Whether it’s through mouse clicks or physical cut and paste, assembling your visual inspiration as you plan your projects will give them context and place them in a tangible space. The 20th century may already be remembered as the era of collage, but these techniques continue to dictate how we assemble our artistic visions, from stitching a montage of scenes together for a film to sampling musical pieces for a singular theme. A mood board utilizes the same approach.
Mad Men mood board for the Draper residence from the American Museum of the Moving Image
You’re the Curator
There’s no better way to communicate a theme to support your shoot than a mood board. Your references can come from both digital and analog resources, which can include mining through books, image libraries, websites, and magazines. Grab, swipe, and snap the world around you. Immerse yourself in your collection, then organize, balance, and present. A well-thought out mood board should be a visual dialogue between you and your crew.
Years ago, I successfully pitched a concept to produce a murder-mystery web series, where clues would be peppered throughout each episode. My inspiration for the series came from the tactile crime dossiers of Dennis Wheatley. The avant-garde nature of these dossiers was similar to Duchamp’s “readymades,” and they came complete with clues such as a blood-stained piece of wallpaper, crime scene photos, or a matchstick, with the solution provided in a sealed envelope at the back.
In a way, creating a mood board for a shoot is similar to the way a detective creates an evidence board in a crime film. Purchase a couple of sheets of foam core, gather the references you’ve collected, then print, cut, tear and paste. The process of putting your inspirations into the physical world is extremely important to contextualize your concept, as well as a superlative device to instruct your team.
Still from HBO’s True Detective Season One
Keep a Consistent Theme
The materials that you collect for your mood board can be an eclectic mix of textures, as long as the feelings and the tone of theme remain clear. Examples in popular culture to support this idea are bountiful. For instance, classic records such as the Beach Boys Pet Sounds and The Beatles Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band deal with cohesive themes, although the tracks on each record are entirely different in musical textures and moods.
Approach your theme with the same mindset. Use your mood board much like a composer would use a wide range of tonal shades to communicate an overall concept.
Assembling your ideas into a mood board should be a fun exercise to display your inspirations. But be conscious that some of your references may be too cryptic. Considering how much digital information we have access to, it’s easy to illustrate our ideas with obscure anecdotes. Since you’ll be using this as a means of communication, just keep in mind that an image or other reference could make sense to you, but your viewer is most likely not a mind reader.