We have a good friend, a best friend even, and it isn’t your friend from high school, your childhood friend, your dog, parent, toy, or even Mr. Rogers… wait, I went too far there.
I am talking about your shadow.
Now you might not think it is that important, that magical, but a shadow is a rather useful tool in storytelling and is something that we are seeing less and less of in most film and TV. You must be thinking, “But Nick, you’re a writer, an author, why do you keep talking about film and TV? Shouldn’t you keep your comments to yourself on things you don’t know too well?”
First off, I was raised on movies and TV, and secondly, writing is writing is writing, third off, stop being a dick imaginary person asking this question.
Back on target: Why are shadow’s so important in not only a visual medium but in storytelling in general?
It is an ancient storytelling device, one that is used over campfires and movie projectors while the credits roll, usually telling a story about a dog and a bunny rabbit. It can be evil or good, but no matter what, it is useful because our shadows know everything about us because we’ve either made them do it or they made us do it.
Whatever ‘it’ is that is… I don’t know where Jimmy Hoffa is buried, stop asking!
A shadow is often used to project an emotion or a idea out from the character that has control of it. In many cases it is used in order to show the true motivation of the character and what they actually want.
In film, they are usually used to foreshadow (no pun intended… though that is a really easy one) a coming problem. It was a stylistic choice in most films from the early 20th century in order to build up suspense and also get coverage without having to have the actual actor on set. It was often used to insinuate a violent act was about to happen or even ownership over an object or person.
No matter what, if the shadow is accompanied by a Dutch Angle, you just knew shit was about to go down.
Now, it isn’t like the shadow is completely gone from this visual medium, but it seems to be relegated to being projected neatly on to walls. I don’t know why creatives in TV and film have decided that a shadow is only useful for showing their actor’s in silhouette or just their profile, but its made the medium less dynamic.
Shadows are something that accompany us everyday, and yet the lighting on most of these sets all but squashes the poor bastards out of existence. It’s like the film makers want the audience to think that all actors are vampires or something.
Shadows can be so useful because they are messy.
What does messy have anything to do with this? Shadows point out the flaws in our world or in our characters. They morph, grab, and change depending the surface they are clinging to at that moment. They usually bring something to the image that isn’t possible through CGI or even rotoscoping and it makes the image seem real. You watch most modern pieces today and you see shadows projected on to the actors in the scene but their shadows are rarely seen. Without their shadows, actors seem fake, they seem like they’re made of plastic and it can even hinder their performance.
If you’re making a film, remember, our shadows have played both hero and villain throughout human history and for good reason, it’s a rather shady character.
…I’ll see myself out.