Using the Seasons Thematically in Film


As we’re entering the fall season, we see the changes happening all around us. Where there was once lush green grass and scorching afternoons there is now a cool autumn breeze and leaves coloring our trees and sidewalks. As a filmmaker, seasonal changes and their conditions can be an excellent way of showing either character changes or highlighting certain moments in a character’s arc. Whether you’re trying to find a time of year to set your film script or you’re planning on filming across years of your character’s life, the seasons can be manipulated to enhance your film and character journey.

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Fall is a contemplative time because it’s nature’s ‘last hoorah’ before the cold winter season. However, from a directorial point of view, it’s also one of the most beautiful seasons to shoot in. The gorgeous hues of the leaves that tumble down from the trees and the much-earlier golden hour can create some amazing cinematography. How you utilize this season will depend on the nature of your film. For example, if you’re creating a horror movie you can utilize the orange tones to reinforce the ‘spooky season’ vibes. If you’re creating a romance movie, the fall season can give your whole movie a very Hygge feel complete with sweaters, hats, nature, blankets, etc. All of these cozy accessories can accent the couple falling into a love that makes them both feel ‘at home’.

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Winter is the time when all aspects of nature (plants, animals, etc.) go into a sort of hibernation. And visually, winter could either be a very harsh, biting, cold and dark time or it could be a bright and stark-white beautiful oasis. Once again, this depends on the type of film you’re making. If you’re cycling through the seasons, this season could be the time that your protagonist goes through their hardest trek. Perhaps they’re going through a breakup or their family has stopped talking to one another. Lots of shots of them walking alone, the only piece of color against a white backdrop, the sound of a harsh wind in the background. On the other hand… you’ve all seen Hallmark Christmas movies. What could be a desolate wasteland in darker films becomes a magical wonderland in others, one need only to consider their tone and movie arc.

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Spring is the season where everything is coming back to life and typically symbolizes a form of rebirth. If you’re cycling through the seasons in your film, perhaps this is the time when your character experiences a ray of hope coming out of the dark winter season. Perhaps they begin to recover from their breakup and start to go out on new dates or maybe their family starts to reconnect. Either way, visually you’ll want to shoot a lot of colorful flowers and have a lot of greenery in your shots (trees, grass, etc).

In more nuanced takes it can even be used to serve as a contrast to your character and their emotional stage. For example, picture a lush green meadow in the spring. Little droplets of dew are dripping off of the flowers, tiny ladybugs are poking their heads out… and then you have your protagonist who plows through stomping on all of the flowers. They’re dressed in all black, a hood over their head, and deep bags under their eyes. Showing how much your protagonist looks out of place in a season that’s otherwise so beautiful and life-giving is one way to highlight a bad emotional point of your film.

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Finally there’s summer, which is typically associated with warmth and the sun. This is a very interesting time cinematically because it symbolizes several different things, even varying depending on location. For example, summer in a small upper-east-coast town will be an idyllic time. The sun is shining, kids are running around playing, people are going to the pool and going to parties and getting tan and having a blast. On the other hand, take a typical summer day in a location like Arizona. Temperatures can get so high that even going to the pool doesn’t provide respite. It even gets so hot that it’s hard to sustain some forms of plant life, so this becomes more of a desert wasteland season as opposed to one of fun in the sun.

While location is important to consider, it’s also important to consider the tone and genre of your film. You’ve likely heard the term ‘summer romance’ at some point in your life. There is a romanticized idea of the summer time and how fleeting it is. This doesn’t just apply to the romance genre either, perhaps you create a film where for one summer a typically shy kid goes on a convenient store robbing spree, almost gets caught, and then assimilates back into normal high school life once fall comes around. If you’re attempting to write an arc where the character starts and ends at a similar place, this season is the perfect setting for it.