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    ‘Holdovers’ Cinemtographer on Recreating 1970s for Alexander Payne Film – The Music news


    When cinematographer Eigil Bryld paired with director Alexander Payne on Focus Features’ Nov. 10 release The Holdovers, which is set at a New England boarding school in 1970, one of the first things the Sideways helmer emphasized was that he didn’t want it to “just look like a movie set the ’70s.” The DP clarifies, “He really wanted it to look and feel and sound like it was a movie that was actually made in the ’70s.”

    The Holdovers follows a curmudgeonly high school history teacher named Paul Hunham (Paul Giamatti) who reluctantly remains on campus at the fictional boarding school Barton Academy during Christmas break. He forms unlikely bonds with a damaged but brainy student, Angus Tully (Dominic Sessa, in his feature debut), and the school’s grieving head cook, Mary Lamb (Da’Vine Joy Randolph), who has lost her son in Vietnam.

    Bryld and Payne turned to films from the period, including Hal Ashby’s The Last Detail and Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation, for inspiration. “We saw a lot of prints. We found a small cinema in Boston with a very eccentric projectionist who could get all these original prints from his friends. That subculture is very specific,” Bryld remembers, adding that he started with — but quickly abandoned — the intent to use ’70s tools and film stock, which wasn’t readily available. 

    “I was thinking, ‘What is it that I really love about that era?’ ” says Bryld. “There’s a sense of a spirit of the ’70s movies — breaking away from your studios. And all the DPs 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.’ ”

    The Danish DP behind such films as 2008’s In Bruges, 2022’s Deep Water and this year’s rom-com No Hard Feelings tested both film and digital approaches and chose to shoot digitally with an ARRI Alexa. He also created a lookup table (a sort of blueprint for the color grading step) with colorist Joe Gawler. “He’s done a lot of Criterion restoration, so he really knows how the negative ages over time. So I thought, ‘Well, I’d rather build that into it.’ ”

    Dominic Sessa, Da’Vine Joy Randolph and Paul Giamatti in the Alexander Payne film, which takes place at Christmas in 1970.

    Dominic Sessa, Da’Vine Joy Randolph and Paul Giamatti in the Alexander Payne film, which takes place at Christmas in 1970.

    Seacia Pavao / FOCUS FEATURES LLC

    They also used Panavision H series lenses, particularly a 55mm lens, to evoke a vintage portrait look. “They had really a sense of immediacy and intimacy,” the DP says of the lens choice. “A lot of the film is done on that because the film is ultimately, in one way, a lot of portraits.

    “It’s a movie about people who are forced into the frame together, and they don’t necessarily want to be in the same frame,” he adds. “They all have their own portrait. Sometimes they’re in the frame and there’s several people in the frame, but I still thought of it as individual portraits within a group photo.” As the trio become closer emotionally, the DP captures their burgeoning friendships with the camera. “Gradually over time, they come together more and more,” says Bryld. “And that was one arc we were looking for — how we would reflect that, how we framed it and where we put the camera.”

    The Holdovers was filmed in Boston and western Massachusetts at Deerfield Academy, which also happens to be the high school that Sessa attended (according to the DP, the actor stayed in his former dorm room during production). “He was amazing,” Bryld says. “I mean, they’re all great, but obviously Paul and Dominic carry the movie. Paul is a pleasure to work with. He also makes things seem very easy just because he’s so good. There was sort of a calmness that Alexander has and Paul has, that, I imagine, would’ve been incredibly comforting for Dominic.”

    Bryld also served as the film’s camera operator. “That’s where you should be as the DP,” he says. “You should be there, be able to look up and see what’s going on around you, but also create that little community around the camera. I think it’s incredibly important in working with the actors, that it’s familiar faces. It becomes a little bit of a dance between the camera and the actors … that is rarely something that’s put into words, but just something that has to be organic.” 

    This story first appeared in the Nov. 29 issue of The Music news magazine. Click here to subscribe.



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