Chances are, at some point you’ve used one of the following clichés to describe your workday: My boss bit my head off; I’m drowning in projects; working with my coworkers is like swimming with the sharks; it’s sink or swim time, or, he really chewed me out for that one.
Of course, you’re using these phrases figuratively.
But if Andy Brandy Casagrande IV uses any of these expressions, it’s entirely possible that he means them. Literally.
If you’ve ever caught any of the shark footage during “Shark Week,” there’s a good chance the man who captured those clamping jaws of death on film was Casagrande. The Naples resident is an award-winning cameraman, winning an Emmy in 2010 for outstanding cinematography in National Geographic’s “Great Migration” series, and he specializes in the toothsome creatures of the deep.
Not that Casagrande thinks of them that way, nor does he want you to.
“I never want to give sharks a bad rap. Sharks so rarely attack humans. We’re not on their food table,” he says, adding that he hopes his work feeds people’s fascination for sharks, not their fear.
So how does one become a shark videographer? For Casagrande, it was exactly his fascination, not his fear that got him hooked on the apex predator. Well, his fascination coupled with the inheritance of the childhood nickname “Sharky.”
“I’m not sure why I was called Sharky, but I was,” says the easygoing Casagrande, who insists he was “born with a fascination for sharks. I remember seeing a shark on the television as a kid and being completely blown away by it. When I realized it was real, I was absolutely fascinated by it.”
Propelled by his love of sharks, Casagrande started working toward a degree in marine biology. But halfway through college he realized the degree he sought wouldn’t necessarily grant him the face time with sharks that he so craved.
“One day I walked by the lab and graduate students were working with these little tiny fish. I thought, wait, in three more years is that what I’m going to be doing? I didn’t want to do research on tiny fish, I wanted to work with sharks.”
A few degrees and college changes later, Casagrande entered the workforce with a degree in biopsychology and a job in tech support all lined up.
“Basically I would sit at a desk all day taking calls and Googling sharks. During this time I was pretty bored, so I wrote a song about great white sharks. I found three research teams, one in South Africa, one in Australia and one in California and I basically sent them the song and asked if I could come work for them.”
A rather unique addition to the usual job application, the Australian and California teams passed on Casagrande’s résumé, but the South African team bit.
“I was supposed to stay three months and I ended up staying two years,” says Casagrande, who started working as a still photographer for the team. “I would see sharks performing these neat behaviors and no one was using video to film it, so basically I got a video camera and started learning to film.”
Casagrande started by using cameras attached to a pole, stuck into the water, but what he could actually catch was limited, considering he had little view of where his camera was pointed. From there he began shooting while in the water, though from inside the safety of a shark cage, which afforded him better accuracy, but limited his mobility.
Ultimately, Casagrande knew that if he wanted to get that killer shot, he was going to have to ditch the cage and swim with the big boys (and girls).
“My first time in the water without a cage was near a seal colony in South Africa. I wasn’t really afraid of the sharks, I was more afraid of myself panicking. My colleagues had told me to never swim away from the sharks; if you act like prey they’ll think you’re prey, so it was really important for me to keep my composure.”
Casagrande did fine. In fact, he did so well that when a crew from National Geographic came to film with his research team, they offered him a job.
As a staff cameraman for the nature-show producing giant, Casagrande was soon traversing the world, documenting everything from lions and tigers to the Antarctic and, of course, sharks.
“I’ve had a few Darwin award nomination moments,” he jokes, referring of course to the ubiquitous awards given to humans that manage to die doing terrifically stupid things. But somehow Casagrande has made it to this point in his career with all of his limbs intact.
“I’ve seen him do things where it’s been hard for me to watch,” says Casagrande’s father, Dan Casagrande. “I watched him jump into a three foot hole in the ice in the Antarctic and I told him, ‘That was pretty stupid.’ But I know for the most part he’s careful and I know he loves what he’s doing.”
All in all, Dan Casagrande says he worries a bit about his son’s chosen profession, but that he’s extremely proud of him for following his passion.
“You want your kid to be successful, and that doesn’t necessarily mean in money, you want them to do what they love, and he does that. He has a very exciting life.”
So exciting is his life that Casagrande feels like Naples is the perfect spot to take a break from all the excitement.
“I’m on the road 11 months of the year, for that one month I’m home I want that home to be a laidback, somewhat boring kind of place. My family has been coming to Naples since we were kids, so for me it’s the perfect spot.”
And though Casagrande is the first to admit that his profession is a “young man’s business,” he hopes to do it for as long as he can. “My goal is to bring these beautiful places and creatures to people, and to inspire people to care about the planet. As long as I have all my fingers and toes, I’m going to do this as long as I can.”