How do I make my movie look depressing?

Where(not specific locations, but just general ideas) and what can I film to make a very depressing movie?
Someone told me neon lights at night in a big city with lots of litter. I need to know what really makes depressing scenery and filming tips and ideas.

Deep underwater. I’ll take you out on my boat if I get half a chance and drow…er…DIRECT you to the right area.

I get depressed by film images of places that have a cold, wintery look to them - grays - low contrast colors- stark lines - kind of washed out.

Neon lights @ night + abundant litter just make me wish I was in Las Vegas!

Wow…it depends on so much. What kind of people are in this movie? What area of the world does it take place in? Why is is depressing? What kind of pain are these people in?
Neon and trash makes me think of Blade Runner…which is dark but not specifiacally depressing. My initial thought was grainy filmstock…washed out colors…sort of a reminder that at one time things were bright and new. Show your actors kind of rawly…so they look like they have no makeup and you can see their pain in their faces.
Empty cities at night are always good, if a little cliche. Anything completely empty or so crowded that it’s depersonalizeing is depressing.
In the end there are a million ways you can go. Please give us more info on what you are trying to acheive

Filter everything cold. Light from above; go heavy on backlighting and light on fill lighting. Use a lot of extreme closeups and avoid camera motion. To reinforce the idea of solitude, have characters exist in rooms and environments with no furniture or decorations to distract from the character (see Trainspotting.) Film lots of stuff indoors or, if outdoors, at night. Lighting is very important for setting mood. Use things like the venetian blinds effect, make heavy use of shadows, etc. If you have a large lens try shooting under a street light or next to a dim lamp. Include a lot of silence. Silence makes people VERY uncomfortable.

This is all just random thoughts. Lemme know if you have any questions about how to impliment this stuff.

BTW, are you working with film or video? What format(s)? There are things you can get away with on film that won’t work on video, and vice-versa.

Three words:
Walt Disney Presents.

Man, I’m depressed just thinking about it.

Seriously, now.

Dress everyone in dull colors. It sured worked for Woody Allen in “Interiors.”

Make sure your sets, props, and costumes are worn and scuffed, like in “Eraserhead.”

Constant rainfall, like in “Seven.”

I think longer shots are more depressing, at least to set up the scene. I’m thinking of a brightly-lit diner at night. The actor is in a booth, all alone. A slightly high camera angle will make the actor look vulnerable. Get a couple of closeups on the actor looking miserable, not talking to anyone (no one’s there, eh?). Maybe something depressing (or depressingly mundane) on his plate. The actor is important here. He’s so lonely and depressed he can barely keep his compsure.

At night, outside or inside (inspite of what I just wrote about the brightly-lit diner), pools of light are good. It isolates the actor.

Not too much dialog. As friedo said, silence makes people uncomfortable.

Lonely elderly people. Especially if something bad happens to them.

A note on venetian blinds effect. This is easily and cheaply made with a sheet of foam-core. On this page: you can see the VB “cookie” (short for “cucoloris”) in the upper-left, and you can see the VB effect on the wall centre and right. You can also make “window frames” or random patterns the same way. Need a scary silhouette? Foam-core. I made a few cookies with foam-core, and epoxied fibreglas rods to them so they’ll fit easily into a C-stand. (The lighting guy who did the photo on the page I referred to just clamped the cookie into the C-stand w/o a rod. It was something he made on the spot.)

I think wide-angle lenses tend to alienate people.


I think the biggest factor in making a film depressing is the script and story. Make the people and situations depressing and it’s easier to make the film look depressing.

Black-and-white can seem depressing, if the film is shot in a film noir style.

Use a Neil Young or Leonard Cohen song on the soundtrack :smiley:

It seems kind of obvious, but I’d think you’d also want to avoid happy colors if possible… Favor dark blues, greens, and browns, while eliminating bright reds, oranges, and yellows.

Watch a few Tim Burton or Stanley Kubrick films.


Hire Kevin Costner to direct.

Charge $50 for a popcorn and Coke.

Lighting and colour would definately be the first things I would think of after the script. If you want a depressing movie the story should obviously be depressing (though not necessarily). Johnny L.A. said most of what I was thinking of (about the lighting & camera) but you should also think about the film. If you want to use grays and lights to make the depressing feel, maybe use black & white film. Now, b&w film isn’t inherently depressing but it sure makes those lighting effect jump out and really strike the audience. Maybe some make-up to make the actors look more tired, big bags under their eyes, and the like.
If you go with the neon lights idea and go with a “depressing because it’s the big city taking over” kind of feel, maybe get a grainier, rawer film stock. Film stock can have a lot to do with the feeling of a film. For instance, though I’m not sure if this will help, Kodak film generally make reds vibrant where as Fuji generally makes greens and blues more vibrant. A grainier film stock might give that old, depressing, or even nostalgic feeling, depending on the lighting. Lighting really has the most to do with mood. Good luck. Later all.

All good advice. For excellent examples of high-quality films that suck the life out of you, check out Jane Campion’s The Piano and Atom Egoyan’s The Sweet Hereafter. Oh, and look at Testament, starring Jane Alexander, also.

Single piano note, repeated. Vary the rate.

doom…doom…doom, doom, doom, doom. (This may also induce boredom, but that’s depressing for me after I pay 8 bucks to see a movie.)

No one even mentioned Ingmar Bergman! Or Resnais’ “Night and Fog”, metaphysical subject matter seems to be the key ingredient for depressing movie…

Let’s recapitulate here.

  1. Spluurtaf is making a movie.
  2. He needs $150.
  3. He needs a “corpse” dummy.
  4. He wants a depressing look.

Interesting… The $150 part is what’s throwing me. That’s a roll and a half of Fuji 125. Not a particularly large part of the budget. A friend of mine made a feature-length film (Cut Up, soon to be released on DVD, by the way) on 16mm for only $42,000. Rodriguez shot El Mariachi for about $7,500. (Although hundreds of thousands more were needed to make it releaseable.) Where does the $150 come in? That would rent my light kit for three days (or two days, if you rented the same thing from a camera house).

Spluurtaf, are you shooting on video? Digital? How long is the film going to be? What’s your budget?

I was thinking of shooting a very short film on 16mm (using my Krasnagorsk-3) that would be very depressing. About 2 minutes. A suicide. The plan was to shoot B&W at the beach on an overcast day. Nice and depressing. Of course, at 2 minutes, no one would ever see it; but it’d be fun to shoot.

Personally, I like sharp film; even for depressing stuff. I like the “realness” (or surrealness) of it.

Can you give us any details about what you’re shooting? I’m sure you’ve piqued the curiosity of all of the readers in this thread…

I am a member of a local public access tv station, I need 150 more dollars for a new camera, I can’t think of any ways to get it… My movie is not necessarily(I think thats spelled wrong, but I don’t care) supposed to have a stupid plot, I am trying to make a serious depressing B&W movie with little dialogue and grainy picture. It is supposed to be scary/depressing(not really horror) just so weird it kind of gives you the willies(if you will.) The character will run into people that have no reason to be there and tell him things that make no sense(different languages too.)
He will hear voices in his head that don’t make sense. His clothing will change every scene even though he just walks around.

I need some really depressing places(not specific places such as under the 5th st. bridge in Brooklyn,i’m only 16 and on a tight budget) to film. And what kind of characters and types of places to film, such as dark alleys,train stations…stuff like that.

Get it?
Splu Urtaf

Make sure it’s raining and cold and REAL early on a Sunday morning when everyone has a hangover - that’ll really piss off your actors and crew. Boy will they look depressed

Yes, we get it. You are a prime example of a damaged human being. The public TV station furnishes the camera if you complete the course on how to use it. They also provide free lighting and editing facilities, tape and sound equipment. You are not going to get a professional quality video camera for $150 anyway.

How do I know? Because I am a producer for the local cable access channel. So…my profile of you, vitriolic as it may seem, is that you are a male, 15 to 17 years of age, a loner, failing in school, and potentially suicidal. You live with your single mother but do not get along with her. She smokes cigarettes and you do too, as well as having interactions with other drugs.

There is a lot more. Tell me where you live and I’ll contact the appropriate agency to try and get you some help.