Everything You Need to Know About Creating Flashback Sequences

December 31st, 2021  |  by maria

Everything You Need to Know About Creating Flashback Sequences -

A flashback sequence can add so much more to a film. In recent times, you can’t think of one movie that does not use flashback scenes to add to the dynamic of the movie or expose a plot.

When watching a movie, you know a scene is a flashback when you see it. Most flashback sequences have some telling features and signs, which make it easier for the audience to understand.

Flashback sequences in film can be used for various reasons and at different points of the movie. Some stories require opening a film with a flashback sequence, while others use it for the climax. These flashback sequences can also be used to tell you more about a character and their past experiences.

What Is A Flashback Sequence?

A flashback sequence in a film takes the audience back in time to events that have already taken place. A flashback sequence can either be internal or external. An internal flashback shows the audience a scene they have already seen, which took place during the film. An external flashback takes the audience back to events that took place before the audience joined the narrative, something the audience has not seen before.

Critics are often of the view that an internal flashback sequence is proof that the story and writing of the film are weak. These critics argue that when the storytelling in a movie isn’t clear, there is a need to go back to a previous scene and highlight its importance for the audience. 

Visual Effects For Flashback Sequences

If you use flashback sequences in your film to tell your story, you need to add some visual effects that make it clear to the audience that they are not watching a scene set in the present anymore.

These visual and sometimes audio effects are essential in films that use flashback sequences to tell an integral part of the plot. 

1.    Decreased Shutter Speed

Before getting into the effects that are used in the post-production of a film, it is important to acknowledge what can be done while filming flashback sequences. Decreasing the shutter speed of the camera lower than the standard shutter angle of 180-degrees leads to each frame being exposed for a longer time.

The footage shot with these settings becomes a collection of blurred images, making it perfect for dreamlike sequences and short flashbacks. However, if it is an internal flashback sequence, you will have to film the same scene twice with different shutter speeds. 

2.    White Dissolve

White dissolve is a visual effect and transition used for countless flashback sequences. It is a less extravagant transition and has the scene dissolving in and out of a white solid. Compared to other transitions and visual effects, the white dissolve is relatively easy to use. You can place a solid white layer on both sides of the adjoining clips.

Two seconds of the white layer at the start and end of the clip are enough to create the impact you want to create. If you are using Premiere Pro, there is already a transition called Dip To White, and it gives the same effect, if not better.

3.    Bloom Transition

The bloom transition is used more often in television series. It is a popular technique for creating flashback sequences that are external, and the audience hasn’t watched before. The bloom transition indicates new scenes, and not an established scene.

Most of the time, when a suspect is talking to the police and recalling the events that took place, the bloom transition is used to move between the flashback and the present. This transition is more extravagant than the white dissolve transition. 

4.    Cross Processing

One of the best approaches to showing a flashback sequence is cross-processing footage. It is a process that mostly takes place in labs by technicians or photographers. Cross-processing involves using the wrong chemical solutions on purpose for processing a filmstock. 

The result of the cross-processing is that the sequence has high contrast and unnatural colors. It is an excellent way of making flashback sequences stand out and look different than the rest of the movie. Quentin Tarantino used cross-processing brilliantly in Django Unchained.

5.    Color Tint

When you are creating a movie or series that cuts back between past and present frequently, using different color tints for both time periods can make the audience understand and keep up with the timelines better.

Television series like 13 Reasons Why and movies like Rocky V use a cool tint to show how time has progressed. If there are flashbacks, those scenes have a different hue. Using this technique is easy and simple, yet it is incredibly effective in making the flashback sequence stand out.

6.    Diffused Glow

Diffused glow is a simple yet effective visual effect used for flashback sequences in film. When it is an integral part of the script, flashback sequences should have an effect that can make it easier for the audience to differentiate between the present and the past. 

The diffused glow effect is similar to an old technique cinematographers used where they put netting behind the camera lens to make the scene appear smoother. The glow makes the scene look ethereal, and it is often used to depict a flashback sequence in film.

5 Excellent Flashback Examples From Movies

1.    Ratatouille

Everything You Need to Know About Creating Flashback Sequences - Ratatouille image

Ratatouille is a movie that uses a flashback sequence to convey the message and theme of the movie: food has the ability to transport us to happier times. The scene is pivotal to the progress of the story and one of the most important ones in the movie.

Ratatouille is an excellent example of using a flashback to change the way we see a character. The scene lets us see Anton Ego’s childhood and what makes food such a special part of his life. It enables us to understand him better and sympathise with him as he finds comfort in the food his mother cooks for him after he comes home upset and in tears.

2.    Fight Club

Everything You Need to Know About Creating Flashback Sequences - Fight Club image

Fight Club is another movie that makes excellent use of flashbacks. The third act of the film uses flashback sequences to explain the entire premise and story. As the audience is still struggling to come to terms with the reality that the narrator is Tyler Durden himself, the flashbacks help hammer the point home. 

Fight Club is an example of internal flashbacks done in an innovative way. Although we see scenes we have before, they are not the same. The flashbacks don’t make the film feel repetitive in any way. Through the flashbacks, the audience realises that the narrator was never with Tyler in any scene; he was by himself. 

3.    The Godfather Part II

Everything You Need to Know About Creating Flashback Sequences - The Godfather Part II image

One famous way in which flashback sequences are used in movies is to compare and contrast the past with the present. The Godfather Part II uses flashbacks to show the audience how the Corleone family fell by comparing it with the past and their origins. The movie shows us how young Vito Corleone established himself in New York at the start of the 20th century.

With the help of flashbacks, The Godfather Part II emphasises the journey of the family and gives us context. These sequences show us the main themes of the movie, like American capitalism, immigration, and family. The final scene of the movie also uses a flashback sequence to make the conclusion more devastating.

In the final scene, we are shown a time when the family was together and spending time together, and we realise how much the dynamics have changed over time. 

4.    Oldboy

Everything You Need to Know About Creating Flashback Sequences - Oldboy image

Oldboy uses flashback sequences to show us the life and past trauma of a character. This trauma turns out to be the downfall of the character. Lee Woo-Jin is haunted by the trauma of letting his girlfriend fall to her death.

Due to this trauma, Lee Woo-Jin takes his own life in an elevator. Although that is not the only reason he does what he does, the flashback sequence lets the audience know how defining this moment has been in his life. 

5.    Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind

Everything You Need to Know About Creating Flashback Sequences - Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind image

One movie that takes flashbacks to a whole new level is Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind. The main character, Joel, embarks on the procedure of getting the memories of his ex-girlfriend removed from his brain. The film uses visions in a literal sense.

We don’t just see these flashbacks, so does Joel as he is on a journey through his subconscious. We see these flashbacks as Joel’s memories and see him interact with the memories. Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind uses flashback sequences to show us the part our memories play in our lives. 

Final Takeaway

Flashback sequences can be used to move the plot of the movie forward. They can be incorporated into the story in various ways and used to make some crucial reveals or character development.

You can use visual and audio effects to differentiate the flashback sequences from the present. Many filmmakers use flashbacks in remarkable ways and make the movie more memorable. 

If you liked this article, you should also check out Special Effects 101.

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