Storytelling school

How Creators Use Color in Cinematic Storytelling

Want to spice up your cinematography? Add a splash of color.

I think as writers and directors, we often get caught up in the big elements of a story. We worry about the plot, the dialogue, the settings and much more, that we forget that there are small things that can make a big difference. These touches to a screenplay or movie can accentuate the voice and the theme.

One of the most important “small” elements is color. A splash of color can lift a mood, extract a theme, or even evoke an emotion.

Today I want to go over some easy ways to add color to your work. Watch this video from In Depth Cine and let’s talk about it afterwards.

How Creators Use Color in Cinematic Storytelling

Film color theory is something we talk about here on No Film School. I truly believe in the power of color to help you harness your storytelling abilities. But first, you have to learn how to exploit it. As a writer first and foremost, I’m not here to tell you how to describe scene lighting. But I’m here to say that the mood and tone of the script should be a great blueprint for the director and DP to identify how they want to create a lighting scheme.

I also find it helpful to think about different colors when writing scenes. Would it benefit the scene to mention a neon glow? Or talk about a pale blue light projected by the moon? Or maybe you want a character to be in the red light district… bathed in brown shadow? Again, it’s all about mood and tone. These are things you can add to help people’s imaginations and sell certain themes.

Here’s a quick guide to the colors we’ve used before:

  • RED – anger, passion, rage, desire, excitement, energy, speed, strength, power, heat, love, aggression, danger, fire, blood, war, violence
  • PINK – love, innocence, healthy, happy, happy, romantic, charming, playful, sweet, delicate, feminine
  • YELLOW – wisdom, knowledge, relaxation, joy, happiness, optimism, idealism, imagination, hope, sunshine, summer, dishonesty, cowardice, betrayal, jealousy, covetousness, deceit, disease, chance
  • ORANGE – humor, energy, balance, warmth, enthusiasm, vibrant, expansive, flamboyant
  • GREEN – healing, appeasement, perseverance, tenacity, self-awareness, pride, unchanging nature, environment, health, luck, renewal, youth, vigor, spring, generosity, fertility, jealousy, inexperience, envy
  • BLUE – faith, spirituality, contentment, loyalty, fulfillment peace, tranquility, calm, stability, harmony, unity, trust, truth, confidence, conservatism, security, cleanliness, order, sky, water, cold, technology, depression
  • PURPLE/PURPLE – erotic, royalty, nobility, spirituality, ceremony, mysterious, transformation, wisdom, enlightenment, cruelty, arrogance, mourning, power, sensitivity, intimacy
  • BROWN – materialistic, feel, earth, home, exterior, reliability, comfort, endurance, stability, simplicity
  • BLACK – No, power, sexuality, sophistication, formality, elegance, wealth, mystery, fear, anonymity, unhappiness, depth, style, evil, sadness, remorse, anger
  • WHITE – Yes, protection, love, reverence, purity, simplicity, cleanliness, peace, humility, precision, innocence, youth, birth, winter, snow, good, sterility, marriage (Western cultures), death (Eastern cultures), cold, clinical , sterile
  • SILVER – rich, glamorous, distinguished, earthy, natural, clean, elegant, high-tech
  • GOLD – precious, wealth, extravagance. warmth, wealth, prosperity, greatness

Specific vs General

There are two schools of thought when it comes to color. The first is that specific colors evoke specific emotions, as seen in the list above. The other is that color can usually skew a mood and is great for adding depth to scenes. These two schools of thought will sometimes clash, but there are merits to everything. I think the most important part is that you use color to break out of the norm. You use it to interact with people and highlight everything you want them to feel and understand about your story.

What do you think of color in movies and TV? How about how you use it in your writing?

Let us know in the comments.