I had a dream the other night in which the production designer of a documentary about a farm family was presenting me with some color swatches to view. All of the color swatches were dull colors—beige, pale blue and a muddy, off white. The idea, as the production designer explained it, was to make the entire setting, the farmer, his family and their home, look “better.” It was decided that the clothing and environment should be contained within a proscribed color universe. To do this, they would dye all of the farm family’s clothes, empty the rooms, repaint the walls, remove all of the knick knacks and utensils around the house and even alter the color of those in order to create a somewhat duller but more unified world.
This aspect of production design is common in fictional films. David Fincher is famous for color coordinating the rooms of his protagonists—for example, their clothes, furniture and walls might all be varying shades of bluish gray. Other movies might use this technique to confine flashbacks to golden warm tones while others might choose to unify the colors within the setting by meticulously coordinating wardrobe pieces, or even curtains and furniture. This can be obvious or subtle. For example, it’s fairly common for a white shirt to be dyed down to an off white during production of a film so it does not pop or glow too much against the background. You might not notice any of this art direction at work, but it’s there.
Anyway, many of these design elements were going to be applied to the documentary in my dream. Once the clothes, house and other items were all coordinated to depict a color-muted universe, the stuff would be put back exactly where it had come from and the family would be allowed to resume their normal daily lives.
In the dream I thought to myself, “This is very clever. Visitors to the farm family will immediately look like garish outsiders with their loud clothes, sporting colors that will inevitably clash with the toned down world of the farm. The sense that the farm is a world unto itself would, therefore, subtly be reinforced.” This seemed, in my dream analysis within the dream, like a pretty cool idea. Leave aside, as I did in my dream, the issue of whether this is a perversion of the notion of a documentary.
As my thoughts within the dream drifted, a disturbing thought arose. “What about the vegetables?” I realized, being a farm, that there would inevitably be bright red peppers, rich green leaves of kale and chard, and a variety of colorful fruits that would be brought from the farm into the house or barn. I thought to myself, “What about those? The film people wouldn’t re-paint vegetables would they? Nah, that would somehow be crossing a line.”