Anthony Onah’s latest feature film started out in a UCLA classroom.
After moving to Los Angeles and enrolling in UCLA’s graduate production/directing program, alumnus Anthony Onah teamed up with fellow alumnus and producer Justin Begnaud to create the feature film “The Price.”
The film revolves around the struggles of Seyi, a Nigerian-American man, who must navigate his family’s expectations, a turbulent romantic relationship and a desire to climb the career ladder of Wall Street. The film premiered at the South by Southwest Film Festival in 2017, at which it was nominated for the Grand Jury Award, and opened in theaters nationwide Friday.
“The Price” was inspired by “Dara Ju,” a short film Onah made as his thesis project at UCLA in 2012 that has since undergone significant shifts during its evolution into a feature film.
Onah’s father died while he was at UCLA, and he wanted to reflect on the loss through film, so he set out to write a short film based on his own experiences as a first-generation Nigerian in America. With the help of Begnaud, then a student in UCLA’s graduate producers program, “Dara Ju” was born.
“‘Dara Ju’ was really raw in terms of the emotions and in terms of my ability to comprehend who my father was, what he meant to me and who I was in the context of that relationship,” Onah said.
After screening “Dara Ju” at the 2012 Berlin International Film Festival, Onah and Begnaud attended the Berlinale Talent Campus, where Onah shared his film with other filmmakers who encouraged him to develop his story and further explore his personal experiences through the film. After returning from Berlin, Onah and Begnaud decided to create the full-length feature film, “The Price.”
“The Price” expands on themes “Dara Ju” touched upon, such as complex family troubles and the protagonist’s romantic relationship. It also introduces a new Wall Street storyline and the consequent criminal actions that follow.
“A short will give you a glimpse into a moment, but at the heart of this movie was the intersection of issues around race, class and identity,” Onah said. “A thorough understanding of that is something a feature can provide that a short never could.”
The script was accepted into the Berlinale Talent Campus, the Film Independent’s Producering Lab, the Film Independent’s Directing Lab, the Independent Filmmaker Project and Catalyst, a Sundance Institute initiative, from which Onah and Begnaud were able to consolidate a cast and crew, raise funding and finalize the script before filming began – a process that took three years.
In the short, Onah kept the camera restrained and controlled because he wanted the camera shots to be smooth. However, Onah wanted the camera in the feature to move more briskly to give the actors more freedom and movement.
David McFarland, the cinematographer for “The Price,” emphasized Seyi’s conflicted identity by employing different color tones and contrasts as Seyi navigates rising pressures with his family, romantic life and professional life. He contrasted warm tones with dark atmospheres or muted colors to reflect Seyi’s inner turmoil as he struggles to balance his desire to achieve the American dream without casting aside his Nigerian roots.
Though the short and the feature film are two separate projects, Onah said “The Price” is a more advanced exploration of the underlying emotions and circumstances in “Dara Ju.” Onah said he grapples with the death of his father and the ensuing absence in his life throughout both the short and the feature.
“That’s how all it all started – losing my father and understanding the man who I’d lost … and in the process, probably understanding myself,” Onah said.