The importance of historical accuracy
What shows you are a discerning filmmaker is your attention to detail. To the smallest aspect, everything is important when it comes to making a good film great. Turning our intention to historical films, it’s a subject Perspective Pictures has touched upon before - when we spoke about period costumes.
This time, we discuss the importance of historical accuracy which, even for filmmakers with limited funds, is not impossible to get right - it just takes a bit of added care and attention. A shoddily executed historical film will inevitably make your audience switch off. They need to feel as if they’re there, right in that moment, no matter where in history - so here’s some tips on how to make that happen.
Think about how we interact with each other in daily life in the 21st century, those little acts that seem so insignificant, the way we greet one another, the way we eat in public as opposed to how we eat in private. Now think about how we interacted with each other a hundred years ago, overall yes, things were the same, we still said hello, we still conducted ourselves in two different ways publicly and privately, yet the minutiae is so dramatically different.
When you’re creating a historical film, researching social and cultural codes of conduct is crucial. So many times, a historical film or TV drama will have paid the greatest attention to aesthetic detail, reimagining one era or another beautifully, yet certain uses of verbal or body language will be completely out of place, thus rendering a scene that little bit less believable to an audience.
Capturing the Mood
Recreating a particular mood is important in any film, historical or not, but this goes hand-in-hand with social differences that we spoke of just now. Remember that a mood is fifty percent defined by how your characters are behaving and the rest is what they’re feeling.
Max Winter explains this perfectly in No Film School: “Every picture of a historical scene has its own mood. It might be one of great tension, or it might be one of shocking tenderness or intimacy. That mood might not reveal itself in photographic documents right away; one might have to look a long time at the image to see what secrets it was holding. In the clip we see here from Loving, one would have to imagine that director Jeff Nichols had to look a long time at the couple depicted in the photograph supplied to establish what their relationship was like, and what emotions to convey in the scene.”
Choosing the Colours
Notice all three of these points are linked in a chain, because when you come to using colours in your film, it’s defined not only by the era, but the mood and social interactions between your characters. As an example, let’s take look at Steven Spielberg's widely acclaimed 2011 big screen adaption of Michael Morpurgo’s ‘War Horse’. Set in World War One, the film brimmed with raw emotion on all fronts - going from rich, exuberant colours as the storm clouds of war gathered, to dark and moody as conflict raged.
The films Cinematographer, Janusz Kaminski, did a superb job in enhancing the moods of particular scenes by really playing with colours. Being unabashed in your experimentation with colours for your historical is certainly the way to go.
So, these tips should help you in creating a historical film worthy of Spielburg himself!