The film was shot as if it had been made in 1945. Only studio back lots, sets and local Los Angeles locations were used. No radio microphones were used, the film was lit with only incandescent lights and period lenses were used on the cameras. The actors were directed to perform in a presentational, stage style. The only allowance was the inclusion of nudity, violence and cursing which would have been forbidden by the Production Code.
Steven Soderbergh, wishing to shoot this film the old Hollywood way, banned the use of sophisticated zoom lenses used by today's cinematographers, returning to the fixed focal-length lenses used in the past. Furthermore, only incandescent lights were used which provided harsh, unnatural lighting. There were also no wireless body microphones, which would allow the faintest whispers to be heard, on set. Sound was recorded the old-fashioned way, with a hand-operated boom mike held above the actors head, which consequently forced the actors to speak in loud, crisp English.
When Geismar checks Lena's file in the Records archive at Military Government headquarters, he discovers only a note in the folder saying the file has been "sent to Overcast." Operation Overcast was the U.S. Army's 1945 operation to bring German rocket scientists (such as Wernher Von Braun) and their families to America following the end of the war. (It was later re-named Operation Paperclip.)
Steven Soderbergh initially considered shooting on a black & white film stock, but ended up using a color stock because it was required for the bluescreen effects of the driving scenes. (Black & white stocks were also slower and grainier than he would have liked.) The film was subsequently desaturated in the digital intermediate, and released on a black & white print stock. George Clooney had gone down the same path the previous year, with his film Good Night, and Good Luck. (2005).