6 Psychological Tricks to Level Up Your Filmmaking
June 27, 2022
The human brain is the most complex and intelligent object in the known universe. Yet, over the years, the art of filmmaking has somehow managed to use subtlety, trickery, and psychology to convince us to see and believe things that aren’t necessarily there. Whether it’s through color, camera movements, or angles, most of the time, these techniques are so genius that we often never even notice them as viewers.
Here is a list that we’ve compiled of just a few of these awesome tricks that many movies often use to fool you. Use them to help you enhance your filmmaking skills and make your next project your best yet!
The Kuleshov Effect
Initially demonstrated by Russian filmmaker and theorist, Lev Kuleshov, the Kuleshov Effect is an editing technique that involves pairing a person’s face with different images so that the audience derives new interpretations from composition and sequence. The different interactions of shots can change the meaning altogether, creating an emotional response in the viewer which can be used to convey powerful messages by virtually doing nothing.
Here is a clip of Alfred Hitchcock explaining the effect in more detail. Notice how the individual shots don’t particularly have meaning by themselves, but meaning is created by juxtaposition with other shots.
The Dolly Zoom
Also known as the Vertigo effect, the Dolly Zoom is used to unsettle viewers and give them a momentary sense of fake vertigo. It is achieved by keeping the center piece in the frame still while the background zooms out, causing uneasiness as the distorted perspective can’t be easily comprehended by the brain since it defies logic. One of the most iconic uses of this effect is in Jaws when Martin Brody first witnesses a shark attack on the beach. You can learn how to achieve this effect here.
Camera Movement: Left to Right vs. Right to Left
Humans are creatures of habit who are used to doing things in a certain way. Since our brains are accustomed to doing things from left to right and view this movement as an indicator of progress and success, within our mind, anybody who tries to go against that natural order is viewed in a negative way. Therefore, if someone is walking from left to right, it is viewed as an agreeable act. Meanwhile, someone moving from right to left feels unnatural and is therefore associated with negativity. You can read more about the importance of a character’s lateral movement in this article here.
Camera Angles and the Illusion of Power
This is a technique that is used a great deal throughout all of cinema. Although there are multiple camera angles that can be used to create different emotions in your viewers, two that are most commonly used are high-angle and low-angle shots. A high-angle shot often portrays a character as weak, timid, vulnerable, and powerless. Meanwhile, a low-angle shot does the opposite, showing a character to be almighty and powerful. Movies such as The Dark Knight and Harry Potter use this a lot to make characters seem either superior and dominant or inferior and weak.
Long Takes to Build Tension
Another common psychological technique filmmakers use are long takes to build up tension in an unexpected way. Audiences who have likely consumed hundred of hours of media have a subconscious idea of what a “normal” film should look, sound, and feel like. So, when they watch something that breaks that expectation, it causes them to feel like something’s off and that uneasy feeling sets in as they wonder what’s going to happen at the end of the long, suspenseful silence.
Although long takes can be used for a variety of purposes, they are often used in horror movies. This scene from The Shining is a great example of this. Notice how the 30+ second shot of Danny riding his bike in the beginning seems to break the common rules of filmmaking, ultimately making the scene feel off and building up tension within you as the viewer.
The use of color in film is incredibly important. It can influence the emotions of your audience both consciously and subconsciously and ultimately help convey a certain mood/feeling in a scene. To achieve this, many filmmakers use colored filters over their lighting equipment, such as blue to create a detached, cool sensibility and red to signal danger and excitement. Check out these shots from Rogue One and Joker and notice how the color/lighting in each helps to create two different feelings.
We hope you found these tips and tricks helpful and that you’ll try them out in your next project!
For more cool psychological filmmaking tricks, check out this article by Fandom Wire, or if you’re more into horror, we suggest reading this one by What Culture.