2020.01.27    -    EPISODE #9

Salomon Ligthelm

NYC | Director

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Let us introduce you to Salomon Ligthelm, the ninth guest of the digital project #HouseOfMolteni. Read the full interview to discover his love and deep passion for the filmmaking processes.

2020
27.01

EPISODE #9

Salomon Ligthelm

NYC | Director

Let us introduce you to Salomon Ligthelm, the ninth guest of the digital project #HouseOfMolteni. Read the full interview to discover his love and deep passion for the filmmaking processes.

1 | Tell us a little bit about yourself and your place.

1 | Tell us a little bit about yourself and your place.

I direct commercials and music videos and this is my new office. My first office was in Green Point, which is where I live, but I wanted to find a place that was in a more central part of the city, like Lower East Side / Chinatown, where we are now. Perhaps it’s the last place in NY that has a vibe, that doesn’t feel overly commercialized. It just has an edge, like the films of the 1970s that you remember. I also share the place with two other directors, who are also close friends of mine. It’s really good as we professionally stimulate each other, chat about the business. There’s even a visual effects company downstairs, which I collaborate with often. We’re actually working together on a music video at the moment.

2 | Before New York, you lived in Johannesburg, Dubai and Sydney. How have these different cultures influenced your path and your work?

I was born and grew up in Johannesburg, in post-Apartheid South Africa. My dad worked in IT and, when I was 12, he moved part of his business to Dubai. I spent my high school years growing up there and then college. After college I moved to Australia and spent 3 years in Sydney working as an editor, but took time outside of my day job to really learn about directing, doing passion projects on the side. Because of that work, I got hired by a company here in NY, where I’ve now been for 5 years.
I loved the experience of growing up and living in different places, as it has given me a perspective that I think comes through in my work. I really have an appreciation for people of different cultures and creative expressions, and like to show the subculture of a place in my work. I’m always excited when there is a job that takes me to a different part of the world, where I can find different groups of people and cultures that I can put under the microscope.

3 | What do you like the most about New York, and what does this city mean to a filmmaker?

My very first time in New York was in 2010. My mind was just blown away; it was just like how you imagine it in the movies. I was immediately stimulated by the city, and decided I wanted to live here. I’ve been in NY for 5 years now. It’s an amazing city because it has the aesthetics that I enjoy from a cinematic standpoint. It’s really good for filmmaking, so great on camera. The mix of cultures is also great – it’s basically the world in one city and that’s what I really like about it. We live in a Polish-Puerto Rican neighborhood and that dynamic is just awesome. The whole city is saturated with creative people from all over the place, and being able to rub shoulders and being inspired by those people is amazing. You can have that kind of experience only here, and maybe LA or London.

4 | You are a design enthusiast. Do you have any design pieces at home, and if so, do you have a favorite?

4 | You are a design enthusiast. Do you have any design pieces at home, and if so, do you have a favorite?

Since I got into filmmaking, and I started creating sets, worlds and realities, my interest in design has really increased. Film is a media that incorporates every type of artistic expression, and obviously design is an aspect of that too. There’s an artist in Bushwick - I can’t remember the name - that frames paintings and photos, and I went to his workshop with some things that I bought in South Africa. He had these Bonsai trees in a volcanic rock formation that he had cut with such precision that they looked almost digital. It was one of the coolest things that I’d ever seen, just from and aesthetic standpoint, but it was too expensive for me to buy at the time.

5 I NYC offers an overwhelming amount of details and inspirations. How do you capture them? Are there any spots of the city you go to find new ideas?

When I first moved here, I was like every other person who moves here; you just shoot Manhattan, but then you go to Buschwick, to the other neighborhoods and you start to see how amazing they are, and the different cultures and subcultures within them. Lately I’ve also been interested in Upstate NY, getting away from the cliché of Manhattan and finding these really weird, almost Scandinavian inspiring landscapes.
I recently bought a car and I make the trip there often, especially in winter when it’s more desolate, a little colder.
In NY, I don’t have a set place that I go to for inspiration. There’s a place just outside my house in Brooklyn, on the water, or I just walk the streets around the office, on Canal Street, or the park on Essex Street.

6 I How did you get into filmmaking?

6 I How did you get into filmmaking?

Music was my first interest, and it led me into audio engineering. I wanted to study recording, in a more formal way, and then I started getting into sound design and that made me think “Ok, now I can put pictures to what I am creating sonically”. So I bought a stills camera, a 450D. My girlfriend at the time - now my wife - was really into photography and had a 400D camera. I guess I wanted to impress her, so I then bought the 7D, just to get one up on her. It was still the early days, when Vimeo came onto the scene and everyone was putting up their camera tests, cats or something. But there were a couple of us trying to tell stories and create concepts. I wanted to do things that were a bit different from what everyone else was doing, and, as cheesy or silly as it was, that started to get some traction and recognition. And then I got hired, moved to Sydney and spent time there as an editor, started directing on the side and it basically snowballed from there.

7 I What is your favorite part of the job, and what is the hardest?

Filmmaking is really hard, especially if you compare it to making music, and I don’t want to say that making music is so easy. But, if you look around, I’ve got a computer and a piano there, and I could make a whole track all by myself. Filmmaking inherently requires a team, a number of people to produce good work. When I started, I could pick up a camera and just film things by myself, but it would always be one type of work. When you want to grow, and things become a little more technical, you have to include more people in the process. And that’s the part that I’ve come to enjoy a lot about filmmaking; meeting new people, being part of a community. There’s a very good culture of filmmakers in NY, rubbing shoulders and sharing ideas.
The most meaningful thing that I’ve done, even for myself, is this music video based on a true story that I shot out in Lone Pine. There were cowboys; one of them was blind and another was taking care of his wife. The relationship’s dynamic between them was similar to the story of my grandfather and grandmother, and I was kind of able to experience my grandparents through them. That was like a wake up call, in a very therapeutic and psychological sense. That’s another thing I really like.
Some of the challenges, on the commercial and music videos that I do, come from dealing with the political dynamics of working with agencies and clients. That’s a part of the game I’m trying to figure out how to do better.

8 I We loved your films. Each one of them shows a really warm and intense atmosphere. Where does it stem from and how do you make it?

8 I We loved your films. Each one of them shows a really warm and intense atmosphere. Where does it stem from and how do you make it?

What some people call intensity about my work, I think is just me processing things as I’m growing older, like a cathartic release of ideas or things I’m going through. I wrestle a lot with the way that life is, how people carry themselves, and the dynamics of relationships. Those things just bleed into the work as a natural bi-product of my thinking. In some ways music videos tend to be a little more personal, and warmer because it’s more me. But even in the commercial work, I try to provide, or show, some sort of soul. I love work that is aesthetically interesting and cool, but I always try to get some soul or character into it.

9 I You have worked in beautiful places and amazing locations. Do you have a favorite one?

I really like cold and desolate places, and maybe that’s part of the reason why I live in New York as opposed to LA. I also love to shoot in Iceland, and not just for its landscapes. There are still many untapped things there that I’d love to explore, even in a Nordic city like Reykjavik. And then Kiev; I really love shooting in Kiev. I find the people there really interesting.

10 I Is there a particular set that you remember the most?

Apart from the cowboy couple I was telling you about before, the other best experience was when I was doing a film about street kids and gangs in Paris. Some of those things are really risky, as people are living in illegal spaces and you’re going in there filming, so you have to be careful. These are probably the two most memorable experiences that I’ve had.

11 I What is the craziest thing that has ever happened in your work?

One was a technical thing… we were shooting a car commercial, in super remote China. We were following this car, with a Russian arm camera crane, and the operator didn’t see there was an obstacle on the way. We bashed into it and lost the crane arm. We were seven hours away from any kind of civilization and we still had to keep shooting – it was for a big client – so we had to go hand-held. It was a bit of a compromise, and the only option we had, but eventually ended up having amazing footage anyway. On another shoot, we were filming late one night, with smoke all around for the scene. It was a passion project shoot, and we were close to a house where they were making crystal meth. Everyone in this super small town knew that these people were pretty scary. At 3am we started hearing this guy shouting really loudly - as though he was out of his mind - and saw a green laser pointer cutting through the smoke and thought he had a gun. We had to shut the thing down, everyone was so nervous

12 I Is there a specific person you would like to work with?

I’d like to work with Kanye West and with Shia LaBeouf. They both have this super wild energy that I think is either magic or destructive. You don’t really know what you’re going to get, but I’d be keen to go there with them.

13 I Do you have any secret passions or hobbies?

I love music and I love surfing as well, even in NY, as much as we get waves.

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