Two independent Boston-area bookstores are getting their moment in the spotlight for serving as backdrops in some of this year’s Oscar-nominated films.
Boston’s Brattle Book Shop is featured in “The Holdovers,” while “American Fiction” filmed a scene at Brookline Booksmith. Owners of both stores said it was exciting having their stores featured in the movies.
“The Holdovers” is about an instructor (played by Paul Giamatti), his student (Dominic Sessa) and the head cook (Da’Vine Joy Randolph) at a fictional New England boarding school who form an unlikely bond after being the only ones left on campus during winter break.
The film has received multiple Academy Award nominations — for Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, Best Film Editing, Giamatti for Best Actor and Randolph for Best Supporting Actress.
The film shot at many locations throughout Massachusetts — including in Boston, where Brattle Book Shop got its time to shine. The outside lot of the store, where rows of used books are on sale, appears in a montage of Giamatti and Sessa’s characters exploring Boston. Ken Gloss, owner of Brattle Book Shop, said he was honored that his store was considered one of the city's hallmark locations.
“The fact that they even considered us sort of a familiar enough site, that they wanted to have us in the movie right after they were at the Museum of Fine Arts, I like being compared to that,” Gloss said.
He said the store was compensated generously for the time on a typically busy Saturday that the film crew was there and that they and the cast were all great to have around. Gloss said Giamatti even came back over the next few days while filming in Boston and shopped at the store, buying several books.
“He couldn’t have been nicer,” Gloss said.
He said there's been a big reaction to his shop being featured in the film.
“They never put a sign or identified the store [in the movie], but anyone who's been here or anyone who's been in Boston and seen it knows where it is,” Gloss said. “So, I've been getting calls from all over the country from either friends or customers who have said, 'Gee, we really enjoyed it.'”
Gloss and his wife went to see “The Holdovers” in the theater the day it came out.
“You never know whether they're actually going to cut the scene. We didn't know that for sure,” he said. “The whole scene lasted about a minute and a half, two minutes. But when we saw it, it was like, 'Hey, this is a great movie.' But we were just thrilled that it even got a couple of minutes in the movie. You sort of smile. It makes you feel really happy.”
“American Fiction” is about a frustrated novelist, Thelonious "Monk" Ellison (played by Jeffrey Wright), who writes a “Black” book filled with outlandish tropes as satire that unexpectedly becomes a critically-acclaimed sensation. The film received five Academy Award nominations — for Best Picture, Best Actor for Wright, Best Supporting Actor for Sterling K. Brown, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Original Score.
In “American Fiction,” Brookline Booksmith is used to depict a chain bookstore, where Ellison sees his book shelved in the wrong section. (Brief snippets of the scenes shot there can be seen in the movie's trailers.)
Stephen Hartman, location director for “American Fiction,” said he studied multiple bookstores before settling on the Booksmith. It had two things that drew him — one being its proximity to other places that worked well for filming — including Athan’s Bakery and Hamilton Restaurant & Bar. This led to the movie shooting for three days in Brookline.
The other factor was the store's long, straight aisles that allowed Wright to walk from one section to another in a scene in one take.
Hartman said he appreciated that Brookline Booksmith, being an independent bookstore, was willing to roll with the jokes the movie made on chain bookstores.
“'American Fiction' is based on the novel 'Erasure,' which [Brookline Booksmith] sells on their shelves,” Hartman said. “The joke that they make is the books not being shelved correctly. But Percival Everett [the author of 'Erasure'], his books are actually shelved quite correctly. Among all the other fiction authors, they did not put it into some sort of African American specialty section.”
Peter Win, co-owner of Brookline Booksmith, appreciated the irony of his independent bookstore being presented as a chain store.
“I think there's a good amount of humor in the film, too, so it kind of fits as well,” he said. “There's a little bit of irony to that, using our independent bookstore as a chain. But, you know, it's a movie. It's fiction, so I understand it.”
Like Gloss, Win said they were compensated, without offering more specifics. But the real payoff, he said, was the cool experience of having a movie filmed in the store.
“It's fun to see Jeffrey Wright in the middle of our bookstore,” he said. ”That was great.”