Recently I attended a documentary making master class hosted by the Atlantic Filmmakers Cooperative and taught by filmmaker Paul Saltzman. Saltzman is a two-time Canadian Emmy Award-winning film and television producer-director with more than 300 films to his credit including the 2008 documentary Prom Night in Mississippi. That film featured actor Morgan Freeman and premiered at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival.

One of the most memorable things Saltzman has heard in his life happened when he was staying with The Beatles in India. George Harrison’s revealing words to Paul were: “Like we are The Beatles, after all, aren’t we? We have all the money you could ever dream of, we have all the fame you could ever wish for. But it isn’t love. It isn’t health. It isn’t peace inside, is it?

He shared knowledge and life lessons during the four hour class. He mentioned his background as a news cameraman and how he didn’t like the cycle of feeding a monster everyday. It wasn’t who he was so he moved on and began producing films. He prefers to make films about people who give him courage and I think that’s a wonderful reason to pick up a camera.

Prom Night in Mississippi was shot over a four month period in 2008 using $750,000 of the director’s own money. The film follows a group of Charleston High School high school seniors in Charleston, Mississippi as they prepare for their senior prom, the first racially integrated prom in Charleston history. Prior to this, hard to believe as it is, proms were divided between black and white students. All in the crew of three shot over 165 hours of footage, 89 minutes of which were used in the final version. It was shown on HBO, premiered in Toronto on November 12, 2009, and had its theatrical release on December 11, 2009. I saw it during the Atlantic Film Festival.

One thing Paul mentioned besides the Beatles quote the tI’l remember. He said if you want to make a film you have to imagine yourself in a limo in Hollywood on the way to the awards show. Imagine the red carpet and visualize all the people, imagine the applause, the reaction, … now make that film that would be for. Meditate on that.

Some other points mentioned by Paul:

  • Not in control doesn’t mean out of control, it means in the flow
  • Teachers can only teach their limits, not yours
  • You can work through desire but you cannot transcend it
  • Give back. Find a way. During the filming of Prom Night Pau taught filmmaking at the school for free
  • I need to get to Toronto in April for the course Documentary Storytelling and Film Structurel by Tom Schlesinger.

Paul wants to live to be 107 years old so he can see what the world looks like in 2050.

What a great way to spend four hours!