In our film we used saturated colour. with not much thought going into it’s use. I think originally we liked the idea of the saturated colour look, and we thought it would add to the surreal quality of the film. But after reviewing how colour is used in film, I began to realise that maybe we should have thought more about it, to use it to greater effect.

In films colour has become an essential component of storytelling, with colour being used to:

  • Seperate place and time; perhaps to distinguish decades or locations.
  • Make audiences feel a certain way, by exploiting their innate psychological reactions to specific colours . For example red often makes viewers feel on edge or threatened, whilst blue feels serene and dreamlike.
  • Symbolise the inner workings, feelings or moral standings of a character. For example one character sickened with envy could become associated with the colour green, their engulfment with this colour coinciding with their envy spiralling out of control.
  • Differentiate multiple stories.
  • Differentiate objects within a scene.
  • Differentiate characters. Often used to create opposites, ie. good vs evil, or trustworthy vs dodgy.
  • Set the atmosphere and tone for a scene, or the entire film. For example blue can make the tone feel cold and hopeless, whilst browns can make the tone feel gritty and dangerous.
  • Create a particular colour scheme, that has been pre-decided for the film. Colours can then be used to either balance harmoniously with this colour scheme, or be discordant with it. Allowing the viewer to notice certain things which stick out or don’t belong, hinting at potential character, object or story insights.
  • Add context to a story. For example a character might say terrible things, but his light pink clothing could suggest that we shouldn’t take this to seriously as this person is gentle or frivolous.
  • Associate a certain character, place, time or object with something else, perhaps event an abstract idea or emotion. For example a film could use purple to associate an individual character with an abstract idea such as mania, or mysticism, with everything that relates to this character also being purple. When, where and how much this colour is shown and at what intensity could give particular insights into the character, object or story.
  • Show the development of a character or environment. For example a character could start out wearing white, and gradually transition into wearing red as their innocence is lost.

Colours may cause innate psychological reactions or understood associations but that doesn’t mean colour has to be used in these prescribed ways. For example in one film green could be associated with nature, lusciousness and growth whilst another film may associate green with thoughts of the mundane, lifeless and corporate. The filmmaker is free to choose what colours they want to use to mean certain things, they just have to make this association known to the audience.

After writing up this post I looked back over our film to see how we used colour. Originally I thought that we didn’t use colour very well, because we never really consciously thought about it. But after reviewing the footage I realised that we did use colour appropriately within our film, therefore subconsciously we WERE aware of the colours and how they were being used. For example all the exterior shots of the Thornbury Bowls Club are dark and mysterious, and they also have a balanced colour palette; with green lawns, red power poles and yellow accents. The interior shots of the club room also feature a similar palette, primarily composed of red, yellow and blue. The red light bathing the interior scenes also have a mysterious blood red glow, which works to great effect. The interior shots of the powder room features a complimentary colour palette of moss green, khaki, lemon and dusty rose bringing to life the vintage vibe of the scene and the setting. When more mysterious things begin to happen in the film – occurring in the club room, the colour palette changes from red, blue and yellow, to a hazy purple and yellow. The purple coming from the combination of red and blue lights and the smoke machine we brought. So somehow we’ve got these mystical events occurring under this hazy purple fog. Maybe I should have entitled this blog post: “How we accidentally used colour to great effect”.

Until next time,

Louise Wilson