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19th June 2017
Salomon’s tales
Title of film: Daughter, Medicine
Director: Salomon Ligthelm
Not shy to explore sensitive narratives, Stink Films new director Salomon Ligthelm can also get gritty with a gangland story on the streets of Paris. Authentic narratives which resonate with cinematic craft

Please describe your childhood. 

I guess I had a somewhat ‘normal’ childhood, except for the fact that we moved around a bit. 

I grew up in a conservative Afrikaans-speaking home in South Africa, and then when I was twelve we emmigrated to Dubai, UAE, where I spent the rest of my teens and early twenties. 

Both places never offered me much in terms of a creative community or culture, but because I grew up with the Internet, I had a digital community and platform for collaboration, which was the catalyst for my journey into film and music. 

Truth is, I have really loving parents who have always found ways to support my creative instincts or ambitions – from my dad buying me an iMac with Pro Tools at age 16, because of my interest in music, or deterring me from studying medicine or chemistry because he knew I’d be much happier doing something creative – they’ve always looked out for me and opened those early doors. 

The cinematography in all of your films is beautiful, the framing and the lighting add so much depth to your narratives. Please tell us where and how you learnt your filmmaking craft. 

I was originally interested in music – I wanted to produce albums and write my own – so I ended up studying sound engineering at SAE in Dubai. 

I immediately got a job as a creative – looking after a couple creative streams within the company – most of which consisted of sound design, or doing live sound work, but I quickly got bored. 

This was around 2010 – the DSLR-movement was just starting to take off. 
I decided to buy a 7D and devoted all my free time to learning, making experimental short films every week.

I had no idea about story at the time, but always wanted to have strong concepts, so while many young DSLR shooters were shooting lens tests or camera tests, I was trying to shoot simple concepts or ideas that had some sort of creative through-line.

Looking back at it now, I think that was the thing that also separated people like Gustav Johansson and others from the DSLR noise.

Was there a moment when you felt you had established your own distinct film language?

It’s interesting. I would say that the needle is always shifting for me, but two films stand out as landmark moments for me personally. 

I think Rocket Wars and Mr Martyr are two films that hold very strong personal importance for me; they remind me of certain points of my life. I can’t really put my finger on it specifically, but I think both tap into a side of my personality that I’ve locked up for years having lived in two very conservative cultures. 

There are certainly elements within most of the last couple of films that I’ve worked on that are things I want to keep focusing on as my film sensibilities keep developing.

Do you write your own scripts? Or develop a scriptwriter’s work into visuals?

I write most of my own scripts, but I’m also trying to develop a feature and definitely will be collaborating with a writer on the longer form work. 

You shot your latest piece for Young Fathers, Mr Martyr, on Super 16mm. What was behind this decision?

I’ve always had a fascination with film, but never had the budget or experience of a team to pull it off. 

I wanted a very raw and immediate feel to the images, as the subject matter naturally lent itself to it.

Film has a certain ‘timeless’ quality to it – the way the grain, the colors and the contrast of film affects the look of the picture was something I really wanted for this project. 

We ended up shooting with the Arri 416 and Vantage 1.3x S16 Anamorphic lenses, which is my favorite combination at the moment. 

Please tell us about your creative process for making Mr Martyr – did you write the script and was it in response to the lyrics. What was behind you decision to shoot this video?

Mr Martyr came about while I was in prep for a commercial, which was slowly going through a series of compromises that was really starting to take its toll on me. 

I sat down at the table in my hotel after a difficult day at work, and just started writing.

I didn’t have a track in mind, but thought I’d dig into Spotify and see if I could find anything that stuck. 

I then stumbled upon Young Fathers, via one of their colabs with Massive Attack and eventually found Mr Martyr – which was EXACTLY what I was after.

What were the main challenges of making Mr Martyr and how did you resolve them?

I think the main challenge we had was doing something with practically zero budget. 

It just always means you have to hustle to get stuff going – we were shooting 16mm, which can also stress producers out because of the assumed price tag and production requirements.

But going the 16mm route definitely helped speed production up, as we didn’t overshoot, which in turn also made the edit a lot easier to deal with.

Cinematography aside, we see that you are referenced also for creating sound and music scores, such as an earlier piece we showcased from Variable (link here).  

Sound in fact plays a very powerful part in your videos. Are you thinking in sound as much as visuals when you are crafting a film? How does that work in your creative process?

I certainly used to think of sound a lot more when considering projects. But recently I find myself being drawn to interesting characters, more so than visual or sonic ideas. 

I think my process has evolved from cutting projects around a piece of music, to cutting them based on the beauty of the images, and now I’m trying to focus on developing projects around performance and characters. 

But the process will come full-circle, there’s no wrong or right way…every artist evolves differently, and has a different emphasis that might shift with time.

You directed one of our favourite films from the last couple of years – Rocket Wars – and we were a little surprised to find we hadn’t featured it on 1.4. How do you come across such diverse subjects such as this Greek village story and what is behind your decision to go-ahead with making a particular film.  

That’s very nice of you guys – gush!!

I’m always searching for stories, or some sort of hook into a story – whether it be from events (Rocket Wars), or people (Medicine) or a specific moment in time (Our Future is in Baltimore). 

I also immerse myself in magazines, news publications, and youtube…I’m not much of a book reader, but I’ll spend hours upon hours jumping from one tab of my browser to the next, trying to dig through articles or short stories

There’s a sincerity and authenticity in your work and you go into emotional territories where some younger people fear to tread, perhaps reticent to appear sentimental. I’m thinking of your film Medicine for the band Daughter as an example. When you were making this film were you drawing on a personal experience? 

Thanks for asking this question – it’s one that comes up a lot these days and I think you’re totally right – art and emotion, for the most part, have become mutually exclusive, specifically amongst young creatives. 

Derek Cianfrance’s (Blue Valentine, Place Beyond the Pines) wife wrote an open letter after critics slammed his film ‘A Light Between Oceans’ in large part due to its emotional tenor.
She writes, “..I truly wondered what was going on. Did these critics have an allergy to vulnerability? Maybe hankies are out of fashion, but what about an emotional cleanse? Some of us long to sit in a theater and eat our popcorn and feel all that we can feel, like a sponge in a protected reef. This is our last sanctuary for vulnerability…”

And I recently read an interview with Patty Jenkins (Monster) where she said “..I’m tired of sincerity being something we have to be afraid of doing. It’s been like that for 20 years, that the entertainment and art world has shied away from sincerity, real sincerity, because they feel they have to wink at the audience because that’s what the kids like. We have to do the real stories now. The world is in crisis. I wanted to tell a story about a hero who believes in love, who is filled with love, who believes in change and the betterment of mankind. I believe in it. It’s terrible when it makes so many artists afraid to be sincere and truthful and emotional, and relegates them to the too-cool-for-school department. Art is supposed to bring beauty to the world.” 

I totally agree with them on that point. I want to create a spectrum of work – from violent, irreverent and subversive to sensitive and vulnerable – and more than that I want do it within the same film – Jacques Audiard is a master at that.

I don’t want everything to be so trendy and cool, that it is void of any soul – I love work that has a heartbeat – and much of what is currently out there, is ‘cool’, but it doesn’t really move me.

Medicine wasn’t quite drawn from personal experience, but I certainly saw my grandparents in Terry and Becky (the protagonists of the film), and so I naturally empathized with their story and the dynamics of their complicated yet sacrificial love.

You seem to work globally. Where do you call home now? 

Yeah I try and keep moving around and finding stories that have a unique cultural point of view, but home for me is New York City, and I’m wanting to spend a bit more time here – trying to unearth stories from the city’s underbelly.

Mr Martyr Producer: Jean Villiers Line Producer: Francois Jaunet Unit Location Manager: Benoit Demoucron Assistant Unit Manager: Remi Brachet Assistant Unit Manager: Anthony Cazet Assistant Unit Manager: Stanislas Delardmelle Director: Salomon Ligthelm 1st AD: Christophe Szegedi 2nd AD: Daniel Cox DP: Zack Spiger 1st AC: Melodie Preel 2nd AC: Josephine Drouin Gaffer: Baptiste Brousse Gaffer Assistant: Emile Freeman Art Director: Valerie Valero Dresser: Corentin Harle Dresser Assistant: Simon Pinelli Make Up: Micka Arasco Boom Operator: Toby Lewis Thomas Editor: Nate Gross at Exile Edit Valvolene, Never Idle Agency: Big Communications Chief Creative Officer: Ford Wiles Motion Design Director: Brian Curtin Producer: Dan Atchison Director of Account Management: Nathan Stuckey Senior Account Executive: Mary Jane Cleage Production Company: Variable Director: Salomon Ligthelm Executive Producer: Tyler Ginter Producer: Alex Friedman Production Supervisor: Bo Crutcher Commercial Coordinator: Lean Bullock 1st AD: Ryan Ramos Director of Photography: Kate Arizmendi 1st AC: Spencer Goodall 2nd AC: Elver Hernandez 16mm Film Camera Op: Kevin Clark DIT: Jeff Levine Gaffer: Kiva Knight Best Boy Electric: Mark Farney & Tony Jou Key Grip: Doug Sampson Bey Boy Grip: Colton Currey Art Director: Joe Sciacca Set Dresser: Steven Valdez Prop Assistant: Dave Spacone Hair/Make Up/Wardrobe: Meredith Cross Location Scout/Manager: Vincent Lopez BTS Photographer: Todd Weaver BTS Video: Baxter Stapleton Medic: Norm Jones PA: Jacob Esquivel PA: Benjamin Brinker PA: Erik Artavia PA: Johnnie Aragon Grade (Dir Cut): Mikey Rossiter (The Mill) Grade (Client/Agency Cut): Greyson Welch Edit: Brian Curtin (BIG Communications) Sound Design: Echolab Additional Editing + Sound Design: Salomon Ligthelm Daughter, Medicine Director: Salomon Ligthelm Director of Photography: Khalid Mohtaseb Story: Salomon Ligthelm + Khalid Mohtaseb Producer: Jens Jacob Executive Producers: Khalid Mohtaseb, Salomon Ligthelm, Jens Jacob Line Producer: Cara Venter Production Designer: Joe Scaccia 1st AC/Additional Photography: Mobolaji 'Mobi' Olaoniye Steadicam Operator: Andrew Ansnick Gaffer: Brad Burke Key Grip: Keitaro 'Johnny' Cloward 2nd AC: Otter Moore Production Coordinator & Location Manager: Manuel Ruiz Editing: Matt Osborne Additional Editing: Salomon Ligthelm Sound Design: Q Department Talent: Terry and Becky Sexton Production Company: Sibling, Sypher Films Rocket Wars Production Company / Creative Collective: Variable Director: Salomon Ligthelm Director of Photography: Khalid Mohtaseb 2nd Unit Director: Jonathan Bregel Phantom Camera Cinematographer: Jonathan Bregel Executive Producer: Tyler Ginter Producer: Alex Friedman Production Supervisor: Paige DeMarco Phantom Tech / 1st Assistant Camera / DIT: Jeff Levine Art Director / Gaffer / Grip: Brad Burke Fixer: Eleni Fanariotou RC Helicopter: Snaproll Media / Post Production: Variable Editor: Salomon Ligthelm Assistant Editor: Simon Reinert Story Consultant: Spyros Dahlias Colorist: Sal Malifatano @ Nice Shoes Sound Mix / Sound Design: Defacto Sound