When you’re making a film or media project on a budget, you want it to look great — but you never have enough money to get all visual elements you want just the way you want the. Sets, locations, construction costumes, all cost money and time.
But there is one thing you can do that costs nothing, or almost nothing: Make a strong choice about color. Color conveys meaning, both overt meaning and subtle, sub-conscious meaning. Most audiences won’t be aware that you have made a string color choice, but they will be aware that the film has style and a definite look. They just probably won’t realize that it’s color they’re responding to.
Color choices can cost nothing, or next to nothing. For example, your actors need to wear costumes. You can make color choices simply by being definite about what colors you want to see in their clothes. For the next-to-nothing cost option, try a coat of paint. Walls and doors with strong, unexpected colors will lend a definite style to your move.
As an example, in Christopher Nolan’s second film, Memento, every scene has the color blue. In the traditional, Western psychology of color, blue is the color of memory. You’ll see blue in just about every frame, on doors, walls, cars, shirts, and even the color of star Guy Pearce’s eyes. Memento cemented Nolan’s place as a director to watch: five years later, he directed Batman Begins.
Adding color is one approach — removing a color is another. In Titus, the first film directed by Julie Taymor, which I produced, she dialed bright green entirely out of the movie. Even the few scenes that have natural elements (there is a forest in one scene, and some grass in another) display green that is dark, green with a lot of black in it, almost a brown-green. In fact, when we shot the scene where grass was visible, we sprayed water-based brown coloring on it to tone it down!
Taymor’s Titus, an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus, takes place in a constructed world, where nature has been overcome by human politics, desire, and ambition. By eliminating green, the director made her point that fascism arises when people are disconnected from the natural world — and she made this point without ever having to put it in the dialogue.
On your next film or media project, try putting one color front and center, or taking one color out entirely. Your design team will have fun working within your color parameters, and your audience will respond to your film’s sense of style… without ever being quite sure what has made it so stylish!