Last October, the premiere of The French Messenger, the next creation of Wes Anderson, took place. The film is already up for several Oscar nominations. We, however, will analyze it into its components and see what color schemes the director used in it. And at the same time, what shots are worth peeping with a pencil in hand and take note for filming.
The French Herald is one of Anderson’s most intricate, ‘toy’ films, and is literally a storyteller for the way he works with storytelling, coloring and shots. In Vestnik, he juggles classic formats, black and white, animation, paint, and his trademark attention to detail.
Without exaggeration, the main color leitmotif of the Herald is the harmony of turquoise and yellow. The popular combination has been used many times: looking closely, you could observe it in the paintings of different directors, in photographs and in painting. However, Wes doesn’t just play with matching hues for a readable visual, he uses the palette as a leitmotif.
In different episodes of the film, the director resorts to more saturated tones, where the blue appears neon-turquoise, then moves away to lighter, pastel, almost weightless shades of this combination. Color combinations are always built not only on colors that are compatible with each other, but also on their shades. Art theorist Johannes Itten wrote about this. Bright blue cannot be in harmony with faded, pastel yellow. And vice versa.
In moments, the color balance goes into acidic shades. Given the circumstances of the plot, it is worth making a hypothesis: this is how the director, making the colors more aggressive, but remaining within the chosen palette, emphasizes the importance, the strength of the moment. It is not difficult to guess what exactly is shown in the frame, but we will not write spoilers.
In other frames, the combination of blue and yellow becomes excessively contrasting, and even played out due to the character’s costume in the frame.
Despite a single color line that connects the entire film, there are branches. So, Wes Anderson makes a number of episodes of the Herald in black and white. With soft contrast and gray undertones. It is difficult to draw unambiguous conclusions why the director used this visual technique and switched the picture. Perhaps the author had good reasons for this, or perhaps it was just a visual move for the sake of a visual move. One thing is for sure: in most of the black-and-white scenes of The Herald, the action flows smoothly. There is little expression, dynamics and a certain ‘violence’ in it — the feelings and experiences of the characters are rather inside. They manifest themselves in looks, gestures, their speech. Perhaps by omitting all the colors, Wes wanted to emphasize this?
In addition, in several moments the director uses another stable combination — red + blue. Pay attention to the glass, clear of paint, which casts a cold turquoise or red, which is present in one of the frames only in the format of a bright bar sign.
Red is generally the most visible and ‘aggressive’ color. A color with which you can additionally emphasize a bright emotion, action or character (if he has red clothes). So, in the first frame, red can emphasize the dynamics of what is happening in the plot, in the second frame — the expression of feelings and the dynamics of the character-artist in his work. In the latter case, a red sign can be regarded as a marker emphasizing the importance of the establishment itself. No wonder, because this bar serves an entire editorial office with rather whimsical tastes for drinks (as the very first shots of the film indicate).
For another scene, the author chooses a rare combination of pink and green. Take a closer look, it’s not just about the plants: the window and walls in the foreground are slightly tinted in a light green hue.
We have already said that Wes Anderson has a unique approach to working with a picture. You should definitely not expect classical compositional techniques from him. One of those that he uses in his films is the effect of presence.
The camera focuses on the long shot, leaving the person (or part of the person, such as a hand) in the foreground just a little bit in the frame. This creates a visual sensation, as if the viewer is involved in what is happening. The shots with the cyclist and the characters in the editorial office deserve special attention, where the gaze of the characters is turned forward, as if at the viewer himself.
One can admire and even disassemble the skillful approach of the master, but there is also something to learn from the director. We have found and marked 12 interesting tricks from the French Herald that you can use for photography.
one.Playing with the environment. First of all, this applies to urban finds in the city, which can be organically fit into your frame, creating an unusual picture. The director does this with a camera window and a grille, but given the reality, lampposts (as if dividing the frame), fences that can give a beautiful defocus and other geometry of urban objects are quite suitable. Do not be afraid of such structures in the frame, because they can be correctly entered together with the model.
2. Use the background. This is the second lesson. Reception is suitable for street or portrait shooting. A frame with details or even individual scenes in the background will look visually stronger. When shooting in a room where there is a window, try to wait for movement outside the window: a passer-by, a cyclist. So, you will get not only a person in the foreground in front of this window, but also some additional plot that is not immediately obvious. This will make the image more cinematic and visually enhance it.
3. Perspective. The technique is well known and often used by many authors. When photographing a person in a suitable interior, frame the frame symmetrically. Then the lines of perspective that go beyond the subject will make the portrait stronger and more dynamic.
4. Details. This maestro is definitely worth learning from. Look at the shots above and imagine both shots without the details that create asymmetry. Without a photo on the wall and a character in the background. If you remove them, the picture immediately becomes flat and boring. The main thing is to know when to stop and not to overdo it.
5. Asymmetrical location of the character in the frame. Yes, everyone knows about the axes and points on which it is best to place a person. However, some rules are there to be broken. By positioning the model closer to the edge of the frame, you can enhance the frame by making it more dynamic. But it is important that the background is worth taking up most of the photo and in harmony with the foreground.
6. Golden section. The point seems to contradict the previous one, but wait with the conclusions. Rules should be learned first before breaking them. Imagine each of the three frames above laid out on a thirds grid. If you draw a conditional line, then the foreground walls and the contour of the three men will divide the frame exactly by one third / two thirds. This is the classic well-known golden ratio or the rule of thirds. Of course, this law was not invented by Wes Anderson, but you should not doubt the power of such a division of the frame and work with space. The golden ratio rule has been around for centuries.
7. FROMwhen taking a portrait on a black background, choose predominantly light, plain clothes for the model. This technique will make a person even more contrasting. And if you shoot in BW, then the portrait will become as accent as possible. Selected footage from the “Bulletin” only confirms this.
eight. Shooting in cars, especially retro cars — it’s at least beautiful! And also not worn out by many locations and an option for filming. It’s no secret that glass refracts light, scattering it and making it a little softer. First of all, this applies to cloudy weather, or rain. With contrasting direct light, you are unlikely to get this.
9. Shot from the back can also be beautiful and reveal your hero. The main thing is to adequately understand where it is appropriate.
ten. Two love story ideas from a visual maestro. First — shoot a pair of angles from above head to head. Do not forget about the details that reveal the image. Second — use a long shot in a beautiful location that is suitable for lovers. With aesthetic architecture and details in the frame. So, they will harmoniously fit into the landscape, and the output will be almost a postcard.
11. Shoulder portrait in the bathroom Wes has almost a frame from The Dreamers. It will not be difficult to repeat this at home. Get the details you want in the frame (and maybe even make a few candles the only light sources) and press the shutter button.
12. Of course, Wes Anderson is not the first to come up with the idea of doing close-up portrait with half face. However, it is still a strong and immortal move. Take note.