Two-time Emmy award winner and Documentary film-maker Paul Saltzmann

Recently, Paul Saltzmann spoke at TEDx Waterloo. I had a chance to jot down some notes.

Paul Saltzmann worked at the NFB in the Montreal office at the age of 23. What he learned while working at the NFB is to “pause” and not to try to fill the void. The universe will give us opportunities.
As a young man, there were parts of himself that he didn’t like. Eventually, a voice inside of him told him to get away from the environment he grew up in to get a clearer view of himself.

Paul told the story of how he heard an NFB Director was going to Bombay, India and he wanted to get out of Montreal and find himself so he asked the director if he could go as his cinematographer. The director had already hired someone from the UK, but instead of walking away, he paused, and Paul stood in front of him, pausing as well. It was a long enough pause that the director asked, “Have you ever done sound?” Although Paul had never done sound, he said “yes” anyway and was soon off to Bombay India.

In India, Paul worked on a film for six weeks before receiving a letter from his girlfriend that she had moved in with “Henry”. Heartbroken, Paul tried meditation to heal his broken heart. The Beatles were at a meditation facility overlooking the Ganges in India recording an album. The place was closed to the public. “Not at the PRESENT time” a man at the gate told Paul when he asked if he could come in and learn how to meditate to heal his broken heart. Paul heard the word “present” and asked “can I wait?” He slept eight days outside waiting. Eventually, the man who taught meditation came back and let Paul in. After a week of meditation, Paul says his broken heart was healed and he felt better. One day he was walking past an open area of the complex with a beautiful view off a cliff and saw members of the Beatles including John Lennon and Paul McCartney sitting at a table with their girlfriends and spouses. McCartney offered him a chair after Saltzmann asked if he could take a chair. Paul’s internal voice told him they were just regular people and he began to talk with them. McCartney told him they had everything they ever wanted but it didn’t mean happiness. That was still something else you had to find for yourself. I suspect the broken heart story was a great excuse for getting into the complex, but Saltzmann is a fantastic storyteller and can be forgiven for being so ambitious.

Recently, Paul produced a documentary for the NFB called “Prom Night in Mississippi”. It took five months to film in Charleston. Actor Morgan Freeman had offered to pay for a black and white mixed race prom 10 years earlier. Paul called him and asked if the offer still stood. There was silence on the other end and so Paul paused and let the silence continue. Morgan Freeman answered that the offer did still stand. Paul went down and documented the whole process leading up to and including the event.

Saltzmann’s sage advice…slow down and notice the spaces the universe offers you…listen…and you will see opportunities open up for you.

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