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Synesthesia and Its Extremely Important Role in ‘The Greatness of Film’

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“When one sense is activated, another unrelated sense is activated at the same time”, this causes an overwhelming feeling as your senses combine in an unnatural and sometimes unnerving way - this is known as ‘Synesthesia’.

For creating this short film, I took on the role of Director as my primary, and Co-editor and my secondary role. Both of these I have prior experience with but wanted to approach both roles with an open mind, ready to learn and take inspiration from others in these particular fields.

We chose to base our short film on the subject of Synesthesia; not to just raise awareness of the condition, but also because a fellow group member experiences this and we felt it would be interesting to explore this phenomenon in the medium of film. It was also incredibly helpful to have someone on set who could tell us exactly what the actress should be experiencing, and how it should look. The genre we decided to convey this as was a Thriller as we felt the unnerving nature of the condition could make for quite a sinister sequence.

One of our main filmic inspirations came from shorts like ‘Synesthesia’ by Terri Timely, for example, in Timely’s interpretation of Synesthesia you notice several moments in which the characters are doing normal, mundane tasks, but with one or more aspects changed to show the symptoms of the condition. For example, in one particular shot you can see the woman slicing pieces of paper from inside a book as opposed to slicing food in preparation for the meal she is making - this is showing that she tastes words when she reads them. Although this is subtle, it is an interesting way of conveying the point they are trying to make, as you could see this and realise that perhaps the senses can cross over, but in actuality the director has given us a specific scenario in which this can happen; however, it is something that might not be noticed at first glance. This could also be compared to how someone experiencing Synesthesia may look and feel; as although from the outside they may look ‘normal’ and unaffected, in reality their brain is performing in an incredible way but that only they, themselves can see.

In contrast to this, another short film that I had taken inspiration from gives a more blunt representation of Synesthesia. From watching this, came the decision to overlay a voice-over, explaining the ways in which Synesthesia can affect people whilst following the perspective of a singular character, and being immersed by ‘her world’. I felt that it helped to move the narrative along as there is no dialogue from the character herself. Likewise, in our film we chose to only have an inner monologue rather than spoken dialogue as we wanted to ensure that the viewer is ‘in her head’ - we also did this by including several point of view (POV) shots.

A film that is entirely made up of POV shots is Robert Montgomery’s, ‘Lady In The Lake’ (1947). This is an extremely interesting concept and the first of its kind; however, I felt that having the POV shots make up the entire film could mean that we don’t feel as connected to our character as we would never see their reactions or facial expressions - only in reflections. In contrast, this could have been an interesting way of interpreting our subject matter of Synesthesia, as it would be a way of clearly showing that only she is experiencing these incredible surroundings - furthering my earlier concern of the viewer perhaps not understanding that the world does not look like this to everyone else. Taking tester POV shots with our actress in pre production would have been an efficient way to determine whether this concept could have worked - in future projects this is something I would like to explore further.

During the pre production portion of this project we used a stand-in actress to take tester footage with on location, as well as, footage for our Kickstarter which was a quintessential part of fundraising so that we were able to pay our actress and for any expenses during filming, i.e. food and transport. We also conducted these tests to ensure the lighting was appropriate and that we didn’t need to hire any extra lighting on the day of filming. We also used a DSLR camera that I own for this tester footage and although it didn’t perform perfectly once the sunlight was limited, for the extreme close-ups it gave a defined image with great depth-of-field. One of these shots can still be seen in the final cut of our film. When using the C100 camera on the day, we noticed that it did not cope well with the change in lighting and therefore resulted in slightly grainy images in post production, making it hard for the visual effects to be applied over the top of it. Therefore, something I would do differently in future projects would be to take the camera that you are using on the day to also be used for the tester footage prior to filming - this is so that you can be sure it will perform as well as you need it to, without risking the outcome of unusable footage.

We also completed a risk assessment after finding our location before any filming took place to ensure the area was safe to work in and that no harm would come to us, the actress or the equipment - this was a paramount precaution to be taken due to the filming location being adjacent to a lake. In this area - which also can be seen in a section of the short film - was a building that allowed us to take cover if needed, in case of a change in weather. Despite this, we checked the weather forecast prior to filming which, in turn, meant one of our filming days was unusable due to the rain, compressing our original two days, into just one.

Whilst researching editing styles I found several examples of ‘distortion’ in film - this is important as the majority of our 90 second film entails a great amount of creative editing giving the illusion of a condition that our character is experiencing. We planned to do this by creating as much on-screen distortion as possible, alluding to our character experiencing something ‘hallucinative’.

The first example of this can be seen in ‘Limitless’, the 2011 Science-fiction/thriller directed by Neil Burger, in which the protagonist must ingest a pill in order to gain knowledge. Once he had taken the pill, he begins to see blurred visuals as well as, the sounds around him becoming intensified; thus clearly showing the viewer, the agitated state he is in.

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Another example of this is in Danny Boyle’s ‘Trainspotting’ (1996) during Ewan McGregor’s detox scene. Interestingly, there is an important difference between having a distorted effect added in post production and making the viewer believe that effect is the reality for the character - therefore, having the actor acknowledge this, and play to it. In this film you truly believe and sympathise with the main character ‘Mark’, as by changing the physical set that he is in, it now not only allows the audience to realistically see what he sees, it also helps us to gain a deeper understanding of Mark’s problems.

Due to our character experiencing a crossover of her senses, we also wanted to have these become heightened to add to the overwhelming style of the film. To do this we increased the volume in everyday sounds that she hears, such as birds or footsteps. However, most importantly, we made the visuals impactful by playing with the colour grade of certain objects in frame. An example of this is when our character sees a bush, the colour remains normal, but once she makes contact with it, it changes. This shows, early in the sequence that it is only her experiencing this - not that this is the world around her.

An example of heightened colour in ‘film’ is in Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 (2017) in the desert scene - this has been colour graded to heighten the surroundings, creating an intense orange effect to enhance the scene.

Due to our short film being limited to 90 seconds, it meant that we couldn’t always include everything we wanted to when it came to post-production - only being able to leave in the information that was crucial to the viewer. When deciding on this, I read ‘In the Blink of an Eye’ by Walter Murch (1992), in which, page 17-19 in particular Murch talks about the ranking order of what should be most important when editing. He claims that ‘at the top of the list is ‘Emotion’ - this is also something I stand by and try to transfer into my own films, much like ‘Synesthesia’. Therefore, scenes such as; the girl moving from one place to another, became less important if I wanted to ensure that I had enough shots in there that could convey the emotion I wanted. Murch also states that “if you are considering a range of possible edits for a particular moment in the film, and you find that there is one cut that gives the right emotion and moves the story forward” - regardless if it means there will be less continuity - “that is the cut you should make”, furthering my previous point.

This is certainly something I took on board when editing and found that cutting out scenes in which our actress was moving from one location to the other, for example; going from the building to the tree that she then touches. After making this decision and reviewing the edit, it became clear that the viewer didn’t need that context to still appreciate the film and most importantly, her emotions.

Our colour palette is made up of mostly greys and neutrals, but with a pop of colour in each shot, usually protruding from a specific object. This is similar to ‘The Tree of Life’ (2011), in which, director Terrence Malick used only soft, dull colours, but with a pop of bright, overly heightened colour scattered throughout.

When analysing my own film I can see many intentionally placed symbolism, an example of this is towards the end of the film when the effects become so intense, they begin to conceal the visuals - eventually making it almost impossible to see our character, or what she’s seeing. This is symbolised by the girl running into the dark distance, until out of shot. Also, when our character runs back inside to her ‘safe zone’ you notice that she still has a distorted effect on her, making her seem out of place - but towards the end of that shot, as the credits roll, you can see this grainy effect disappear as she slowly returns back to normal, like before she went outside. This is a metaphor for how she’s feeling, and that once shes inside where she feels safe, her overwhelming senses can’t become triggered and she is normal and unaffected.

Furthermore, we made a conscious decision to keep her ‘safe zone’ (Interior location) as neutral and bland as possible to represent her mind and how she must live her life if she doesn’t want to experience her condition. This also allowed us to create a clear contrast for when she went outside, meaning we could include bright, extreme colours that would stand out in comparison to the interior.

In conclusion, through the use of research I had accumulated and discussions with someone who is affected by Synesthesia, I believe I used my existing and new directing skills to successfully guide and supervise my production crew, as well as listening to their ideas and incorporating them. This project also gave me experience with directing actors and the most successful way of doing that I found is to be approachable but also clear with your intentions. Furthermore, through reading Murch’s ‘In the Blink of an Eye’ I learnt new editing techniques and found more efficient and preservative ways of piecing together a sequence - specifically one with a limited length. This project heavily emphasised on colour and its uses, so through this I was also able to experiment with how colour can affect a scene and how it can also be a great tool in moving a story along.

Interestingly, I found that Synesthesia plays an extremely important part in ‘the greatness of film’. Similarly, in great examples of film there will be a unity of the senses creating a seamless experience. For example; the tracking shot in ‘Goodfellas’ (1990) is a perfect moment of when both sight and sound run parallel, therefore constructing a smooth and harmonious combination of these elements. Whilst the main character walks from scene to scene, a perfectly correlated sound plays distantly in the background.

So, although initially the condition of Synesthesia being made into a film could be seen as meaning the complete opposite of ‘great film’, it is in fact the embodiment of this.

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Synesthesia and Its Extremely Important Role in ‘The Greatness of Film’. (2022, September 01). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 10, 2023, from
“Synesthesia and Its Extremely Important Role in ‘The Greatness of Film’.” Edubirdie, 01 Sept. 2022,
Synesthesia and Its Extremely Important Role in ‘The Greatness of Film’. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 10 Dec. 2023].
Synesthesia and Its Extremely Important Role in ‘The Greatness of Film’ [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Sept 01 [cited 2023 Dec 10]. Available from:
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