In today’s cinematic landscape, rife with innovation, creators must constantly up the ante with their projects and be willing to take risks to get a job done. Cinematographer Steve Holleran knows this, and he isn’t new to making bold moves in order to get his work completed.
Holleran first developed a love for visual story-telling when his father gifted him a camera at the age of 12, leading the young boy to pursue a life in film. He went on to study film at Boden College, afterwards receiving a Masters in Cinematography at USC.
It’s here that he began work on a short film called “The Land”, where, whilst shooting, he found himself in the middle of a gunfight. This didn’t deter Holleran from continuing on in his career, nor did it affect his tolerance for danger in the workplace moving forward. Holleran later went on to work on a film called “Fire Chasers”, which required the crew to well…chase fires.
Holleran was caught in a life-threatening fire which blew up one of their production vehicles, faced with days full of extreme heat, and hiked around blazing pits of flame, none of which shook his determination to make the film he envisioned.
Now, Holleran is making waves again—though this time in a significantly less life-threatening way. The cinematographer has recently completed his work as Director of Photography on Qasim Basir’s Sundance film “A Boy. A Girl. A Dream,” which he shot in a single take.
The 90 minute feature, shot to emulate real time, follows two strangers who meet during the closing hours of the 2016 American Presidential election, following them from a nightclub to a taxi to a party, and eventually all around LA.
According to an interview with Holleran by NoFilmSchool, the single-take approach surfaced for a number of reason.
First, there was the experiential aspect—Holleran and Basir remember how surreal those final moments of the life-altering 2016 election were, and so they wanted to capture the pair as they lived it in real time, to best portray the minute-by-minute emotions felt by those who experienced the event. But there were also external factors including the limiting schedule of the film’s actors as well as the necessity that the film be shot entirely at night. Holleran made the bold decision to shoot the film in a single take, using a “50 pound anti-gravity rig, unconventional Sony camera and Panavision anamorphic lens combination,” though he knew pulling it off would be extremely difficult.
There was a bit of prep that went into the night of shooting, before which Holleran was able to do a quick walk through of the locations in order to pre-light the interiors. Additionally, the actors were given a 60 page script, but were prepared to improvise in order to keep their dialogue flowing and natural.
There was a limit, however, to the amount of preparation that could go into a shooting session like this. There were many factors that were out of the crew’s control. Because they were shooting on the streets and moving from location to location, there were random people walking between shots, as well as cars driving as the crew needed to cross a street and unforeseeable interruptions to the sound and lighting systems.
As Holleran and the actors began the shoot, they truly didn’t know if anything was going to go even remotely according to plan, but luckily for them, everything came together pretty seamlessly.
Holleran told NoFilmSchool: “Watching in retrospect, you almost get a little emotional thinking about how it all ties together so nicely, when at the beginning we were just trying to do something different and special. Nothing’s scary after this as a cinematographer. It took away the fear of shooting anything.”
Though it’s doubtful Holleran had any fear going into the project to begin with—what with his surviving a gunfight and fire in previous works—he is certainly a fearless cinematographer now.