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Why Award Winning Filmmaker Errol Morris Used A White Wall

History & Benefits Of White Wall Filmmaking

You’ve probably seen plenty of commercials with white wall backgrounds. This is commonplace now, but there was a time when stark white backgrounds were the realm of photography, not film and video. You can thank a filmmaker named Errol Morrisfor bringing this technique to the forefront.These days, a white background is used for many different purposes in commercials and business videos. However, back in the early 2000s, it was a relatively new idea.

Morris made this popular with his short films for the Oscars. In these, people — both celebrities and everyday folks — discussed the films they loved, all while against a clean white backdrop. This got noticed for its stark look and clear focus on the speakers. Things really took off when Apple adopted Morris’s aesthetic for their “I’m a Mac” ad campaign.

In the ads, spokespeople were filmed bantering against a white wall background. This put the emphasis clearly on the message and how the message was being delivered — in this case, one person personifying a Mac computer and the other personifying a PC, with the differences demonstrated in their banter. This look became synonymous with the Apple brand, and while they have branched out with their aesthetic in the decade since then, clean and clear white backgrounds are still part of their identity.

Why is this look so striking? Here’s what Morris himself has to say regarding the benefits of using a white wall.

“I interviewed over a hundred people on a white background….Of course, I’m not the first person to film someone on a white background. It’s been done by a whole number of photographers, August Sander, Avedon, etc. I have no patent, no trademark, on shooting someone on a white background. Of course, when you try to do something that’s free of artifice, somehow that becomes artificial as well.”

Why Use a White Wall?

Let’s take a closer look at the white wall background in action. Here is another Apple promotional video — this one for the iPhone 6S.

The benefits of the white wall background are easy to see. Simply put, there’s nothing here except for the phone and the hand that’s holding and interfacing with it. Wide view or close up, everything here feels exactly the same: uncluttered, focused, and clean. It’s the perfect example for why this setup works specifically for promotional and corporate videos.

For Bay Area filmmakers, Meets the Eye Studios offers a large white walled sound stage, along with a large pre-lit greenscreen. Need to film against a clean white background? Take a free tour of the Meets the Eye Facility. In addition to our large sound stages, we provide HD-SDI feeds, office space, a commercial-quality kitchen, spacious green rooms, free parking and much more — everything you need to take your production from start to finish.