He received a 2017 Emmy nomination for directing the Ozark episode Tonight We Improvise, which is a category he won in '94 for an episode of NYPD Blue. Some of Sackheim's other directorial credits include the Apple TV+ series Servant, Better Call Saul, The Leftovers, The Man in the High Castle, as well as multiple episodes of Ozark, The Walking Dead, and HBO's critically acclaimed LovecraftCountry. In addition to his television work, Sackheim directed the Sony feature film The Glass House, starring Leelee Sobieski, Diane Lane, and Stellan Skarsgard, and produced The X-Files: Fight the Future for 20th Century Fox. Sackheim is a co-founder and fellow HBO alum Tony To (Earth to the Moon, Band of Brothers, The Pacific) of Bedrock Entertainment, which produces prestige content for streamers and premium cable platforms.
Sackheim's photography, which occupies a space dominated by shadows, endeavors to explore a kind of Urban Narrative. This attraction to the dark and ambiguous stems from his love of Film Noir and the heightened reality embodied by this film language. Like noir, his photography aims to access the subconscious and a world of omnipresent solitude and alienation. It is a pleasure to feature an interview with one of the most influential, gifted photographers & Film directors in Lens Magazine!
Leila Antakly: Hello Daniel, Thank you for taking the time to have this interview. Tell us about your greatest inspirations and influences on your work.
Daniel Sackheim: There is no shortage of extraordinarily talented photographers, all with varied styles, whose work I've long admired and have been a source of inspiration. Photographers like Sebastião Salgado, Ray K. Metzker, Saul Leiter—just to name a few. However, one artist whose work has long influenced my work (both as a photographer and director) is Edward Hopper. Though Hopper is most often thought of as a realist, his work has a very heightened reality about it; I think of him more as a surrealist. There is also the distinct voyeuristic perspective that, when combined with his dramatic interaction of light and shadow, brings a visceral tension to the isolated figures that inhabit his anonymous urban spaces. One could postulate that Hopper's work strongly influenced the noir filmmakers of the 40s and 50s.
L. A.: When was that moment you knew that you wanted to get into film or photography, which happened first, and how did it happen?
D. S.: I was a shy kid who suffered from learning disabilities and didn't have much aptitude for sports.
For a brief time, I played trumpet in my school orchestra, but I would not go so far as to suggest I have any musical talent. I was a restless daydreamer with a love of fiction and movies and the escapism those narratives afforded. My older brother, who I idolized at the time, was everything that I was not: a musician (drummer), an athlete (surfer), and an extraordinarily gifted photographer in the making. He had in effect achieved the trifecta of coolness. I hoped, by trailing after him day and night like a lost puppy, that some of that coolness would rub offon me. I can tell you now that it did not. One day, in an attempt to get me to spend my time elsewhere, he thrust a camera and a roll of Tri-Ex Pan B&W film into my hands with the not-so-subtle suggestion that I take up a hobby. I vividly recall my first time in a dark room, standing over a tray of developers, and the thrill of seeing my first image as it appeared before my eyes. Though I didn't know in any concrete sense where this journey would take me, I knew then that I wanted to pursue a life in the visual arts.
L. A.: From both a creative and technical perspective, how would you describe your creative process?
D. S.: Film and television directing are very prep intensive. This is a byproduct of tight shooting schedules, so planning essential. Ideally, you want to shoot the movie in your head before walking onto the set. If only by force of habit, I try to bring that same discipline (or obsession) to my still work. Unlike directing, the primary difference is that I don't have a blueprint in the form of a screenplay as a starting point.
Once an idea for a concept starts to take shape (these ideas can come from a variety of places, such as a movie, a piece of fiction, an article that explores contemporary culture, or simply my imagination), I'll start to jot down some ideas for themes and related visuals. This generally begins with some web research, followed by scouting and a fair bit of driving around. This process can take anywhere from a day to several weeks. I generally follow this up with a light study in order to pick the best time of day for the shoot.
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