How ‘The Holdovers’ Cinematographer Made The Film Look It’s Made in the 1970s

The cinematographer behind the Oscar-nominated film The Holdovers has revealed how he made the movie look, feel, and sound like it was actually made during the decade it is set in: the 1970s.

Alexander Payne’s film follows a cranky history teacher (played by Paul Giamatti) at a New England boarding school in the 1970s who is forced to remain on campus over the holidays — with a troubled student who has no place to go and a grieving cook (played by Da’Vine Joy Randolph) who has lost her son in the Vietnam War.

The Holdovers may be one of the most beautifully bittersweet films of 2023. However, many viewers have been left wondering how the filmmakers recreated a bygone aesthetic in the movie and made The Holdovers look like it was actually made in the 1970s.

In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, The Holdovers’ cinematographer Eigil Bryld said that director Payne emphasized that he didn’t want it to “just look like a movie set the ’70s.”

“He [Payne] really wanted it to look and feel and sound like it was a movie that was actually made in the 1970s,” Bryld says.

Why The Holdovers Looks So Old

Initially, Bryd and Payne planned to recreate this bygone 1970s aesthetic in The Holdovers by using traditional film stock that was used in that decade in Hollywood. They also intended to age the physical film to imbue it with that grainy aesthetic.

“We did test shooting on film (and) we did aging of the film as well,” Bryld tells The Wrap in another interview.

“Like if it had been sitting in a camera feed for 50 years, which actually turns the negative a little more yellow as well.

“So we built lots of layers, put chemical stains on certain frames, and really had fun going back to all the stuff that we would have found 50 years ago.”

Bryld, who has been the cinematographer behind films such as In Bruges and No Hard Feelings, tested both film and digital approaches during the pre-production process.

But ultimately, he chose to shoot The Holdovers digitally with an ARRI Alexa camera.

However, while using digital technology to film the movie, he also collaborated with colorist Joe Gawler to create a 1970s feel in post-production.

Gawler’s work in film restoration for Criterion has made him an expert in the way film negatives age over time.

“Luckily, my colorist Joe Gawler, who I’ve worked with almost exclusively for the past 12 years, has done a lot of Criterion restorations,” Bryd tells Filmmaker Magazine.

“So, he knows a lot about how film stock ages. When we got to post, he came up with so many great little things.

“He’s a big part of the final look of the movie.”

Handheld Camerawork

Payne and Bryld also studied the cinematography in some of their most beloved films from the period including Hal Ashby’s The Last Detail (1973) and Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation (1974) to recapture the visual feel of that decade in The Holdovers. Bryld adopted 1970s filmmaking techniques like handheld camerawork to do this.

“I was thinking, ‘What is it that I really love about that era?’ ” Bryld tells The Hollywood Reporter.

“There’s a sense of a spirit of the 1970s movies — breaking away from your studios. And all the DPs [Director of Photography] of the period that I really admired would push the film stock or they would do handheld or whatever.

“And then I started thinking, ‘That’s really what I should be going for.'”