oktober 19, 2019Comments are off for this post.

SALOMON LIGTHELM

New York based director Salomon Ligthelm has a track record of film projects that many aspiring filmmakers look up too. Known for his bold visual style and rhythmic storytelling, Salomon is constantly trying to reinvent himself by critically examining his own creative process. With projects ranging from explosive commercials for S7, Audi and Puma to powerful, heartwarming music videos for artists like Prince, Daughter and Young Fathers, Salomon’s portfolio is a layered palette of human emotions and compelling images. While talking with him we got to learn what modes of thinking allow him to be original but also how he manages to create high quality passion projects on a frequent basis while pushing the boundaries of commercial works.

 

Salomon, I would like to start off with the following quote by Chayse Irvin: "Obsession only took me to a certain point. It’s become more about forgetting the things I learned in the past and really using my childlike nature to react to things on a production.” – I was wondering if you resonate with this quote and if so, what elements from your childlike nature you tend to put into your work?

My obsession has always been creating worlds. When I was 16 my dad bought me Pro Tools. Initially I was recording music and at the time rock was the thing that was cool. So first I did a lot of music in that space but then I started listening to the library samples that I had and got obsessed with creating stuff that felt like scores. And scores that felt like worlds. I would close my eyes, play something and I could see a world. Therefore my interest shifted from band orientated music to sound design or scores. 

Technology at the time in terms of film capturing wasn't there for me to go and pick up a camera. It wasn't accessible, it wasn't cheap enough and the quality wasn't good enough so I wasn't even going to bother. But then when the DSLR’s came out it was at a place where I could afford it. That’s when things opened up for me. My obsession was then to turn sound design into filmmaking and create unique visual worlds. 

But as I’ve grown I’ve become way more interested in people. Perhaps there is a psychological processing that’s going on because when you start to have kids, get married, experience a recognition for your work, then all of that affects who you are. Therefore you put the experiences into your work. Those are the things that start to inspire me. Mr. Martyr for example, was an exploration of peer pressure, Medicine was an exploration of this couple that mimics my grandfather and grandmother who were quite ill around the time when I was shooting that. So that’s how my work started to revolve a lot more around people. 

Regarding Chayse’s quote and embracing a child-like wonderment, one thing that I can say for sure is that there is a tendency as an artist that you become more critical and to me, that’s very dangerous. Because when you start to become critical you start to become jaded and cynical and I feel like those two qualities are very unhelpful to creativity. You need a level of naivety and ignorance and childlike wonderment in order to be wow’ed by anything. To be wow-ed by people and to be taken by experiences. Also, to feel worthy of taking something that might feel mundane or banal and to put that under the microscope and say ‘that feels worthy of my attention, of my passion and my focus because I believe in the value of it’. That’s what children have obviously. Especially when I see my kids, I wish I still see the world like they see it. 

 

 

Do you put pressure on yourself when starting a new project because of the great work you have done before?

You need to at least try to do something slightly different because even if the result kind of feels the same, you can still change the process. To me, that's really important. So sometimes I can do something that maybe feels optically the same as a project that I've done before but I don’t care about that. I always ask myself: ‘is there something in the process that I learned that was different?’ I really want the way in which I work to learn something new. But it’s usually pretty helpful not to be too cynical. When I'm around people that are very cynical, I get depressed myself and I don't want to create a project because then you’re just overly critical about things. I've always been picking up a camera to just go and shoot something. Is it the next big thing? Probably not, and that doesn’t matter.

 


Your recent project Mictlan didn’t show any beer in the video despite the whole spot being shot for a beer brand. Do you feel big companies are finally starting to understand that pushing their products in a traditional way doesn’t always work?

I get really excited when I see a project that feels like it exists slightly outside of what's normal. There's a tendency that everything is being very trendy and cool. Simply put, cool kids doing cool things. Everyone wants to be on those projects. So you have that work which young and cool directors are doing for urban brands. And then, on the other hand, you have these big commercials for beer or car brands. I have been doing a couple of car commercials but got a big bored of that. So I’ve been pushing to do edgier stuff which brought me to S7 and Valvoline. Now, however, I feel that I want to do projects that are weirder and with more art. It might be for a small company in another market but at least they’re up for doing something a little different. There’s no way that I’m going to get a big Apple commercial like Spike Jonze did. But maybe there’s a small Mexican brand like Victoria that Spike Jonze won’t do - then I’ll take it.

 

 

Your work relies heavily on rhythm. What do you do on set to get the right pace from an actor?

Usually during the casting of a project, you can tell if a person has the right impulses that are required for the film. When working with a good actor, I don’t want to explain too much because it should come alive through their personality. On the other hand, when I work with non-actors it takes a different effort for me, to the point where I have to activate them on set by shouting in a fun way. Sometimes as a director, you are just in need of non-actors who can basically play themselves. For Prince’s music video Mary for example, we casted people who had to play in a scene of a kid passing away which symbolised the holy ground. Everyone on set was quiet and you could sense the experience, but I still had to interrupt and state the feelings that I wanted them to display. It’s good if there is a mix of both kinds of actors; non-actors can play the character that a director wants to create in their film world and the actors play a character that integrates into that world.

 

 

How do you plan your investments for your passion projects?

I spent quite a bit of money buying cameras. I've got two 35mm and one 16 mm camera. I bought some lenses for both 16 and 35. A lot of the money that I make, honestly goes straight back into passion or gear. When it comes to commercials, I don't want to buy the gear but when it comes to shooting on film for music videos and passion projects I don't want there to be an excuse of “No, we can't get the gear in this country or it’s too expensive to rent a camera here.” If that's the reason why we can't do it, then bring on.

The 16mm and 35mm film looks are often praised for their timelessness. At the same time it’s increasingly becoming a trend. Do you think film will retain its timelessness despite the trend?

I have been thinking about this a lot. Some people's aesthetics work well in digital. They can pull off something that looks good in digital but for me, I don't know how to work with digital. It doesn't look like my style. And so if you look at my old films, and you look at the amount of grain that I put on, the curves, the contrast and the way that I would grade the project, you could say that I always wanted my projects to look like film. I could never afford it or it felt like such a world away from me. Then when I did Mr Martyr, I got the rushes back, threw a curve on it and just went ‘O my God, this is it. It just works.’ Straight after that I bought my Arri 416.

The first time I shot on 35mm was on the Medicine project and then I did Puma and again, a curve on it and that was it. From then on I just knew that that was the way I was going to work. And not only was it like that in post but also on set. With digital you’re so focused on the small details that you can compromise what’s happening big picture on the screen which is performance and the talent and the way that orchestration is coming alive. So in my opinion it makes the performance less compromised.

To your point of it becoming trendy. I would say for the time being, that’s not a bad thing. The trend aspect sucks, but at least what it is pushing clients and agencies to be more comfortable with it, because everyone is pushing for it. I’m a bit nervous about the trend because to me, it’s timeless. I don’t want to shoot a bit of digital and a bit of 8mm or 16mm and it becomes kind of a cool pastiche cut. I want to shoot the whole thing on 35 or the whole thing on 16 and hopefully in that way it exists as a piece that falls into the canon of other films.

You mentioned in the interview with ‘Akkurat’ that if you could change something in the industry, pitches should be paid. Then François Rousselet mentioned exactly the same thing. I was wondering if you consider pitching in the first place to be a good thing, not matter if it’s paid or not. 

I think what's really frustrating is when an agency and a client already has their mind made up, and they still just have to triple bid. And so there are basically two people who are pitching for no reason in order to fill the pitching slots. Then they go with the one that they thought they wanted. I don't know if it'll ever change. I've been chatting to these two guys and they're interested in giving directors a fairer process so if you're going to pitch, take some percentage off the top of the job, and split it amongst the directors that are pitching. To me it makes the most sense. But whether or not that'll change I don’t know.

Are there any modes of thinking that allow you to be original? How do you know if an idea is actually yours?

Honestly, you don't know. Unless you've read everything, and you've seen everything, will you know whether something is original? Because that's what it would take right? I just try to inject as much of who I am in the way I work. Sometimes people become cynical because ideas are never original enough. But then you see that not a lot of work comes out of that type of mentality. 

There are films in the ether that are very similar. There is something in the shared consciousness of people that makes that happen. For example technology, but also race. Conversations about race if explored a lot in films these days because it’s in the cultural consciousness. That’s why you’ll see similar things coming out in a certain timeframe.

Who are artists you look up to in the industry and why?

In the commercial industry I admire the work of Martin De Thurah, Daniel Wolfe and Aoife McArdle. Sam Pilling does amazing work, but my all-time favourite is Scorsese. The process and philosophy behind his films leaves me impressed. Kubrick also just recently became an inspiration again, because I like to look at his technical obsession as a director.
One director that I also really love is Jacques Audiard. One of the most powerful films is Rust and Bone. I’m obsessed with that film. Also Denis Villeneuve is a great director. Incendies, Rust and Bone and The Lives of Others are three of my favorite films.

Do you have upcoming directors on your radar?

Yes, there are a couple of people that I've been talking about recently. Bear Damen has been doing some great work. Also Diana Kunst published some really amazing work. I'm really impressed with the work that Diana has done. Finally I really dig the work of Jonas Lindstroem and Pantera.

 

SALT is a creative production company founded by filmmakers. Our magazine is an exploration through the minds of creators that inspire us. Click here to have a look at our work.   

augustus 28, 2019Comments are off for this post.

FILIPE ZAPELINI

In his teenage years, Filipe was already shooting films with and about his friends. After working as a graphic designer and motion artist he decided to pursue his filmmaking ambition and fell in love with the documentary format. Coming from Porto Alegre, Filipe had to overcome many obstacles in order to become an accomplished filmmaker. Now, with multiple Vimeo Staff Picks on his resume, he continues his search for stories about music, people and spirituality while living in New York.

 

Could you describe your path, and what are you currently working on?

I'm currently living in New York and I do everything from directing to shooting to editing. Whatever comes first to make a living in the USA. Currently, I’m working on my first feature documentary about the obscure and unknown music from Hawaii.

The idea came through my close friend Pedro Ramos who runs a film production company in Lisbon, Round Trip. About two years ago we had a barbecue and he mentioned about this music label Aloha Got Soul from Hawaii. I didn't know anything about it, but he asked me what my thoughts were to do a short doc about AGS. Two weeks later, we all got on Skype and a couple of months later, we were landing in Honolulu, Hawaii. We spent 30 days between Oahu and Big Island and we recorded about 24 hours of interviews. We not only learned about the music scene and what happened back in the days but also we learned so much about the culture.

 

 

How did you find your passion coming from a background in graphic design?

My first experience with video goes back to when I was 12 or 13 years old. I used to shoot skateboard videos for my friends. My actual work started when I was 16 with a friend who used to make skateboard clothes. Back in the days I was designing all the communication, but after a few years I quit and start to work in web design, which lead me to meet and work with my friends and ex-partners, Gustavo Gripe, Patrick Petry and Amadeu Caringi. The company back in the days was a Motion Graphic Studio, but soon the clients started asking us to shoot and that's how we shifted to a film production company. Gustavo used to direct the films and I was in charge of managing the post-production team work. Because of this knowledge, today I‘m comfortable to make my own projects from scratch.

What is influencing your style in documentaries today?

I would say music has been influencing most of my work. Not just to get inspired, but it's what creates an emotional bond between the viewer and the image. I like to think about a film/documentary through the soundtrack.

How important are sounds in your working process?

My short documentary 'Cristian' got developed through a commercial we shot in Chile, for a brazilian shoe brand. We were a group of four, handling everything from camera, directing, producing to editing. The editing process took a while, but I remember building all the storytelling with just the interview and music,  which helped to build the emotions we needed. It's a different process. I never went to film school, maybe that's why I like to try out different things.

 

 

Taking the 'Christian' doc as an example. Could you explain how you strike a balance between the staged moments and the moments that are completely improvised?

Most of the scenes created on the film was improvised. We didn't have a storyboard or anything like that. The team was very special, so it made possible to be very flexible. Douglas Bernart, who directed with me, went to Chile for scouting a few days before the team arrived and that helped us to create and stage a few moments.

Filipe ZapeliniI like to think that life brings people and stories to you.

I remember one of the scenes improvised at his house, with his MCing (rapping). Just before leaving his house in the last day of shooting, he gave us a VHS tape with a footage of him much younger, rapping the same lyrics of the song that he rapped for for us. That blew our minds. We feel very blessed to had the opportunity to meet him.

The people in your documentaries seem to suffer some hardship but also show the strength to keep going and realize their dreams. Is this a theme you choose consciously?

I believe that life brings people and stories to you, not the other way. And when that happens, always feel more natural and better. I don't like to force things; I prefer to work more organically.

 

Do you currently have a specific focus on certain stories? Or do you want everything to happen organically?

Today I'm working on a lot of projects that involve music. Maybe because music is one of my biggest passions. But in the same way,  I'm also looking for spirituality, trying to understanding more about religion and faith. There is a discussion if music is a religion or not, but I do think that music has its own power.

 

How do you feel coming from Brazil influences your work?

I think Brazil has influenced me in a way that I had to find my own path and build my own skills. It's not like here in the US where you go to school to become an expert in one thing. In Brazil, there is a lack of professionals and low budget projects. So if you want to get that job, you need to know how to do ten things instead of one.


Do you also help each other out in Brazil?

Well, back in the days when I was studying Graphic Design at University, Rio Grande do Sul, there weren't any film schools in my state. Only after two or three years they launched the first one. Usually people would have to go to another state or even US, Russia or Cuba to get their education so at the end, you are learning by yourself or from others. Fortunately, today you can find many other schools there.

What work are you most proud of and did it inspire you also for future projects?

I like 'Cristian'. Mostly because of the message I want to convey. I want the audience to have a good feeling and being inspired, giving it a purpose to exist. 

Regarding the 'Valley of Death'. How did you direct all the shots that you wanted for the film? Because it seems that some scenes are filmed spontaneously, like the phone call the main character has with his friend.

Regarding the 'Valley of Death'. How did you direct all the shots that you wanted for the film? Because it seems that some scenes are filmed spontaneously, like the phone call the main character has with his friend.

It was the last film I shot in Brazil before I moved to New York. During my last two weeks in Brazil I got my car with some friends and we drove from Porto Alegre, RS to Cubatão, SP to shoot the doc for a french magazine called Desillusion.

In the morning of the third and last  shooting day, I think was a Friday, we went to a waterfall which is a 40 minute walk into the middle of the jungle. We had six to eight friends carrying all the equipment. We had a great time, shot everything we needed and took a bath in the  waterfall. Late afternoon we decided to head back to the car and while we were walking in this small trail, eight young armed guys appeared and start taking everything from us; cameras, lens, tripod, drone, shirts, phones, car key, everything...

 

We walked with them for a while, with guns in our heads. During the trail, we passed an older couple with a daughter and they stopt to steal from them too. Then, we heard some shots. We saw one of the guys running towards us yelling that they were a cop. The guys asked us to sit down in the jungle, put a gun to our face commanding us that we "should stay here for the next 20 minutes without”.

How did you escape in the end?

After waiting for 20 minutes, we started walking in our shorts in the direction where our car was. It's crazy to think that these guys were only 16 to 21 years old. At the end I spent my last week in Brazil trying to get our stuff back from they. We got almost everything back, like 70%. All the audio you hear from that doc was re-recorded through Skype later, since I already moved to New York. We didn't recover any sound from the shooting. So, again, these are just examples of what can happen and you need to find a solution to become a film.

Do you have one piece of advice for young documentary filmmakers who want to start out?

Usually, I don't like to give advice; I prefer to talk about my own experiences and let people choose their own actions from there. What I can say is that, try to keep always open and aware of what life shows to you. Don't let an opportunity pass by if you have a good feeling. I'm sure it's going to turn out great.

augustus 7, 2019Comments are off for this post.

MYRTHE MOSTERMAN

Well known for her moody shots and vibrant personality, Myrthe Mosterman is a cinematographer who persuaded an interesting career in the world of film. After finishing her masters in Film Studies she applied for film school to learn the craft of film making. She has been on a steep learning curve shooting shorts and commercials like 30 seconds mini movies. Reinventing her own style played a central role. Just now, she finished her first feature film 'Goud' with Rogier Hesp which premieres February 2020. In this interview she shares her take on the filmmaking process and gives us insider tips that can provide any aspiring filmmaker with valuable lessons. 

 

You’ve managed to establish yourself really well in the creative industry in Amsterdam. Can you tell us where you started and how you managed your career path?

I’ve always been a big fan of films. Going to the cinema and having sleepovers while watching movies all night long was part of my youth. After I graduated I did a theoretical film study which introduced me to the sociological and philosophical approaches of storytelling. But it wasn’t until my last year of my masters in Film Studies at the University of Amsterdam that I discovered my passion for cinematography. Together with another student I shot a documentary. I was enjoying it so much that I decided to apply to the Dutch Film Academy after I finished my masters. When I got accepted, I tried to apply my film knowledge in cinematography class. However, I was so inexperienced I had to learn everything from scratch.

Up until this point, I’m very happy how things worked out. I consider my career to be luck but also a make or break in decision making. The first important decision I made after finishing film school was filming as much as I could, just to gain experience and establish myself as a cinematographer and not as an assistant or camera-operator.

How did you get to know the agencies you are working with?

A big change in work occurred after I was travelling through Asia with my husband. I came home with too many pictures (laughs), which I started uploading on Instagram. A lot of new people started following me and that gave me a way to connect to new directors such as Ismaël (known from commercials: Volkswagen, Albert Heijn, Calvé). I suddenly shifted from working on low-budget commercials to working on these big sets with great actors and a big crew.

What is your take on working with new people?

Making movies is a process in which working together is something you have to learn. You are dealing with all kinds of individuals and you have to get to know their strengths and weaknesses to make the best out of it all together. I also think you have to keep each other actively conscious of the decisions you make during the process. Also you have to keep reinventing your style so you won’t become lazy and fall into routine.

What’s your favorite project so far? And could you explain me how you've established the visual language?

Filming my first feature ’Goud’ (Rogier Hesp, Baldr Film which will be released in February 2020) has been a great experience. It was the first time that I have been working together with a crew for such a long period of time while discovering an appropriate language for the story. You have to keep the same look and feel throughout 90 minutes of film and keep the same locations exciting every time you shoot a new scene.

The film tells the story of a promising young gymnast who shares a big dream with his father: to win gold in the Olympics. But along the way his dedication starts to crumble.

Since the film consists of many sport scenes, I chose to take the camera in a hand held position. It was quite difficult to shoot because of all the fast movement in his performances and we had to rehearse multiple times to get our movements synchronised. The scenes at his home were generally shot on legs with longer lenses to enhance the loneliness he feels around his father. I am happy with the way the film looks and I am excited for people to see the outcome.

How do you make sure your vision makes it to the final images even though a color grader takes over during the last steps of the project?

I generally tend to use stills. Every evening I send out stills to the crew not only to process the day myself but also to show them the work we have done. I'll bring these stills and some other references to the color grading session. For the film Goud I worked together with Julien Alary, a Norwegian color grader who I got to know by the films of Joachim Trier, shot by Jakob Ihre. We had 10 days and we just started somewhere in the middle because it is hard to keep your continuity throughout the whole film. We ended up going back and forth the whole time.

Could you describe the process between you and the actor in Goud?

As a non-actor, the main character David Wristers had to learn everything about film. Meanwhile he taught us a lot about the world of sports. Even though he took acting lessons, I think it worked best when he stayed close to who he was. As a gymnast you can't perform the stunts on the highest level for 10 hours, so we had to think about editing versus the actual filming. It was important to let him decide what was physically possible for him to do. He was a natural talent though. There was this crying scene that was an emotional and very beautiful moment. It was very nice going through this whole journey together, seeing each other and the movie grow along the way.

Myrthe MostermanWorking creatively always comes with vulnerability and honesty.

 

Did you talk to the actors directly or through the director/ assistant director?

Usually I speak with the actors directly when it is about technical stuff. I was getting along very well with Rogier Hesp (the director) so the interaction and communication on set was very open. As a DOP you are usually the closest person actors are confronted with. I want to make them feel comfortable by recognizing their great work in the scene when it’s shot. When rehearsing a scene I can suggest certain camera-angles or mise en scene to a director. However, on set it is best when the director or assistant director is the only one speaking so people know who to listen to.

How do you experience honesty on set?

It depends on the people you work with, but I experience filmmaking as a very honest job. You have to work hard to get all your shots while being under time pressure. You are communicating fast and very directly. Working creatively always comes with vulnerability and honesty. You get to know the people from your crew very well by sharing ideas and opinions - and you have to know when to keep your mouth shut.

 

You’ve been photographing a lot too. The images you create are dazzling lots of people. Are you constantly looking for interesting light situations?

I think the main object of my pictures is light. The way I look at the world in light more than through people. No matter where I go, I always recognise the sunlight or different light situations. My pictures are never lit because the light is there already. It’s very pretty when the sun is hitting the sweet spot in the room or shines through a tree.

You have been filming many TV commercials. What do you like and what do you dislike about this genre?

The story driven commercials I have recently shot feel like mini movies with a small storyline and good actors. You tell a story with different emotions in a very short amount of time to touch people’s hearts - I lovwee that. It is very challenging to touch people’s hearts in 40 seconds. On the other hand, you are working for a client. That may result in making a lot of concessions. Therefore it can be frustrating. Especially when it's about shooting too dark which is a common discussion in commercials. That's because sunlight sells better, so they say.

 

How do you decide what kind of shots you want from a scene?

With the bigger commercials we usually work with a storyboard that serves as a guide for the client. This way they know what they are going to get. After the first location visits we will go through all the shots and edit them where necessary- or add some shots we would like to get. I use the storyboard as an inspiration and will not copy the shots. I do not see a storyboard as a limitation. It's more like an extended shotlist. When you have a script with a lot of visual effects, the shots do need to be prepared and supervised because a whole group of people is already working on them. Then a storyboard is very helpful and leading.

You like the Alexa Mini and a wide variety of lenses. How do you decide what lens set to choose for a shoot? And when do you decide to go for anamorphic lenses?

I like working with anamorphic lenses. I just really like the look and feel. They give this special blurriness, some kind of softness and a vignette feel to the picture. My favorite anamorphic lenses are the Kowa Anamorphics. A small set of old, lightweight and easy-handling lenses which give a soft effect in the highlights. Every project deserves its own lenses though and I like to try them all.

Do you like shooting with the Alexa best or are there other camera's that are also on your radar?

Alexa is definitely my favorite camera which I know very well. I also like being comfortable with one certain camera. With lenses however, I can experiment to see the different outcomes. I owned a Sony FS7 for shooting documentary, which was nice and easy especially taking it with me abroad. The film Goud was also shot on the Alexa Mini and Kowa anamorphic lenses. My new feature film project 'Zee van Tijd' by Theu Boermans for Kaap Holland Film starting in September will also be shot on an Alexa mini but the lenses we're shooting with are still not decided (laughs). It will be about a dramatic love story based on true events.

 

What was your biggest insecurity or false belief? How is this in reality? What did you discover over time?

My biggest insecurity is to be boring or not original. Even when people react enthusiastically about my work I can still be afraid that they will discover that I am actually not so special. Still, I know that I shouldn’t compare myself to others because in the end being a DOP is a very personal job, one can only film the way they do. It is okay to be inspired by others, but don’t get intimidated. It is important to trust yourself.

SALT is a creative production company founded by filmmakers. Our magazine is an exploration through the minds of creators that inspire us. Click here to have a look at our work.   

juli 16, 2019Comments are off for this post.

HESDY LONWIJK

Hesdy Lonwijk has been on his creative journey for more than 11 years now. His career made a jumpstart when his graduation film Color me bad won multiple awards in 2007. With his reality-based storytelling Hesdy is able to question the status quo. During the interview we talked about Hesdy’s filmmaking style, how surrealism influences his work and where he finds his inspiration.

 

What makes your work challenging as a director?

To be honest: I feel like the biggest challenge is wanting everything to be perfect and at the same time trying to get over my own insecurities. Every time I start a movie, it feels like the first time. Each time I feel like that’s when they’re going to find out that I am an impostor and have zero talent for directing. It’s crazy that these thoughts even crossed my mind. Obviously they are there to be ignored but sometimes it’s hard to overcome one’s own insecurities. I now realize it’s either not the right project for me or I am not ready to embark on that particular journey.

Did you ever fear that you couldn’t make money with directing?

Of course, but I started off pretty fearless. The money always followed. Maybe that’s because I could care less about the money itself: I just wanted to created stories and thought everything was possible. The blessing of being naïve. It’s one of the reasons I love working with young people: their naivety is a very big power which adds fearlessness to their approach. For me that’s inspiring: to keep you fire burning – even when you grow out to be an established name (which I am not of course). You have to stay eager and should be willing to do whatever it takes. If you really want your story out there, you must find a way. 

Hesdy LondwijkYou have to stay eager and be willing to do whatever it takes.

When you think back to the time you started out, would you say you had false beliefs or external factors which held you back from starting a career in directing?

I started out thinking I would become a pediatrician and so I made sure I took all the required courses like math, chemistry, physics and Latin. During my college years at some point I let go off the idea of becoming a doctor. I moved to the city of Rotterdam and went into a totally different direction with a study account management. I even interned at an ad agency as a junior copywriter. I took some extracurricular courses in journalistic and script writing in the US, but it still hadn’t daunt on me yet that I was on my way to becoming a filmmaker. Everything fell into place when I saw a director working on a set one day. I knew right away I wanted to be that guy in the middle of all that creative chaos, the one who looked like he knew how to make sense of it all. Still, I had to overcome the biggest obstacle yet which was telling my parents I wanted to go back to (film-)school. In our culture you get recognition when you become a doctor, lawyer, engineer etcetera. Being an 'artist' ranks very low on that social status scale. As expected, they did not really approve, but I went ahead and did it anyway. I just felt somehow that this was the road on which someday I would discover my true calling. Now, it's still around here somewhere but I can't completely say I have found it. Not yet...

You use a lot of poems to communicate with your audience. Why do you use poems and how does implementing them add to your film?

When I was 17, I got inspired by the work of Salvador Dali which led me to start reading books from surrealist authors. This was long before I became a filmmaker. I believe that there is poetry all around and within us despite the fact that most of us live within structured lines, squares. I strive to tell stories in an unstructured way because it resembles how thoughts and ideas takes shape in my mind. None of those are square to begin with so I try as much as I can implement some of it. I feel like I’m only scratching the surface with my work so far. 

You already won two awards in 2005 and 2007 for your short films and afterwards got discovered by the advertising world. Did you always have a plan and if yes, what was the bigger dream?

Back then, I just wanted to tell the story of my graduation film in the style of Alejandro González Iñárritu of whom I am a big fan of. Needless to say we had to take a huge risk because Alejandro applies techniques we weren’t taught at film school We shortlisted and rehearsed the scenes prior to the shoot and placed the camera where the actors wanted to be instead of the other way around. It was an adventure of insecuritie John Cassavetes would say. Ultimately this way of shooting worked in our favor and I still try to apply it to this day. Now did I have a plan how all of it turned out with the awards and such? Definitely not but I already promised myself not to let others - or myself for that matter - box me in. I could shoot commercials on one side and work on socially critical movies. 

If you would get the chance to talk to a creative person or someone who inspires you. Who would it be and why?

The director Alejandro González Iñárritu is a massive inspiration in the way he manages actors. The level of depth and the layering he adds to his stories is inspiring. Before he made Birdman, I heard that he had a midlife crisis where he wasn’t motivated anymore. I can see how that would affect his work. The greatest tool of the director is his mind, perhaps his peace of mind. It's what we carry around and thus bring to the set. This is something I would love to talk to him about, next to the art of filmmaking of course. Next to Alejandro, the cinematographer Bradford Young (Selma, The Arrivals, A most violent year) is a huge source of inspiration for me. He has a strong focus and vision on what is called ‘capturing black bodies’. In short it is to consciously capture black people on screen in an aesthetic way. Seems natural until you realize there is an enormous lack of diversity in the film world. 

What is the biggest lesson you have learned that you can pass on to other filmmakers?

I like see a lot of parallels between the art of filmmaking and running which I started doing about 5 years ago. Approaching a film project is exactly as I would approach a race: instead of focusing on the finish line (final outcome) I break it down to several parts and direct my energy into getting as much joy and knowledge out of each bit. I ran an ultramarathon once and too be honest my preparation wasn’t all that well. But each hill that I climbed, each glimpse of the ocean that I caught, each cheer and smile… it all made me fly and before I knew it I’d hit ¾ of the race. Obviously after that the pain takes over (hahaha) and you have to keep reminding yourself that if you’ve come this far… then why would you stop now. That’s moviemaking in a nutshell: never stop making your dreams become reality even when times get tough. There’s also a valuable lesson when it comes to making the distinction between talent and discipline. I know plenty of filmmakers who are just naturally gifted filmmakers but most of us make it by share perseverance and discipline. In fact, those who end up making it or those who keep pushing no matter what. So stop comparing yourself to others and move at your own speed. As long as you’re moving, you are doing great. 

Do you have a specific plan where you see yourself as a director in some years?

I have worked in this industry for 11 years now. My experience so far has allowed me to to have more say in whatever I collaborate on. I’m looking for creative ownership right now. This means having my own production company first. I’m also setting up a collective for bicultural filmmakers. There is this (un-)conscious, constant underestimation of colored filmmakers (both in front and behind the camera). This in turns leads to a lack of cultural diverse stories which I think is a loss for all of us. And I do mean the everybody who loves a good story. I am going to be one of those people inspiring others to bring the untold stories forward. 

SALT is a creative production company founded by filmmakers. Our magazine is an exploration through the minds of creators that inspire us. Click here to have a look at our work.   

juli 1, 2019Comments are off for this post.

GUY HENDRIX DYAS

From designing Walkmans for Sony to receiving an Oscar nomination for the film 'Passengers', production designer Guy Hendrix Dyas translates visions into epic film sets which are known worldwide. Working alongside directors such as Christopher Nolan, Terry Gilliam and Danny Boyle, Guy has been leaving a lasting impression on millions of viewers. While chatting with the British BAFTA winner we get a moving insight into his creative process for the the film Inception, the importance of communication with the director and DOP as well as translating his vision to the VFX department in post production.

 

To start off, we wanted to talk about the artist M.C. Escher. How does he inspire you?

He’s a great influence, especially for a film like Inception. Christopher Nolan and I tried to create a world that was different to anything else we’d seen. Escher’s influence offered us the opportunity to create a complex dream world in which the audience is manipulated into believing in places and scenarios that are later revealed to be pure imagination; trickery within a dream. We explored the idea of how a mind creates and retains memories.

As Escher said: “Only those who attempt the absurd will achieve the impossible.”

Indeed. As in Escher’s world, you can use two-dimensional images, for example a pencil drawing. But how do you transfer that into a three-dimensional staircase that works as an illusion? It was only after months of designing sets that we were able to recreate the effect of his drawings.

How do you know that the idea you have is the perfect one for a film?

It’s hard to tell. I start to sketch small details, keyframes, and even plans in a sketchbook that I keep for every film. I can’t make the film by myself but I also can’t expect an art director or illustrator to design for me. You never really know if an idea is right but my approach has been trying to get inside the head of the director and imagining how he would envision it. My job is to translate the director's ideas into physical sets. A lot of directors I have worked for can draw really beautiful but they don’t always have the time to do so.

How important is the communication between the director and production designer?

It’s absolutely essential. When I started on Inception with Chris, he had already invested years of research into dreams. Taking his work and weaving it into the design was crucial. The collaboration with each director is unique. For instance, with Terry Gilliam, I spent a lot of time on location in Prague to get inspired by the architecture and the funny personalities we met. We would visit various remote locations with fascinating architecture that was ancient and decaying. The isolated nature of these castles and villages enabled us to meet and interact with some interesting and sometimes eccentric custodians and caretakers. Terry would often get inspired by these characters who would somehow find their way into our film!

Every department has a certain vision. When working together with the visual effects department, I can imagine you would still like to display your vision on the final product even though a different person will take it from there. How do you make sure that your vision for the design of a scene will be shown in the finished finished film?

Visual effects play a huge role in how the audience experiences the final film. The visual effects supervisor usually joins the project early enough to understand the design themes and direction. That department also serves the director and script so we generally have a common goal. I really enjoy working with the visual effects department because they enable me to design more epic worlds with less restrictions.

Guy Hendrix DyasIn the absence of any experience at all, I think one must rely solely on their instincts.

Would you prefer set extension in the digital world over traditional design or the other way around?

It depends on the style of the film. In The Nutcracker, Lasse Hallström wanted a very theatrical and traditional feel to that film. He envisioned the forests looking like painted backdrops, so we employed veteran backdrop painters who had worked in the industry since the 60’s. However, so many films necessitate the use of digital extensions. Ultimately, I enjoy working with both practical and digital environments.

If you had the chance to interview your biggest inspiration, who would it be and why?

My biggest inspiration in the design world is Ken Adam. He designed not only Doctor Strangelove and Barry Lyndon, but also the original James Bond films. He started his career at a very special time because the production designers in the 60’s were very influential for the design community as a whole. Nothing comes close to Ken Adams’ ability to very quickly design a piece of architecture, vehicle or prop. Another person I greatly admire because of his incredible span within the industry is Stuart Craig. He’s a British designer who worked on the Harry Potter series. He is an immense talent still working today.

 

Would you say there is a certain ‘bible’ for production design, or does it all resolve around experience?

I think you make your own ‘bible.’ You build your own experience over the years. Since every project is very different, you use a combination of common sense, instinct and intelligence to approach each film in a unique way. In the absence of any experience at all, I think one must rely solely on their instincts.

After years in the field, what kind of challenges do you still face and what was your biggest one?

Challenges are always there and usually never change. It generally is important to approach the project with optimism and high energy. But the biggest setback is always a lack of time to implement every single idea that I want to use. I get most of them in, but there are always one or two ideas I wish I had more time to perfect.

Could you describe the production design process of your favorite project?

The project that directly comes to my mind is Steve Jobs which was for director Danny Boyle. It was a lower budget film and a controversial project at the same time. Not everybody liked how the script portrayed Steve Jobs although as filmmakers we felt that it was a very interesting look at the man – his genius and flaws. We also knew we wanted the film to be historically accurate, so what followed was an extensive location scout. All the places he had been during the 70's and early 80's were on the list. We discovered these places changed over the years. Therefore, the challenge was not only to recreate the locations but also to evoke emotional responses from the audience to what they were feeling. To recreate the atmosphere of the 70's, 80's and 90's, we used a strong color palette to help guide the audience through the time period they were experiencing.

How did you make sure that the Steve Jobs movie was historically accurate?

There was artistic license, but we also embarked on a massive amount of research. I think it’s virtually impossible for any designer to say a film they designed is 100% historically accurate. It’s hard to achieve that because we weren’t there in most cases especially the further back in time you go. In the case of Steve Jobs, it was relatively easy to imagine an office space in the 1990’s. It’s about researching the right era of telephones, computer screens or remembering how the décor was. I mean, do I know exactly the fabric that was on the couch in Steve’s home? The answer is no. In Steve’s case, he didn’t even have a couch (laughs). In the end, its the set’s details that make it feel authentic.

How did you make use of the artifacts for Agora?

In the case of Agora, I needed to design a Greco-Roman council chamber along with a throne for the ruling Roman aristocrat. The film was set in 391 AD, Alexandria and little more exists from this time period. Even research and museum visits uncovered little more than a few precious artifacts from the time. As a designer, you often use what you can find and apply imagination to arrive at a logical design solution. I had discovered 2 small decorative lions used as paper weights from the period, which I scaled up to create the dramatic arm rests of the throne in the set. By reproducing a real artifact from the period and simply scaling up that object and applying it elsewhere, I was being as true to history as I could.

Are you also talking to researchers and historians?

Absolutely. We had a great historian on Elizabeth: The Golden Age and on Agora, called Justin Pollard. On Steve Jobs, because it is modern history, we talked to people who acended his presentations or had known Steve Jobs himself. Our script was also based on a well researched book by Walter Isaacson.

Guy Hendrix DyasI think you have to design from heart so as to reach the most people.

Do you always think about the audience and what kind of impact the details have when creating a set?

I always think about the audience because you can make a big mistake by creating something that is inappropriate or too attention grabbing at the wrong time. Secondly, it can distract from the director’s vision. Sometimes the director wants an impactful set that stands on its own merits. Other times in a dramatic intimate scene, the director wouldn’t want something that’s going to compete with a subtle moment in the story. As a production designer, you have to find that balance.

Have you experienced that people from different cultures perceive your design in a different way than you originally intended?

Yes, myself being born and raised in England but then moving to America, I see that there are certain aspects of design that speak more successfully to one culture more than another, even though we share one language. I think you have to design from the heart so as to reach the most people.

Was there one moment during your career which you always look back to because it was an incredible moment?

There were many: Walking around location scouting with Terry Gilliam or Danny Boyle is always exciting; Sitting in a meeting room with Steven Spielberg at one end of the table and George Lucas at the other– is a moment where I pinched myself. Also, spending three to four months at Chris Nolan’s garage and designing the world of Inception with him counts as one of the highlights of my career.

SALT is a creative production company founded by filmmakers. Our magazine is an exploration through the minds of creators that inspire us. Click here to have a look at our work.   

 

juni 4, 2019Comments are off for this post.

MARK BONE

Metaphorical imagery, emotional depth and strong purpose are just a few terms that define Mark Bone's films. As a documentary director with a background in cinematography, Mark has developed a profound instinct for conveying subtle messages with abstract imagery. During our conversation with Mark he shared his vision on both personal and commercial projects and gave us some of his secrets to create emotional depth in a story.

You have a background as a director of photography and now you are working as a director. How do you use the knowledge you have as a DOP to your advantage when you are directing?

It's been a journey to have this DOP background but now as a director I'm also able to not only know how to craft visuals but also create the idea itself for a film. Back in school, I had a niche skill for 3D stereography which also got me inspired to continue with it. I later supervised 3D on set but also during post-production. To start my own work as a director now, made me realize how precise I am about operating a camera and the framing that comes along. I trust my DOP's but it also happened before that I grabbed the camera off the DOP and filmed myself. I always tell them in advance to not take offensive if I ask for the camera though (laughs).

Looking at one of your recent projects The Journey, the viewer is following a girl who is seeking for a better life in a new country. Also other people’s journeys and feelings get described. Did you base this film on an issue you have seen or characters you have met before?

Yes, it was based on a story of a girl who came from a country with political prosecution and found a new home at the Matthew House refugee organization. The first video we did for them didn't get published because her family was still in the country and it maybe would have put them in danger. All the circumstances you see in the new video are based either on her story or on stories of people connected to the Matthew House. The project was shot pro-bono. People donated gear, we got music written by one of the biggest bands in Canada and the crew donated their time. When we wrote the script, I was excited to make the film without saying people’s names but still represent their journey. 

How do you find these unique people for your projects?

Some of my stories come from me travelling to new countries but also by asking journalists. Because they usually don’t have the time to sit on one specific story for a long time, I reach out to them to see if they have a fitting story which would make a powerful movie.

Both the Mercedes and Nikon commercial you directed look like they were shot on one location. How do you manage to tell a story that is emotional in only one location?

I like metaphorical imagery. For example, if someone is feeling ashamed to share their story, we would cut off the eyes cinematographically. It has the effect that as a viewer you feel like the person has something to hide. As for both commercials, I like the challenge of being in one place and telling one story. Every time we frame up the camera, me and the DP think of what this frame means. This helps me to be hyper focused on my message with each shot or image. Traveling and having amazing locations can sometimes be distracting to the narrative in the film. The image can be beautiful but as a director you have to consider if it still tells your story and if it's in line with the narrative. 

All your commercial work has an emotional depth to it. Why do you like directing commercials and which elements do you tend to implement into your personal work?

The freedom of collaboration is very powerful during commercial work. You can collaborate with many people in different countries in a short amount of time - I'm going to Germany to film a comedy piece and go back to Canada to shoot a documentary series in the same month, the variety is fun. I always wanted my work to help people gain new perspectives and have a positive influence. In the past, I also didn’t want to do art for the sake of it but I wanted it to have a purpose. With every project I do, I hope that a person could take something from it and put it in a new perspective on their own.

Your latest film Rescate follows a group of volunteer paramedics from the Dominican Republic, working on the most dangerous roads in the world. Why do you feel it's important to bring the message of Reynaldo, who is part of the Rescate organization, out to an audience?

My best friend actually passed away in a plane crash in the Dominican Republic about two years ago. I went to the place where the plane accident happened and this is how I got first introduced to the paramedic rescue team. Back then, the Dominican Republic didn’t have the service of 911 or any publicly funded emergency service. I found out that Reynaldo's team was looking for survivors for a whole week already which personally touched me because they volunteered as paramedics and founded their own organization. As soon as I spoke to them, I wanted their story to be told. The Dominican Republic is a country that's visited by millions of tourists, but these people don't know that 50 yards off the hotel there is this extremely dangerous road that's crazy. During production we were also on national news which made the government see that not only their own people know the situation isn’t good, but also that there are international movies about this issue now. I personally feel moved by people who give their lives for others which comes with the duty to tell their story.

You captured moments of raw emotions, drama and heartbreaking stories in Rescate. How do you handle these personal interactions as a director?

Reynaldo in the graveyard was certainly the most powerful scene to witness as a director. I thought it would be beautiful to see the contrast of a paramedic going through a graveyard with people who passed away from car accidents - and then there is Reynaldo, someone who saves lives. It was a special moment. What made it also a strong scene not only cinematically but also emotionally, is that he showed us the gravestone of his uncle and told us the story of his uncle's car accident, which in turn moved him to become a paramedic. As a filmmaker, it's a precious moment when you earn someone’s trust. He was the one who allowed me in and I didn't want to break that trust. I just want to do justice to people's stories.

Mark BoneI just want to do justice to people's stories.

Rescate is based on following the rescue team, how different is directing a spontaneous crowd from a staged one? What challenges and opportunities brings each?

With actors you can create anything. It is endless. The difficulty here, is that you have to create authenticity. This is what you get with documentary filmmaking when you approach it properly. The beautiful aspect of commercial filming is when you have a good team around you, you can create anything. A documentary, on the other hand, starts with authenticity. When you care for it, you are able to make a moving piece. I feel very lucky to be able to shoot for both worlds. I love being by myself with just a camera but then I also love being on set with 50 people. Seeing my Nikon piece, I had a giant team and a real person in the middle. I would love to combine both worlds more because this experience was amazing.

Mark is part of SALT’s international collective. Have a look at his work here or drop us a line to work with him. 



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