Photos by Luke George
In August of 2019, a few months before the pandemic, something Strange moved into the old Masonic temple at 106 J Street. This strange thing has the power to create new worlds. It is a master of illusion, shaping perception and compelling emotion. And its methods often go unseen. It is a production company called Strange Media.
Strange Media was founded by Steffan Schulz, producer, director, and jack of most trades in the media industry.
With the goal of improving his screenwriting skills in his early years, he cut his teeth by doing just about any job on set that he could, from audio technician to camera operator. “I was always listening to the director to see how they brought the written word to life visually. That’s what attracted me to directing – it’s the bridge between the written word and what’s recorded on camera.” Now focusing mostly on directing and producing, he says he can’t imagine ever doing just one thing all the time. “I’d go crazy,” he says.
Steffan graduated from San Jose State University’s RTVF (radio, television, and film) program and has been making his way up through the Bay Area over the years ever since. Along the way, he’s worked with nearly every area tech company you can think of. “The corporate/industrial work is the bread and butter,” he says, though he admittedly prefers working on passion project documentaries, or in more creative genres like sci-fi, fantasy, and horror. One of his first films was actually a horror piece adapted from a commercial he made for a Great America Halloween event.
Over the years, his independent films have won many awards at film festivals.
Two he’s most proud of are “Best Picture” for “Tracker,” a post-apocalyptic sci-fi short, and “1st Place in the Magic and Realism Category” for “Lorelei,” a surreal romance fantasy short. His documentary work includes a surprising amount of scuba diving and underwater film. “Destination Diving” was a docu-series for PBS whose 13 episodes took Steffan to 13 different countries and 4 continents over a 5-year period, and won nine awards. A documentary about Mongolia likewise had him diving in the taiga. These works often have a common theme of ecological conservation, a cause that Steffan is passionate about.
Sometimes his corporate work and his passion projects align serendipitously, like a current project he’s working on with Webex by Cisco and One World Surgery, a surgical care organization reaching underserved communities globally. Sometimes his corporate work gets him Top Secret clearance, like his work with Sandia National Labs (with whom Steffan worked for 20 years) which was viewed at the White House.
What he enjoys most about his line of work is being able to help people, be it through helping them learn to use a new gadget or by shedding light on an important story. He also enjoys gaining access to some of the best and brightest talent and having an opportunity to engage with their genius.
So, how did Steffan end up in Benicia?
He was always on the lookout for a warehouse space that he could use collaboratively with other creatives. Most recently working just across the bridge in Martinez, real estate in Benicia popped up on his radar. The old Masonic Temple at 106 J Street was just what he was looking for – although, having been red-tagged and abandoned for several years, it needed a lot of work. He went all-in, selling his home to afford the place and necessary renovations.
What was the Masons’ meeting hall is now the primary studio in which he builds sets and hosts premiere parties. After peeling back the blue carpet that covered the floors, he found beautiful hardwood floors which he has since refinished. He also had to rewire the room since there were merely two outlets available in the cavernous space – not nearly enough for anyone working in digital media today. The tall stained-glass windows remain, though they are often covered with blackout curtains for light control.
The location also contains a kitchen and bathroom, both of which he essentially gutted. What was the dining hall is now a screening room. There is also a separate, sound dampened room that serves as an editing suite. With props as decor, nearly every room is camera-ready.
Due to the pandemic, Steffan has yet to host many events or collaborative endeavors in his new space, but he looks forward to doing so soon. He has worked with a few of the downstairs tenants, hiring some of the Collektive employees to stand in for a scene he’s shooting, shooting a spot in Daughter of Luna, and collaborating with the owners of Zeppelin Comics on a podcast. Otherwise, he works with a roster of trusted freelance digital media professionals he’s collected over his 30-year career. But he hopes to connect with more local talent soon.
And what about the name, Strange Media?
Well, that goes back to his days at SJSU when he was working as a radio DJ. “Steve Strange” was his radio personality, adopted out of his affinity for a New Romantic music artist by the same name. During his spots, he would reportedly go “over the top” with sound design, earning his spots the moniker “Strange productions.” The name stuck, with iterations Strange Productions, Strange Films, and Strange Media.
You can visit StrangeMedia.com to connect with Steffan and see some of his work. Please note, there are content warnings for younger viewers on some films.