What was going on with cinematographer Antlers Holst?

Jordan Peele last movie Nope once again inspired great conversations surrounding the treatment of film crews. The protagonists of the film – Emerald (Keke Palmer) and OJ (Daniel Kaluuya) – running a horse training business. There’s also cinematographer Antlers Holst who only joins the team once he sees how dangerous the alien Jean Jacket can be. And then he almost gets the whole band killed when he pushes for one last blow from within creatures. So what’s his deal? Holst, well done by Michael Wincottseems to be a representative of the best and worst of Hollywood’s “dream industry”, capturing both the ingenuity of craftsmen and the toxic qualities that only drag people down for profit.

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Yes, Holst does good for the crew. He agrees to record Jean Jacket after noting the disappearance and the damage caused at Jupes (steven yeun) ranch. Some of that may come from the show, but he also sees the damage it can cause – comparing it to the song “The Purple People Eater.” He brings the camera to the set to film Jean Jacket specifically to still get the shot even when the power goes out. That’s the kind of thinking that good artisans can bring, take a risk and look at something different, but also be willing to help the team and make art. He even helps Angel (Brandon Beree) swap the movie after it runs out. He rushes to save the shot.

It’s mostly good from what we see from Holst. He doesn’t feature heavily in the film, with most of his scenes being in small chunks, so it’s hard to read. What’s shown suggests that he might be looking for more fame and thrills than necessary even for this project, confusing as they are.


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From the first scene, he’s totally disinterested in Emerald’s talk about Lucky the (aptly named) horse on the commercial set. He also strangely watches scenes of animals fighting in this secluded room while talking on the phone with Emerald. Maybe after decades of doing the same job in the film industry over and over again, he’s trying to feel something, something like a jolt. The brutality of animal exploitation and violence is somewhat rushed – unlike the horse and celebrity ads he is currently working on. This is another visual representation of animals in a film full of dialogues about animals from horse training to the tragic accident on set involving Gordy. But he never engages with animals or shows remorse towards them. Like the horse, he only watches, learns, perhaps how they are slaughtered.


Holst’s seemingly cool view of them almost foretells his final mistakes. He already has Jean Jacket’s main shot, but he pushes too far to get one more, destroying his camera, the film, and everything the band worked for in the mirage of an even better picture. Holst takes a misstep toward “showmanship” and instead lets out her more “vile” tendencies.

Even his first name “Antlers” links him to animals. Nope would be the movie to name a critical character after part of a deer that’s used for show and defense – and that people pay thousands to buy or hunt. Holst seems to be both sides of the “prize” aspect: he’s the team’s most popular photographer for coming to record Jean Jacket, while also leaving and making another juicier image to hang on his coat.


The claim of the “spectacle” mentioned in this opening biblical passage comes up several times in the film. Skirt says the word directly in his first conversation with Emerald and OJ and – like Holst – dies when he struggles to reach the “show” by taking out Jean Jacket. Holst made a rash decision after having a rush he hadn’t felt in decades working in movies and on sets, ignoring the obvious problems watching the alien would bring him and all others.

It’s a decision that seems emblematic of the producers and directors such a character can work for. As the accident on The twilight zone film set, Holst put his crew in harm’s way for the sole purpose of being shot with the essentials of cutting his life from the project. Holst barely thinks of Em, OJ and Angel and falls into the easy trap, which predictably agitates Jean Jacket. He made the same mistake as the producers on Gordy’s house! with the balloons that set off Gordy: he provokes an animal for more profit and ends up being murdered in blood for it.


Holst is a tragic figure in the film. It falls into the same traps that have plagued so many for-profit creators. Sometimes he shows off the ingenuity of the creatives who brought him onto the project, then takes a step too far and falls deeper into the pit. Nope shows both the best and the worst of the film industry, and Holst is a humble reminder of where the darkness can take you if you let the “spectacular” quest become “despicable”.

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