Staring into the Black Void

K. Rocco Shields
Jun 8, 2023

In the big picture of history, video and motion pictures have only been a reality for a brief moment.   The collective masses previously were entertained and informed by live presentations done in real time within the confines of the space occupied by the audience. Thousands of years of developing and defining the approach, infusing elements of theatricality and spectacle into the mix, ultimately resulted in some of the most effective and impactful tools for creating an emotional and intellectual connection with an audience. Early filmmakers drew their inspiration from the theater and found a way to navigate this new frontier created by the emerging technology of the day. Contemporary filmmakers, however, mostly draw their inspiration from previous generations of filmmakers. The result, unfortunately, is that this wealth of knowledge that is found in the ways of the theater often fails to find its way into the accepted practices of modern media creation.  It’s time we collectively realize that sometimes the most practical, economical option is also the one that has proven to be effective and impactful for generations.  


An approach I have been working with and developing for years is “Filming in the Black Void”.  This concept has strong roots in the theatrical tradition of Black-Box Theater, which were performance spaces that became popular in the early 20th century and contributed greatly to the independent theater movement that was seen over the following decades.   For the uninitiated, a Black Box Theater is what it sounds like: a theater that resembles a big black box.  It is a set that is completely void of color or definition. A Black Box can be created in any space and can, with limited resources, be transformed into just about anything the imagination or the writer can conceive.  It was heralded by theater owners for its practical nature, but it soon caught on amongst the artists themselves due to the ways the void managed to introduce a new level of connection and collaboration between them and the audience.  It is said that a great set designer can make you see what a room should look like, but only in the Black Void are you encouraged to feel that you are truly there. 


In adapting the void from the theater stage to the soundstage for the purpose of filming, I found that many of the rules still applied. An actor on camera and a live performer on stage both benefit from the ambiguity of the darkness.  Small touches, like a poster on a wall or a single,  well-placed column can easily create the facade of a cluttered workspace or a magnificent foyer.   From a cinematography standpoint, working within the void opens a world of possibilities. The shot is created precisely as wanted.  There is no need to adapt or compromise because of lighting or the look of the set.  All elements are controlled by the crew, and everything that winds up on-camera is supposed to be there. 


The advantages described are not simply a result of minimalism or the “void” concept itself.  A White Void, for example, is often categorized by the mind as representing another realm, like a dreamscape or the afterlife, or it may bring to mind sterility or purity.  Think of science fiction, like the Construct in The Matrix movies or the Deneuralizing Room in Men in Black.  If that was the aim of the scene, then a White Void would be ideal, but when it comes to creating a set where anything can be reality, the Black Void provides the appropriate canvas.   Any simple “void” can be used to convey a sense of emptiness, as if it truly is a windowless, exitless room, but the Black Void actually creates a sense of nothingness, which engages the viewer by persuading them to fill in the gaps using context clues and their own imaginations.


In designing the workspace for my company, Genius Produced, I knew that it would be a wise investment to find a space with a significant soundstage that could be converted into a Black Box.  For a company like mine to produce over 10,000 videos every year, the idea of location-scouting or set designing for each of those projects would be a terribly onerous burden. Our ability to work in the Black Void eliminates countless problems and creates numerous opportunities.  In The black you can be wherever you want...and you can be WHENever you want. The concept of time and era are not just important in recreating the past, but also in maintaining the timeliness of the media. Film and video created just a few years ago can appear dated due to aesthetic and visual elements on the screen. Any set pieces, decorations, or props a director chooses to have on-set runs the risk of eventually becoming obsolete; a relic from a different time. This can be distracting or even confusing for future viewers. By filming in a controlled, neutral environment, a forward thinking filmmaker can avoid watching their piece degrade into irrelevance over time.


We often find lessons for the present when we look to the past. For the resourceful filmmaker and content producer, It is often wise to turn your eye not just to the history of cinema, but also to theater. Long before billion dollar studio budgets and guerrilla filmmaking, there were inventive and imaginative artists paving a road and establishing the standards for what audiences require from a piece of art in order to feel properly engaged. From my own experiences and research, I have developed a style and process for my content creation that is based on the lessons learned from the Black Box Theaters of the past. By filming in the Black Void, I have revolutionized the way my company creates content, and hopefully I have shed some light on this overlooked approach to set design. With some care and some creativity, you can make something truly beautiful in the Black Void.  You’re welcome to stare as long as you want.


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