What subtextual value the filmmaker assigns to a given color.
What color palette is used.
Filmaker’s Color Tools
Color comes in two forms – light and production design (which includes costumes, hair, make-up, props, and set design); top-of-their game filmmakers utilize both to fit the characters and themes of their stories.
There’s a fascinating and informative book called “If It’s Purple, Someone’s Going To Die” by Patti Bellantoni. It dissects how color is employed in a film’s production design to elevate, spotlight, or suggest various themes, emotions, and foreshadowing.
The Vimeo video below will give you an idea of how certain directors have implemented some form of color theory in their work.
The Criterion Collection has a new feature called UNDER THE INFLUENCE… which as you can imagine if it’s from Criterion, it’s a smart and compelling discussion on what films have influenced en vogue or stalwart film auteurs.
Barry Jenkins, director of the knockout MOONLIGHT, discusses his thoughts and feelings of WKW’s two films Criterion has the license to – CHUNGKING EXPRESS (this is now out of print) and IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE.
WKW is one of my favorite directors, his films are like intimate visual novels with great expanses of poetry interspersed within the scintillating writing.
On Roger Deakins’ Instagram, he recently posted a quote from the incomparable Conrad L. Hall: Connie used to say he wanted his films to look ugly, to capture something that we [cinematographers] shy away from [beautifully lit images] in making movies. Ugliness can have a certain beauty as well. There’s a strange dichotomy going on there.”
What Hall was championing is eschewing the most flattering and revealing lighting; withholding visual information is just as important as withholding narrative information. And “ugly” cinematography by a Deakins or a Hall or a Libatique or a Debie won’t be ugly-ugly (which for most means poorly composed and lit), but where harshness overrides the glamor.
Take a look at this clip from IN COLD BLOOD which Hall shot, and notice the high contrast lighting doesn’t illuminate Robert Blake (yes, that Robert Blake) in a way that makes him look agreeable or even handsome. But the beauty of the image is sublime.
When you watch a film that you absolutely fall in love with the five minutes in, and you know it’s going to change the way you appreciate “movies” from then on out, when you sense in your gut that “movies” will become “cinema” and you are destined to become a “cinephile” and to sacrifice a typical existence for one that is constantly seeking the brass ring of cultural immortality through cinema… you probably, at some point, ask yourself — many times over and over — how did those guys create that piece of entertainment.
For us, it was RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. Indiana Jones and his swashbuckling tale of derring-do exploded upon the cultural landscape in the summer of 1981 and changed everyone’s expectations and appreciations for the action-adventure film. It gave George Lucas his second extra-lucrative franchise… and gave use the man in the hat with the whip.
The other day my brother Alex and I were talking about large-format cinema cameras and what makes that acquisition format special, considering that the Oscar-winning film THE REVENANT used the Alexa 65, and just prior to that DP Robert Elswitt, ASC photographed the underwater vault sequence in MISSON: IMPOSSIBLE – ROGUE NATION with the same camera. He needed the highest resolution and frame size for the extensive CG work required to pull off that amazing, high-tension moment.
Large-format cinema, primarily 70mm films from the late 50s through late 60s have always fascinated me, starting with LAWRENCE OF ARABIA.
We’ve had films in festivals before (F*ck You, Pay Me! screened at the Hollywood Black Film Festival, Amsterdam in the Picture, and the Seattle Science Fictions Shorts Film Festival, to name a few). We even took home top prize. Which is an accomplishment, to say the least. It’s a tremendous honor to have your film screen on the festival circuit. It’s were you get a different type of exposure; the audiences are more inclined to appreciate alternative storytelling styles and endings.
One of the things that sort of sucks about making indie films and shorts (and particularly writing screenplays) is the target audience isn’t the actual viewing audience. It’s a small collection of people who then make a decision if a wider audience is going to see your film. And the big reason you seek the “I like this” decision for the Hollywood so-called taste maker ranks is that marketing dollars will be spent on your film if they get excited about your work.
Oone doesn’t need Hollywood’s permission or sanction to get your film seen by audiences, not with YouTube and Vimeo and all the other streaming platforms available. However, where Hollywood has the market cornered is marketing and advertising. It’s as if Hollywood film distributors are actually niche ad agencies *it’s a wonder that a company like Publicis doesn’t snap up a film studio with its intricate distribution machine).
You have to do a great deal of self-promotion to raise awareness of your film just using social media. Selection and subsequent screening in a film festival adds to the audience awareness critical mass that you’re after.