An interview with Brendan Uegama: the cinematographer for Chilling Adventures of Sabrina

Best known for his work on the new Netflix series Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Riverdale, and Child's Play, the cinematographer and director of photography Brendan Uegama discusses his career so far with us here at Mandy News.

5th December 2018
/ By James Collins

Brendan Uegama DUNCANVOGEL

How did you get involved with the camera and how did you get involved in the film and television industry?
Photography and image making has always been of interest to me. In high school I took art and photography classes - at school being in the darkroom was my favourite place to be.
I always loved films and I knew that I wanted to make movies from early on. But I knew no one in the film industry. My father worked in education and my mother worked for her brother's real estate company, so being a filmmaker was a dream as far away as I could imagine.

I used to film or tape my friends when they went skateboarding and snowboarding - eventually, I got a job shooting extreme sports videos a couple of years after high school. I did that for approximately one year and knew it was time to focus on what I always wanted to do within filmmaking. So I went to school for a year in Vancouver Canada to study film and cinematography.

My teacher was Ross Kelsay and I looked up to him very much. He always told me if I really wanted to be a cinematographer just shoot as much as possible and to not join the union and work as an assistant. Today I believe there’s a lot of value working through the department ranks, however, I followed my instincts and shot as many independent films as possible. I made a short horror film a long time ago and met a beautiful and talented actress, Nicole G. Leier - now my wife - and she was able to sneak me onto her set and introduce me to the legendary cinematographer, Jack Green, ASC. Jack was extremely gracious and continued to invite me to hang out on set and learn as much as possible.

I spent many days with him and he continually supported me throughout the years. That was my first introduction to a true Hollywood filmmaker. It took a long time but eventually, I started making projects that I could build on.

How did you get involved with Chilling Adventures of Sabrina?
I got involved with Chilling Adventures of Sabrina because of our show runner, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa. I met Roberto working on his other series Riverdale. Roberto is such a supportive and amazing show runner - he let me run wild with ideas and colours. I tried to honour yet enhance the look from season 1 to a more saturated pallet. This all started with ideas that season premier director Rob Seidenglanz and myself spoke about in prep of season 2. When I heard of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina I told Roberto of my strong interest in the show. I knew its dark content was right up my alley. Seidenglanz was the supervising producer and a director on it so I knew it was going to be a great project to be part of. We were still shooting Season 2 of Riverdale when this all started.

For over a month I was talking with Roberto, Seidenglanz and pilot director/producer Lee Toland Kreiger. I actually had dreams of shooting Chilling Adventures of Sabrina and couldn’t shake the idea of not doing it. For some time it was uncertain if it would work out, but eventually, we found a way to make all the stars align. I’m very thankful to Roberto, Lee, and Rob for their support and their trust.

What was the process like of working on the show?
I’ve had a lot of great projects come and go, but Chilling Adventures of Sabrina was special. It was big and ambitious and that’s what I like. I don’t want things to be easy and comfortable. I need to be provoked and inspired and anything Roberto does is inspiring to me. The first 2 episodes I did were with director Rob Seidenglanz and we had a working relationship from our time on Riverdale. He’s an amazing director to work with, so supportive, creative and collaborative. We spent a few weeks prepping those episodes to get us ready for photography. We had major new sets to create and a lot of night work to prepare for. 

One of the highlights was working again with my talented wife Nicole Leier as she was cast in episode 3. The shoot was full of long days and a lot of nights with big ideas. It was hard work and was never ‘simple’ - which was great. When I watch the show now, what I see is everyone’s dedication and hard work paying off.

Do you have a preferred kit you like to use, camera/lenses, etc...?
The Alexa is a fantastic camera and I’ve used that more than any other over the past couple of years, along with a set of Leica Summilux-C primes. But on Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, we used Red Monstro's and Panavision G Series lenses along with a set of de-tuned Ultra Speed Golds. On Riverdale, I was using Alexa’s with Leica Summilux-C lenses. On my latest feature Child’s Play, I used Alexa Mini’s and Leica lenses as well.

You mentioned you have been working on Child's Play, how has the shoot been and what is coming next for you?
I just wrapped principal photography on Child’s Play - it was a great and a very challenging shoot. I can’t say much about it until it’s released next year. There are currently a few projects in the works.

What advice do you have for up and coming DOP's?

Master the technical so you can focus on what’s really important - the storytelling. Perseverance is essential. Try to focus on good stories and good images. Challenge yourself. Always dream big and push the boundaries whenever possible. When that voice in your head says “is that too much, or too dark, or too bright,” you’re probably on the right path. Work hard and never give up.

You can follow on Brendan on Instagram @brendanuegama