Plan: Color Scheme & Lighting

Color Scheme:

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In my short film, I plan to have two distinct color schemes – cool colors for the bedroom scenes and warm colors for the living room scenes. This will differentiate the two parallel narratives running side by side and create an interesting visual juxtaposition. Colors play an important role in films in helping establish the tone, look and feel. Therefore, I plan to use these two varied color schemes to create moods that will serve different purposes.

The scenes in Anamika’s bedroom will be dominated by cool colors such as various shades of blues, greens, purples, and grays. The walls are a brilliant turquoise and all the furniture is pearly white. These colors will make the room appear peaceful and pleasant to the eye, creating a sense of calm. Having chaos burst forth in such a setting will be unexpected and thus, catch the audience off guard. I want to create a soothing, happy atmosphere so that the dark themes slowly creep up in an unforeseen manner. At first glance, the room should look like a cheery, normal place and the viewers shouldn’t really suspect anything.

The scenes in the living room will be dominated by warm colors such as oranges, reds, and yellows, which will give the room a cozy, comfortable look and feel. It will be warm and inviting, like a nice, normal household and look visually pleasing. Cutting back and forth between the two color schemes will give the short film an interesting and complex visual texture.

Lighting:

Throughout my film, I plan to make use of high-key lighting with minimal shadows. This kind of bright lighting typically creates a feeling of happiness and light-heartedness. A dark storyline playing out in this setting will have an unsettling effect on the audience and give the film an almost creepy vibe. For example, the high-key lighting in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory has this very same effect on the viewers. Also, this style of lighting will help the people and the setting look normal at first before everything starts unraveling. Using high-key lighting instead of low-key lighting will be an unexpected and refreshing choice, and I plan to use artificial lights such as tube-lights and LED Panel lights to achieve my intended effect.

Desperate Housewives: Tone

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Watching ‘Desperate Housewives’, one of the things that I noticed as being particularly striking, is the use of high key lighting and bright colors when telling dark, twisted stories. Throughout the show, the vivid colors of suburbia, such as green, pink, yellow, orange, and blue pop out and make the scenes look happy and cheerful. The bright, warm lights with little to no shadow, are not indicative of anything sinister going on at all. Visually, everything looks pleasing and perfect and happy.

However, underlying this chipper and joyful facade, the events going on are usually disturbing and dark, involving death, murder, deceit, cheating and lying. The juxtaposition between the perception and reality creates an interesting and unusual effect. For example, in the pilot episode, we see one of the women, Mary Alice Young, shoot herself in the head in her living room. The setting looks bright and cheery. She seems perfectly normal and content. The music is peppy the there is absolutely nothing hinting at the fact that a suicide is about to happen. Then, suddenly seeing a gun and blood in such a peaceful, pleasant scene throws off the viewers and is immediately gripping. It is creepy and intriguing all at the same time.

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This kind of upbeat lighting and color scheme balancing the sinister plot lines allows the tone of Desperate Housewives to walk a fine line between comedy and drama. I personally love this approach because it keeps audiences on edge. We never know what to expect. In my short film too, I want to achieve this kind of tone. I want bright lights and colors to offset the dark, serious subject matter. The film should start off looking like its set in a happy room and there should be nothing extraordinary about the protagonist at face value. Only as the story unfolds, should we start to notice the strange and unsettling elements. This will increase the suspense/surprise element and keep viewers guessing. Also, the bright lights and brilliant colors will lend a strange sense of surrealism to my short film, which, in turn, will provide for very interesting visuals and aesthetics.

Short Film Conventions

Following the conventions:

  • Most short films tend to be about 5-10 minutes long, sometimes going up to a maximum length of 35 minutes. The time limit of 5 minutes prescribed in the coursework very much falls within the framework of a conventional short film.
  • Typically, short films contain some kind of “twist” to make them more interesting. A storytelling tool as sudden and powerful as a twist is useful for telling a compelling tale in such a short amount of time. In my short film there is a big plot twist at the end that the entire film builds up to. I want this to surprise viewers and leave them with something to think about.
  • Short films usually work with a low budget and thus make use of smaller, lesser known actors and stick to just one or two locations. For me, as a student, this is very much the case. The “actors” I am going to use are all people I know in real life (not professional actors), who will work for free, and the two locations I am going to shoot in (the bedroom and the living room) are both in my house. This would make the filming process manageable and cost-effective for me.
  • Also, a result of having low budgets, short films typically tend to stick to genres of social realism and hardly ever make use of expensive CGI inserts or special effects. In this vein, my short film too is based on real life and does not require complex special effects to be added in post production, which is beyond my means. Even though there are manifestations of the protagonists mind personified in real life, these personalities will be played by different actors and I can capture everything I need through the filming process itself.
  • Short films conventionally are set in an everyday setting also because it would help audiences relate to the story better and faster, and make them look forward to the climax and resolution. Having the location of my short film be inside a normal household will hopefully evoke these kinds of sentiments from the viewers.
  • I utilize the oft used hermeneutic code in my short film, in order to raise questions at the beginning of the film that will eventually be answered at the very end. It creates a sense of mystery, tension and confusion. This is very effective narrative technique that engages audiences and makes keep watching in order to find out the truth and get answers.

Challenging the conventions:

  • Most short films typically tend to have just 2-3 characters as there is not enough time to create deep backstories for the characters or for the audience to get to know all the characters well in such a short time. However, due to the nature of the disorder I have chosen and my  plot, I am going to have 6 characters in the film, which is more than you would normally see on screen in a 5-minute video. Without this many characters, I would not be able to tell my story, so it is essential for me to utilize all these different people.
  • Todorov’s theory of equilibrium is typically applied to most films. According to his theory, the narrative should follow the structure of equilibrium (everything is normal), disequilibrium (a problem occurs) and new equilibrium (the problem is solved). However, my short film mostly exists in the sphere of disequilibrium. The normalcy at the the very beginning is quickly shed, as we delve into a chaotic world. At the very end, there is no sense of normalcy restored, as the viewers are simply left with a surprise. Given the very limited amount of time available, the state of disequilibrium felt like the most interesting one to dwell in as it would raise a lot of questions and engage the viewers.

Mental Illness in Film

Over the years, a lot of films have tackled the issue of mental illness and presented this very serious subject in different ways. Deciding to base a film around a disorder or illness is a bold and challenging move, because it is important to get the details right and accurately depict it, otherwise the film simply will not work. It is also important to not offend the viewers or make it look as though the movie is poking fun at the illness or people suffering from it. There is a fine line that has to be walked here, and certain movies have managed to effectively capture the emotional and psychological core of a mental disorder in a manner way that works for the film and audiences alike. Here are some examples of those films:

Silver Linings Playbook (2012)

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This romantic comedy starring Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper, which was nominated for eight Academy Awards, takes an irreverent and unusually empathetic look at bipolar disorder. With both the protagonists dealing with this mental illness, the film revolves around the rollercoaster of emotions that control their lives, and presents their struggle in a manner that feels honest and raw. The romantic comedy element provides moments of much needed comic relief and a very human story for audiences to follow and actively engage with, indirectly communicating that an illness such as bipolar disorder does not have to define everything about you. The underlying message of the film is that a mental disorder is not something to be embarrassed about, but rather something that we can embrace and manage and deal with.

Black Swan (2010)

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This highly acclaimed psychological thriller starring Natalie Portman follows a young ballerina’s descent into madness in the competitive world of professional ballet. The protagonist, Nina, shows elements of an anxiety disorder and obsessive compulsive behaviors.  She also exhibits self-injurious behavior and signs of an eating disorder, and also dabbles with substance abuse. As the film progresses, she begins to have psychotic breaks and symptoms of schizophrenia as a result of emotional abuse, stress and various other factors. The line between reality and hallucinations gets increasingly blurred as the film culminates to a climactic ending. The film uses a lot of creative artistic license in its portrayal of mental disorders, but the intertwining of the psychodrama and the story is haunting and brilliant.

A Beautiful Mind (2001)

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This film, based on a true story, portrays the life of a person living with schizophrenia in a manner that feels honest and truthful, though some say the Hollywood version of Josh Nash’s life does use some creative artistic license when it comes to medical realities. However, mental health experts applaud the film for creating a better understanding of the disorder and reinforcing the idea that being a genius does not preclude someone from having a mental illness such a schizophrenia. The film observes the impact that the intrusiveness of his symptoms has on his daily life and relationships with his family, friends and colleagues. The hallucinations that his disorder triggers and the difficulty of living with the condition are presented with emotion and empathy. The fact that the disorder does not become clear till about half way through adds a bit of shock value, as viewers are forced to reevaluate past events.

Fight Club (1999)

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This cult classic, tackles the idea of Dissociative Identity Disorder using a lot of creative freedom and artistic license. In the film, the disorder is triggered not by childhood or emotional trauma (as would most likely be the case in real life), but rather through the protagonist’s feeling trapped and stuck in the structure of modern society, which literally causes him to dissociate. The illness is used as a means to comment upon the intense psychological damage caused by consumerism and our corporate, materialistic culture. An important parallel between the depicted disorder and the real disorder is the idea that the alternate identities are present as a coping mechanism for the individual. Therefore, a stronger, more confidant personality takes over. Overall, the film uses the disorder as a metaphor for humankind and for major shock-inducing plot twist at the end.

Looking at all these films, I gathered that when depicting a mental illness, it is certainly important to understand the symptoms and depict them as realistically as possible, but the filmmaker may also make use of creative license and artistic freedom to keep the storyline interesting and engaging for audiences. I also found that the unpredictability that comes with mental illness makes it great fodder for plot twists. In many films, the mental illness is used to build the framework for a major shock that would surprise audiences and catch them off guard. In my short film too, I am using the mental illness to create a shocking plot twist at the end.

Challenging Genre Conventions

Though my short film does follow some of the conventions of the drama genre in terms of having realistic, sympathetic characters and aiming to provoke an emotional response from viewers, it does challenge a quite of few of the conventions as well:

  • Dramas usually have a character development arc running through the storyline, with the main character going on some sort of journey, either literally or metaphorically. However, due to the limited time available, there will not be room for too much character development in my short film. Instead, my film will focus more on a character sketch, presenting the protagonist as she is at a certain point in her life.
  • Dramas conventionally feature heavy social interaction, which is not the case in my short film in which the story is more action and character driven, than dialogue driven. There are some glimpses of a long conversation between the mother and therapist woven into the main storyline, but this is not presented as a full discussion. We only hear a few words or phrases at a time.
  • In most dramas there is some form of conflict depicted, usually based around a protagonist and an antagonist. While there is some conflict in my short film between Anamika (the protagonist) and her alter identities, this is not a conflict in the traditional sense. There is no clearly defined “villain” or antagonist.
  • Drama films typically end with with some form of realization or happy ending where the conflict is resolved and peace is restored. My film does not have this sort of ending, with the storyline not actually solving any problems but actually just making a big revelation, before closing suddenly to leave the viewers in surprise. The twist at the end would answer the audience’s questions but it is not a “happily ever after” scenario by any means.

Still Alice

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“Still Alice”, directed by Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland and starring Julianne Moore is a powerful, emotional drama about a middle-aged linguistics professor, Alice, who gets diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. I decided to watch this film to see how the mental disorder was portrayed on the screen and how, as an audience member, I responded to it. Julianne Moore’s brilliantly striking and intensely raw performance made me feel deep sympathy for Alice and even moved me to tears. When there’s a character dealing with something serious like a mental disorder, I realized that getting the audience to feel for and root for the character is very important. Even though in a 5-minute short film there is not as much time to build such a strong relationship with the audience, I want my short film to have some kind of impact on whoever watches it. 

Continue reading “Still Alice”

Make-Up and Costumes

ANAMIKA

  • She must look like she has just woken up, so she will be dressed in casual clothing
  • No make-up
  • Shorts and a loose t-shirt
  • Dishevelled, messy hair

ASHWIN

  • A casual t-shirt and trousers/long shorts
  • No makeup
  • Look of a normal, average guy

ARYA

  • Ripped tights; floppy t-shirt (also ripped)
  • Crazy, big hair
  • Dark, deep eye makeup; deep red lips with the lipstick smeared
  • Overall, must look like a lunatic

ASHVITA

  • A simple, colorful dress that looks childish in nature. Perhaps a floral print or polka dots.
  • Hair in two ponytails
  • Light makeup – soft pink lipstick; faded rouge. The makeup is just to liven up her face; it should not actually look like she’s wearing it
  • A very pleasant, cute look to contrast the dark character

ANAMIKA’S MOTHER

  • Jeans and a shirt
  • Slightly messy hair (indicating she’s having a busy day)
  • No makeup
  • Earthy look

MRS. CHOPRA

  • A formal saree + an elegant, black handbag
  • A neat, tight bun
  • Classy, proper make-up – eyeliner; eyeshadow; mild pink lipstick; rouge
  • On the whole, very prim and put-together