I caught up with Mikael Salomon, ASC as he was waiting for a flight in a departure gate at LAX. Mikael has been staying very busy working as a director and as a father. At the moment, he’s directing an episode of Falling Skies for Dreamworks. The cinematographer is Nathaniel Goodman. Earlier this year, he directed a feature film with Dylan McDermott and Peter Facinelli titled Freezer. In that film, a man is locked into a meat freezer by Russian thugs who believe he owes them money.
“99% of the movie takes place in that freezer,” says Mikael. “It both terrified and thrilled me, because it was an exercise in how to keep things interesting for an hour and a half in the same location. It was a constant battle to renew yourself. We shot it in 15 days up in Edmonton, Canada, on Alexa, and the budget was $2.4 million. The response has been great. People say it felt claustrophobic, but not cinematically claustrophobic, and it never feels like we’re repeating shots.”
The cinematographer on Freezer was a Canadian named John Dyer. “I can’t always choose my cinematographer, but I had done a pilot with John, and I knew he was going to be perfect,” says Mikael. “The crew in Edmonton was brilliant — really very good.”
Mikael is also prepping a bigger feature that he can’t talk about yet, except to say that it will likely be shot in New Zealand with a budget of around $50 million. And he also recently directed a series of commercials for the National Guard. Contrary to the inaccurate information on his iMDB page, Mikael likes doing a little bit of everything — features, television, miniseries, commercials.
“As long as it’s great narrative, I don’t care,” he says. “Commercials are fun, but I always say you can’t eat dessert all the time — after a while you want a steak. There’s a lot of development going on out there right now.”
Mikael and his wife, Nancy, have two young children, a boy who is 7 and a girl of 10 who is studying dance. He recently took them along to Monte Carlo, where he was on the jury of the Monte Carlo Television Festival. “We had a great time,” he says. “It’s the glory aspect of filmmaking, which you don’t see much of when you’re out there in the mud and the rain. That’s why I’m home for the weekend — Canadian Thanksgiving gave me a chance to get home and see my family.”
I asked Mikael if he misses shooting, which he gave up in the mid-1990s. His final DP assignment was Far and Away, directed by Ron Howard and shot on 65mm film. “Sometimes I get a pang,” he says. “But on the other hand, I made a decision. I remember Connie Hall [ASC] asking me, ‘How do you get to direct?’ And I said, ‘You turn down those juicy DP jobs!’ I got offered everything, but I had made my decision, after shooting something like 40 features. I loved being a DP — it’s a fantastic job. I just felt I needed to move on. And this actually allows me to have more time with my family, during prep and editing.
“I plan to keep my ASC initials forever,” says Mikael. “I remember becoming a member there, I think it was in ’87 — that was the proudest moment of my life. It was what I always wanted. Harry Wolf [ASC] was one of my sponsors, and I remember his generosity. I still have his autograph, on the back of the plaque you get when you become a member.”
Mikael’s father was an avid amateur filmmaker who had acted in Berlin between the wars. He shot home movies on a French 9.5mm format, in color even in the 1950s. Mikael borrowed his camera and built a theater in the basement of their home, adding music with a record player, and eventually, a darkroom. Those were his first steps towards professional filmmaking.
“I got the notion that I wanted to be a cameraman,” says Mikael. “My dad said, ‘What is that? Why would you want to do that?’ But after a while he thought it was OK. And he actually lived to see me nominated for an Academy Award, so that was really wonderful.”