Meet Saloum N’Jie, who was Assistant Director on Netflix’s Bridgerton; as this article went to print it had clocked up 68 million viewers. The graduate of a #LAMDA course at Springboard Islington College, in London was the first ever black Assistant Director to work on a 007 #Bond movie since the franchise began in the 1960s, when he worked on “Tomorrow Never Dies.” The first feature film he worked on was “The Man That Knew Too Little,” which was directed by Jon Amiel and starred Bill Murray. His other credits include directing a number of pop promos and short films, including “Day Before the Jam,” which won best short film at the Portobello Film Festival in 2000. Others included “Cups of Coffee and Angel Cake” in 2003, which was selected as part of the Real 2 Real season on BBC2.
Saloum, an accomplished musician, has played for the most successful steel band in #Europe: The Ebony Steel Band, for 20 years as a percussionist. In his spare time he has participated in #Cineclub, which is an after school program teaching children the art of filmmaking from pre-production through to the finished film. He has also worked for Camp America’s Summer Camps on the east and west coast teaching disabled children and adults music and drama as a form of therapy. ALT A caught up with him to talk career, Bridgerton and #diversity.
ALT: Did you go to film school?
No, I did not go to film school. As a teenager I attended a place in Ladbroke Grove called Massive Videos, it was run by a great guy called Barney Platts Mills. He was a wonderful filmmaker that gave a few of us his time and equipment, he encouraged us to go out and make films, it was great fun. This led to an opportunity to be a runner on a Bill Murray film called “The Man That Knew Too Little”, which was shot in Ladbroke Grove. Once my foot was in the door, that was it.
ALT: For our Creative Careers section what does the AD do?
The role of an Assistant Director ranges from being the right hand person to the director, creating a production schedule, preparing the daily call sheet that tells everyone what we are shooting and where, checking cast and crew and making sure the film shoot runs smoothly and on time. I was a Crowd AD on #Bridgerton along with a fantastic team of ADs. My specific role was to direct all the extras, ranging from 8 up to 200 SA’s (Supporting Artists) depending on the scene, so a lot of the ball room, market scene and town folk. We would get to work sometimes at 04:30 to sign in the crowd and at times there where hundreds of them all going through hair/make up and costume, to then travel to set and work with the Director.
ALT: Let’s talk about Bridgeton what have you liked most about working on that project?
The fact that it was the first time I had worked on a costume drama that celebrated diversity with the cast in front and behind the camera. To see Black characters dress well, speak well and are members of nobility and Royalty put and continues to put a big smile on my face.
ALT: What do you like most about your job and what have been the most memorable moments of your career?
The best thing about what I do is that I meet people from all over the world and have forged great friendships. The location changes all the time, I get to travel to some amazing locations and I get to be part of and tell great stories that will be seen somewhere forever. Apart from working on Bridgerton, my most memorable moments in my career were working on the Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies, it was the second movie I ever worked on and it was epic. As well as Wrath of the Titans, World War Z and Notting Hill Carnival online, there are so many to mention!
ALT: With 18 years + in the industry what would the older Saloum say to the 19 year old?
ALT: What has been your 2020 defining moment either personal or professional?
I was born in Ladbroke Grove and have been surrounded by carnival all my life. My Grandmother Lady Lee MBE has been involved in children’s carnival for over 45 years and is one of the founding members. I have a deep history and experience of the culture. So, when I was given the opportunity to direct the Notting Hill Carnival online experience I was honoured and humbled to take on a responsibility of this size as it means so much to so many people. We shot it over a period of three months in venues like the Royal Albert Hall and Abbey Road Studios to name a few. It was a rollercoaster ride of steel bands, Mas Bands, Sound Systems and much more, long days but great fun.
ALT: Were you on set during the pandemic if so what was that like?
Yes, we shot the Notting Hill Carnival footage after the first lockdown where we followed strict Covid measures every single day. Our temperatures were taken daily, we had to wear masks and crew was kept to a minimum.
ALT: What tips would you give to anyone pursuing a Career As An Assistant Director?
I would say email studios, find out what productions are shooting, get to know who the line producer or 1st AD is and send in your CV. Perseverance is key.
ALT: Power to the diverse casting in Bridgerton are you optimistic that this will be the norm any time soon?
YES! It has to be. It has been accepted into millions of households all over the world for that same reason. Lets all work together to bring positive entertainment to each and everybody. I would hope that writers and commissioners will look at Bridgerton as a template to write great roles for Black actors in period dramas not only as the help or slaves but owners, educators and wealthy people.
ALT: Any fave characters in the show?
That’s a difficult question as all the characters are terrific. I would have to say Lady Danbury played by Adjoa Andoh, Eloise played by Claudia Jessie, Queen Charlotte played by Golda Rosheuvel, Daphne played by Phoebe Dynevor and of course Simon, played by my brother Rege-Jean Page.
CAREER CHOICE: SO YOU WANT TO BE AN AD
To get started you can search for film and TV companies to approach for experience through media business listing services like PACT and The Knowledge. Many AD start of as runners on set, and work their way up to 3rd or 2nd assistant director (AD). It can take several years to progress from being a runner through to 1st AD.