Steven Holleran has been interviewed for the Fstoppers before … twice, actually. But, with good reason: His approach to cinematography and his work behind the lens is constantly pushing the boundaries of creative, thoughtful filmmaking. Read more to learn of Holleran’s most recent accomplishment.
The LAUNCH Million Dollar Screenplay Competition was founded in early 2018 by Zachary Green and Jason Shuman “to help college students break into the business and have a chance to have their future film made.”
In its first year, Nigerian-native and USC-student Stanley Kalu won the competition with his screenplay, “The Obituary of Tunde Johnson.” Just weeks later, a crew was put together and Holleran was selected as the cinematographer for the film. Pre-production began a mere two months after Kalu won.
But two facts make this even more remarkable: In early August, the film was selected to be featured in the Toronto International Film Festival; and Holleran shot the film entirely on Canon’s new C700 full frame cinema camera.
This full-frame model is the successor of Canon’s earlier C700 model, which was the company’s flagship cinema camera.
“I used Canon’s full frame camera because it gave me the ability to use anamorphic lenses” Holleran said. “It allowed me to shoot in 5.8K, then crop a 4K anamorphic image out of the sensor. Not many cameras on the market can do this.”
This was also helpful for Holleran because he was able to utilize dual recording on set, making a proxy and full-res image at the same time. The proxies allowed the crew to have dailies for review on the viewing platform almost immediately, while raws were sent straight to the color house. For an indy production, any cost-effective and efficient approach to filmmaking, like this, is appreciated.
“This was my first encounter with the C700 full frame system so we were learning a completely different menu and build. But the camera is as industry standard as a SONY or Alexa,” Holleran said. “Not only was it functional but it created a beautiful, soft, cinematic image. I’d definitely use it again.”
Another challenge with the shoot was the nature of the screenwriting. Resembling “Groundhog Day” in its narrative structure, “The Obituary of Tunde Johnson” is about a black, gay high school student who is caught reliving the same day. Our main characters relives his death over and over again, all while dealing with the internal struggle of how to be honest about his sexuality.
From a cinematography standpoint, keeping storylines in order when shooting multiple different time loops a day can be a serious battle. “It was the most challenging part of the shoot, but also the most exciting,” Holleran said. “We were all pushed, intellectually to stay on top of the script.”
What I personally enjoy most about Holleran and his style is not just his creativity behind the lens, but his honesty, passion, and genre of films. He consistently is involved with projects that relate to contemporary and usually debated social and political topics. Audiences of Holleran’s work often leave theaters with a broader perspective on the world and mindsets that can’t stop thinking of the script’s deeper meanings.
“I got into filmmaking to learn about the world and other people. I want to share stories and perspectives that people might not have heard before,” Holleran said. “The art of cinematography is beautiful because both the cinematographer and viewer can learn something. These movies with a unique vision and strong voice can make viewers ask questions that linger long after the film ended.”
“The Obituary of Tunde Johnson” is scheduled to premiere for the first time at TIFF on Sunday, September 8, 2019.
All images used with the permission of Steven Holleran.