaneously released in India, the technical aspects mentioned in that magazine help me to analyze the cinematography in Hollywood films. I would get an understanding about what kind of shots can be taken by using certain lenses and cameras.

Which film impressed you the most recently?
Black is one film that made lasting impression on me. I could not sleep for 2-3 nights as I felt my work is so inferior to what Ravi Chandran has done for Black. I also admire Thiru's work for Hey Ram film. I love the work of Hollywood cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki.

Who are you favorite Indian cinematographers?
Santosh Sivan and KV Anand

Most of the nationally acclaimed cinematographers are from Tamil film industry. Why is it so?
It depends on the director. If director has the different script, then the cinematographers explore new techniques and methods. It also depends on the audiences and Tamil audiences encourage wide verities of films done with different subjects. They support experimental films as well.

What is your future ambition?
When PC Sreeram name appears during title cards, the people in Tamil Nadu clap for him. That is the kind of status any top cinematographer should enjoy. I want to be the top guy in my profession and win the laurels.

For any man in film industry, the ultimate goal is going to be direction. I am also interested in the direction. But first I want to be the top most cinematographer.

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Gowri Mumjal (Heroine)
Deepak (Hero)
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MS Raju (Producer)
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