Do your locations reflect your protagonist’s mood? 1 comment


Salma Hayek as the title character in the 2004 Frida Kahlo biopic 'Frida', in red, lying against an embroidered pillow

Cinema attracts me because it gives me the opportunity to express something that isn’t possible on a stage. At the same time, I’ve had a restricted budget on all my films. But that have only been positive for the creative process. For instance, on a film like Frida, my work on finding an idiograph for every scene became useful also in regards to production. Since we couldn’t shoot Frida’s travels to New York and Paris in the actual cities, we solved those scenes by recreating small parts of those places that expressed Frida’s mood; New York became cold, tight and art deco – Paris became romantic and art nouveau. Same with the color palettes. If we would’ve had access to the actual places, we would’ve had too much to choose from. Limitations force you to find the essence of what you want to say, which is one of the most important things to know for an artist.

Julie Taymor, in Oh, Girl: A Talk with Julie Taymor [links added]

I agree wholeheartedly with what Julie Taymor says about the importance finding the essence of what you want to say and also the creative potential of embracing limitations, but right now I want to focus on her strategy of using settings to convey the character’s mood:

“Since we couldn’t shoot Frida’s travels to New York and Paris in the actual cities, we solved those scenes by recreating small parts of those places that expressed Frida’s mood; New York became cold, tight and art deco – Paris became romantic and art nouveau.”

I find two aspects of Taymor’s location strategy interesting:

1. The idea of recreating a small part of a place to convey a larger (unavailable) story world; and

2. The idea of linking specific settings, their signature design motifs/color palettes, and character mood.

What kind of specific location choice could convey the essence of the setting for your story? How do those choices reflect the mood of your main characters? Those two questions are already interesting on their own, but when you consider them together… magic.

There’s a lot to chew on in that short quote. I hope you’ll take the time to think about it and untangle it all. I’d love to hear how you apply these ideas in your writing.

PS You can catch a glimpse of some of those New York and Paris interiors in the Frida trailer:


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