“I had a girlfriend who was a makeup artist, I rushed her script to work one morning that she’d left at home, I stayed around, watched the crew working and really loved the cooperative vibe that everyone had. I’d never witnessed that before. I made a bit of a pest of myself and was asking the AC [assistant camera, Miriana Marusic] lots of questions about her camera, but she was very kind and later we became firm friends and she taught me a lot and gave me my first break on a TV show on the Gold Coast she was working on,” answers Peter Holland when we ask him how he got into the filmmaking game.
Since those humble beginnings, Holland eventually started shooting short films, then features (Gabriel, The Nothing Men, Cedar Boys), then working between Australia and overseas, which brings us back to the Gold Coast last year when he worked with Russell Mulcahy (Razorback, Highlander) on In Like Flynn, a rollicking adaptation of an Errol Flynn-penned biography about his pre-Hollywood life, sailing from Sydney to PNG in search of gold, and all the adventures that may entail.
“Russell brought a very distinct aesthetic to the film,” says Holland. “It’s classic but at the same time irreverent. We were both on the same page that Flynn should look ‘Big’; that meant wide screen, anamorphic and classic tonalities. But we weren’t going to let ourselves be constrained by convention, we shot handheld a lot, we shot steadicam, I even shot backwards running in the forest.
“We had the brilliant Nick McCallum as Production Designer,” Holland continues about the look of In Like Flynn, which is in stark contrast to the cliched gritty tones of many Australian films. “Nick and his team did the most outstanding job of creating these worlds. We also definitely wanted each location to have its own cinematic identity. Sydney, Townsville, PNG and Hollywood, but still keeping to classic tones, no bubblegum here.”
Peter Holland’s career behind the camera is fascinating because of its parallel with the digital transformation in filmmaking. Gabriel was shot digitally back in 2006, with Sony picking it up for worldwide distribution, whilst according to Holland, The Nothing Men was the first film in the world to be shot on the 4K Red camera, which went on to change everything.
“It’s a bit cheeky of me to claim that, because Steven Soderbergh started shooting a film before us [Che Parts 1 and 2], but we finished shooting before him, so technically I think I can claim that!” he laughs. “The big thing that’s changed since then is reliability. We had cameras in constant rotation going back to Red in SoCal [Southern California] and them sending us new or fixed cameras. I actually had two Panasonic Varicams prepped and standing by just in case of total failure. It came close a few times, but we managed to kick the cameras back into life or a new body would arrive at the very last moment.
“First morning shooting we were in a luscious verdant botanical garden in Sydney,” Holland recalls. “We shot our scene, all went well, we were ahead of schedule, I’d spotted something I wanted to shoot as a transition in the film, so the director agreed. This shot encompassed a lot of deep green leafy vegetation, I lined up the shot, buttoned on and ‘Kerchunk’!! The thing just died, we rebooted, and same thing happened again. Now, this is the first morning of the shoot with these still very experimental cameras that I had championed and now I was sweating. Our DIT [Digital Imaging Technician, Alan Certeza] got on the phone to Red. They said they’d discovered the problem the day before and uploaded a firmware fix. The problem was the camera couldn’t handle so much green detail in the frame. All the testing Red had done was in the dry arid land of the O.C [Orange County] and most of the time was outside in a concrete parking lot, not much rainforest there.”
Things have improved vastly since then, but this sort of attitude to filmmaking is what Holland reckons distinguishes our cinematographers, who are in high demand around the world on the biggest stages. “I think our attitude serves us really well. Every Australian DP I know is polite and respectful to everyone. That’s not always the case on film sets. Plus, I think we have a great nurturing spirit in Australia. I owe a lot to a whole bunch of people who gave me a lot of time and help. I know a lot of people might smirk at my next statement, it’s not the Aussie archetype, but all the Aussie DPs I know have a tremendous work ethic too, and that means they are bloody good at their jobs.”
This work ethic has seen Holland travelling the world, shooting 4-5 projects per year, most recently actioners for director Brian A. Miller, Reprisal, Backtrace and 10 Minutes Gone, featuring Bruce Willis, Sylvester Stallone and Bruce Willis again, respectively. So, what’s next? “A little rest I hope,” Holland answers. “Just got back yesterday from an action film in Ohio and that was straight off the back of another in Georgia. I’d like to get a series in LA next, at least my family would know who I am.”
In Like Flynn is in cinemas October 11, 2018
Top photo credit: Cameron C. Morley