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When is black and white ok?


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#1 Robin Eriksson

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Posted 15 October 2008 - 04:28 PM

Im currently in film school and often when we see a modern black and white movie in our class people go crazy and say stuff like "why the hell is it in black and white?" "Do they think its arty?" and stuff like that. I really like black and white for some occasions and as I use a digital camera the noise in the shadows looks better in black and white. Not saying that I want to use it all the time but every now and then I think its better than in color, but is that reason enough?

Please share your thoughts.
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#2 Paul Bruening

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Posted 15 October 2008 - 04:44 PM

Hey Robin,

Much of general viewer reaction has to do with familiarity. We're used to color. B&W is odd to us. Of course, it was different back when monochrome was the standard. Even up to the 60's, B&W was still, while rarer, an acceptable shooting medium.

There is another issue involved. Color and B&W use somewhat different pathways in the brain to process. People have lost the actual "skill" of translating B&W into a brain acceptable reality. Ironically, stage theater is still a culturally supported presentation form even though it has fallen to a limited market. No one gripes at a stage presentation because it doesn't look like "real life". I like B&W a lot. But it does take effort to make myself enjoy it and not be distracted by the color factor.

Another smaller point is in the unique language of B&W movies. Because of the lack of color, directors and actors had to deliver more pronounced performances. B&W acting is way bigger than color acting. It took the movie industry a while to tone the actors down to a level that color could tolerate. Nowadays, overacting based on this principle is one of the controlling factors in a director's take decision. Director's are constantly having to tamp down on performer's acting levels. The inverse of this is: directors and actors have great trouble finding the right level of performance to match B&W and still not go too far for a modern audience.
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#3 Boyd McCollum

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Posted 15 October 2008 - 04:55 PM

I'm curious which films in b&w you were watching.

I would say that I wouldn't look towards your classmates (I say this with affection - I was a film student myself back in the day), as arbiters of art, arty, or whether b&w is a legitimate filmic look in modern cinema. It can be an eloquent way to strip away the fluff and focus on the essentials of the story. There are also many films that are so desaturated and stark, or otherwise monochromatic, that they may as well be b&w.
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#4 Chad Stockfleth

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Posted 15 October 2008 - 04:57 PM

The commercial world has so much more freedom when it comes to this as people are far more excepting of bizarre looks for a short amount of time.

I recently completed a couple of spots in b&w and it was really nice to get to think about lighting and performance in a different way.
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#5 Benson Marks

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Posted 15 October 2008 - 05:40 PM

This is a matter of talent, Robin, and nobody can teach talent. Either you have it or you don't. If you think you have the talent to do B&W then go ahead. This isn't something anybody can help you with. You have to make the decision yourself. Again, it's all about your talent.
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#6 Chad Stockfleth

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Posted 15 October 2008 - 06:33 PM

I'm not sure what Benson means when he says having "talent" makes it appropriate to shoot in b&w. By that measure, you wouldn't make any creative choice without the presence of "talent" and people do it all the time! :P

Use it when it makes sense to YOU to use it. Use it when you WANT to use it. Sure, there is a difference in technique when shooting monochromatically, but like anything, you will get better with experience.

I love black & white. It has a timeless nature, not unlike a still photo. It renders life in a way that you don't normally see. It is poetic.

Life is too short, make the pictures you like to make.

Chad
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#7 Ira Ratner

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Posted 15 October 2008 - 06:35 PM

Robin, with all due respect:

I have UNDERWEAR older than you. And if you're actually in film school but don't understand the difference between shooting in B&W or color, you have to watch more movies and really pay attention--or read a book.

But here's a big hint for you:

Human beings see the world in color. So shooting in B&W does what for your production that color can't?
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#8 Benson Marks

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Posted 15 October 2008 - 06:49 PM

I'm not sure what Benson means when he says having "talent" makes it appropriate to shoot in b&w. By that measure, you wouldn't make any creative choice without the presence of "talent" and people do it all the time! :P


Chad, I didn't say having talent means you can shoot in B&W. I said that it's all about your talent. You gotta understand, B&W is an artform, and it requires a certain type of creativity and artistic aptitude. B&W requires a certain type of talent. Expressionism requires a certain type of talent. Realism requires a certain type of talent. It's all about whether you have the talent to do movies in B&W or not.

Makes sense now?

Edited by Benson Marks, 15 October 2008 - 06:52 PM.

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#9 Chris Burke

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Posted 15 October 2008 - 06:54 PM

Im currently in film school and often when we see a modern black and white movie in our class people go crazy and say stuff like "why the hell is it in black and white?" "Do they think its arty?" and stuff like that. I really like black and white for some occasions and as I use a digital camera the noise in the shadows looks better in black and white. Not saying that I want to use it all the time but every now and then I think its better than in color, but is that reason enough?

Please share your thoughts.




I guess it all comes down to the story. Just like all of the other tools at our disposal, black and white is more appropriate at certain times than others. I feel that when you do use it, you are forced into paying attention to the shot, or just more so. I mean that composition and contrast (especially contrast), play a larger role because you are using a surealistic medium, monochrome, rather than a realistic medium, like color. I don't agree about the acting being different. What Paul was referring to was a particular style that was the way back when B&W was the norm. Granted the stylized acting of yore went hand in hand with the look of the day, but modern films such as Pi or the Man Who Wasn't There or Goodnight And Good Luck, work just as well with their varied takes on modern day acting. I am currently writing a horror feature that will be shot with both black and white and color. High tension stories, like horror or sci fi, indie crime dramas or rock and roll docs, all tend to work very well with b&w. Check out Fearless Freaks, Christmas on Mars or I Am Trying To Break Your Heart. They were all shot on 7231 and 7222 among other things. It is a bit more work like I said, because of the lack of color, but in my humble opinion, it is worth every minute of it. There is nothing quite like it. Shoot some Super 16 in 7265 and 7266, if you can. It is a very modern stock and yields beautiful images, when exposed correctly.

Edited by Chris Burke, 15 October 2008 - 06:55 PM.

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#10 Ira Ratner

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Posted 15 October 2008 - 07:01 PM

Whether you're a fan of his or not--and I happen to be a fan of his WORK most of the time--there's no better example of shooting in B&W in modern times than Woody Allen.

Yeah, yeah...there are a ton of artsy fartsy guys who do B&W films that 99.9% of the free world would never consider watching. But Woody Allen (or his DP) is able to bridge that gap between that art and the popular culture/themes that us stupid Americans will actually enjoy.
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#11 Scott Bryant

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Posted 15 October 2008 - 07:30 PM

I was recently thinking about this also.

The way I kinda look at it is if you are using a tool as a part of a medium, it needs to do something that couldn't be done with out it. Basically (in a perfect world: for me that is) if you are using color or sound, you need to use it in such a way that your film would suffer if it was taken away. Contrapuntal sound, storytelling through the color, etc. etc. So my point of view is (much like some of the previous responses) alot of films don't really need color and i would bet most aren't using it for story so much as they just use it because it's how we see the world and it's how we're used to seeing modern film for the most part.

Just my opinions though.
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#12 Simon Wyss

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Posted 16 October 2008 - 02:47 AM

It has a timeless nature, not unlike a still photo. It renders life in a way that you don't normally see. It is poetic.

Yes, there is prose, there is poetry. Coulour equals industry equals prose. Black-white equals handcraft equals poetry, the immediate. Real black and white, not Schindler's List, that was colour negative and colour positive, is silver in the cinemas. The perception of a black-and-white film has to do with the heart, our dreamful side. Our reaction is in the head. The perception of a colour movie has more to do with the brain and the reaction is in the heart. Try to observe this with yourself.
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#13 Glen Alexander

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Posted 16 October 2008 - 08:38 AM

I shot B&W because it suits the story and as an artist, B&W is preparation before moving on to a new space.

B&W strips away all pretense. Color assaults the eye, B&W focuses on the story.

Edited by Glen Alexander, 16 October 2008 - 08:39 AM.

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#14 Danny Haritan

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Posted 16 October 2008 - 02:40 PM

I plan on shooting an all B&W short film in the spring for my cinematography class. I'll be shooting in a church the whole time. I'm going to try and make it a film noir look. I plan on shooting in B&W to challenge myself and to experiment with something I'm not familiar with.
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#15 Ira Ratner

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Posted 17 October 2008 - 06:35 PM

I'll be shooting in a church the whole time. I'm going to try and make it a film noir look.


Are you allowed to do film noir in a church?

HAH!!! JUST A JOKE!!!

But seriously folks, that sounds extremely interesting. Can I assume that you showed or are going to show the script to the head Priest/Minister/Reverend? And the story will be good to go from his perspective?
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#16 John Sprung

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Posted 17 October 2008 - 07:03 PM

Human beings see the world in color.

Most of the time, yes. There is the rods and cones thing, the cones see color, but drop out at low light levels, leaving us with B&W rod vision.

So, B&W for noir and horror makes some sense, if the idea is that we're barely able to see, and bad stuff lurks in the shadows.

If a story is set in the early 20th century, B&W makes sense as that was the film of the period.

In a color film, desaturation in the DI can help to sell a dark night scene.

Of course you can also use B&W when it's not motivated by these things. If it helps get the emotional response you want, go for it.




-- J.S.
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#17 Danny Haritan

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Posted 17 October 2008 - 11:00 PM

Are you allowed to do film noir in a church?

HAH!!! JUST A JOKE!!!

But seriously folks, that sounds extremely interesting. Can I assume that you showed or are going to show the script to the head Priest/Minister/Reverend? And the story will be good to go from his perspective?


I'm not showing the Priest the script, since it's about a Priest who molests alter boys and does drugs, and all that jazz. I did a restaurant movie a few weeks ago for my class, and shot at the restaurant I work at, and didn't tell the workers what it was about. The movie ended with an orgy scene and the whole film is very vulgar and sexual.
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#18 Steward

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Posted 19 October 2008 - 12:32 AM

Although I've never shot an entire piece in black and white... I've often used it as a "dream" sequence or in a "flashback/historical" context. I think most people feel as if it were historical... certainly older, when viewing in black and white.
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#19 Andrew Koch

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Posted 19 October 2008 - 05:55 PM

Although I've never shot an entire piece in black and white... I've often used it as a "dream" sequence or in a "flashback/historical" context. I think most people feel as if it were historical... certainly older, when viewing in black and white.



Steward. You need to change your screenname to your full FIRST and LAST name as per forum rules. Go to "My Controls" at the top of the screen to do so.
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#20 Steward

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Posted 20 October 2008 - 09:31 AM

B&W strips away all pretense. Color assaults the eye, B&W focuses on the story.


That pretty much appears to hit the nail on the head.
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