As a filmmaker, it's your responsibility to take advantage of every tool that is thrown your way. Here at NFS, we throw around our opinions on lighting, sound technique, and equipment all the time. But what about color?

No, I'm not talking about color grading, color correction, or even the color quality of different cameras. I'm talking about production design. I'm talking about writing color as an entire character in your script. I'm talking about taking each one of your scenes in storyboard and assigning a color to it—even if you don't end up using it.

If you're looking for a subtle way to make a scene resonate emotionally, there may be no better way than choosing a color associated with the emotion you are trying to evoke.

Today, we're going to go over all of that and much more.

Let's get started.

A Guide to Color in Storytelling

Color psychology in film and TV is the strategic use of colors to evoke specific emotional and psychological responses from the audience.

Filmmakers employ color choices to enhance storytelling, develop characters, and create immersive atmospheres. Each color carries its own associations and connotations, influencing the viewer's perception and feelings.

By applying color psychology, filmmakers tap into the viewers' subconscious reactions, intensifying the impact of scenes and narratives.

Whether through the ominous use of shadows, the vibrant hues of a romantic setting, or the monochromatic scheme of a dystopian future, color psychology amplifies the emotional resonance of film and TV content, enriching the overall viewing experience.

What Does Each Color Mean in Filmmaking?

The above video by video editor Lilly Mtz-Seara beautifully illustrates how color psychology works in filmmaking.

Within each color are a multitude of hues you can break down even further to specifically hone in on the exact level of emotion you're seeking.

  • RED – anger, passion, rage, desire, excitement, energy, speed, strength, power, heat, love, aggression, danger, fire, blood, war, violence
  • PINK – love, innocence, healthy, happy, content, romantic, charming, playfulness, soft, delicate, feminine
  • YELLOW – wisdom, knowledge, relaxation, joy, happiness, optimism, idealism, imagination, hope, sunshine, summer, dishonesty, cowardice, betrayal, jealousy, covetousness, deceit, illness, hazard
  • ORANGE – humor, energy, balance, warmth, enthusiasm, vibrant, expansive, flamboyant
  • GREEN – healing, soothing, perseverance, tenacity, self-awareness, proud, unchanging nature, environment, healthy, good luck, renewal, youth, vigour, 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/VIOLET – erotic, royalty, nobility, spirituality, ceremony, mysterious, transformation, wisdom, enlightenment, cruelty, arrogance, mourning, power, sensitive, intimacy
  • BROWN – materialistic, sensation, earth, home, outdoors, 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 – riches, glamorous, distinguished, earthy, natural, sleek, elegant, high-tech
  • GOLD – precious, riches, extravagance. warm, wealth, prosperity, grandeur

Examples of Color Theory in Film and TV

Examples of Color Theory in Film and TV

'Three Colours: Red'

CREDIT: Taste of Cinema

Color theory is a crucial element in the realm of film and TV, as it plays a significant role in conveying emotions, setting moods, and enhancing storytelling.

Here are some examples of how color theory is used in film and TV:

  1. The Matrix (1999): The film uses a distinct color palette, dominated by green hues, to create an otherworldly and futuristic atmosphere. The green tint symbolizes the virtual reality of the Matrix itself, setting it apart from the real world.
  2. The Great Gatsby (2013): This adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel employs vibrant and rich colors to capture the opulence of the Roaring Twenties. The use of bright golds and greens highlights the extravagance of the period, while more somber blues and grays reflect the underlying themes of disillusionment and excess.
  3. Breaking Bad (TV series, 2008-2013): The show utilizes a color progression for its characters, particularly Walter White. His wardrobe starts off in earthy, muted tones, but as he becomes more immersed in the drug trade, his clothing gradually shifts to darker and more intense colors, symbolizing his transformation into a darker persona.
  4. Schindler's List (1993): This film is renowned for its use of color to emphasize key elements. While the majority of the movie is in black and white, the red coat worn by a young girl in one scene stands out dramatically. This serves as a powerful visual device, drawing attention to the suffering amidst the bleakness.
  5. Amélie (2001): The film is characterized by its warm, inviting color palette that mirrors the whimsical and romantic nature of the story. The use of greens, reds, and yellows contributes to the film's fairy-tale-like atmosphere.
  6. Sin City (2005): This film uses a high-contrast black-and-white style with occasional splashes of color to highlight specific elements, such as blood or The Yellow Bastard. This technique enhances the graphic novel feel of the movie and emphasizes its gritty, noir aesthetics.
  7. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015): The film is drenched in vibrant oranges and blues, which not only create a visually stunning desert landscape but also evoke feelings of intensity, danger, and urgency.
  8. The Handmaid's Tale (TV series, 2017-present): The show uses a limited color palette, dominated by red and white, to underscore the themes of oppression and control. The use of red, in particular, symbolizes the Handmaids' roles as reproductive vessels.
  9. La La Land (2016): The film employs a variety of bright and contrasting colors to complement the musical and romantic narrative. The colors often shift based on the mood of the scene, enhancing the emotional impact.
  10. The Wizard of Oz (1939): The transition from the sepia-toned Kansas scenes to the vibrant, technicolor world of Oz serves as a classic example of using color to signify shifts in narrative and emotion.

These examples demonstrate how color theory in film and TV can be a powerful tool for enhancing storytelling, conveying emotions, and creating memorable visual experiences.

In the world of film and television, the deliberate selection and manipulation of colors within scenes can allow the audience to dig deep into our emotions and psyche.

From the sinister greens that shroud mysteries to the passionate reds that ignite romance, color psychology serves as an invisible hand guiding our perceptions and feelings.

Whatever you're working on next, make sure you bring color to the forefront!