Zoom, for all its privacy and security issues, has rocketed to household-name status in the days of social distancing, becoming the go-to digital meeting hub for personal and professional purposes alike. This new normal presents a problem for those of us fortunate enough to still have jobs and/or friends: Face-to-face interaction is only ever a Zoom call away, making meetings that could’ve been emails (or hangouts that could’ve been “We should hang out sometime!”) an ever-present problem amid all the soul-snuffing isolation. None of us have much to say to each other, and we have all the time and desire in the world to say it.
That’s the beauty of film, friends: It lets us escape such grim realities, plucking us out of our day-to-day and dropping us into new worlds. And by personalizing your Zoom background with iconic settings from your favorite films, you can inhabit them in a whole new way. To help you do just that, we’ve assembled 10 images from an assortment of movies, both classic and contemporary, providing visual shortcuts to cinephile cred, as well as a way to keep your compatriots entertained while you’re busy gazing at each other so as not to gaze into the abyss. (Note, the preferred Zoom background is 1920px by 1080px, or a 16:9 aspect ratio. Our images in this piece are a bit smaller, but the ratio is preserved.)
Here are 10 ways to set the scene during your next Zoom meeting.
Protagonist L.B. Jeffries (Jimmy Stewart) finds plenty of intrigue out of this essential Alfred Hitchcock thriller’s titular window after a leg injury forces him into becoming his New York City block’s unofficial neighborhood watchmen. Set in Greenwich Village, the film was shot entirely on one set built on the Paramount lot, with the bulk of its action presented from this very vantage point. We’re all Jeffries at the moment, watching in horror as harrowing events unfold just outside the safety of our homes—why not Zoom from his apartment while we’re at it?
This background comes to us from an all-timer of a comedy, in which Bill Murray’s Phil Connors finds himself awakening to an alarm clock blaring Sonny & Cher’s “I Got You Babe” each morning on an endless loop. Why not cleverly acknowledge the time-blurring stupor of quarantine while also subliminally suggesting to your Zoom-mates that you’re a hardworking early-riser? Plus, it just gets funnier and more thematically rich the more you continue to use it. You could even incorporate the needle drop—that is, if your goal is to drive everyone on these calls up the wall.
Stanley Kubrick’s sci-fi landmark is littered with iconic images, from the ape-thrown bone flying through the air in its prehistoric opening sequence to HAL’s red, all-seeing eye, aglow and unfeeling. But above all, 2001 revolves around the monolith, an otherworldly black pillar that connects humankind to the most unknowable reaches of the cosmos, here seen looming in the room where Dave Bowman (Keir Dullea) undergoes his ultimate transformation. What more terrifyingly powerful energy could you possibly project during your next all-hands meeting?
Mike Judge’s beloved workplace comedy lampoons the oppressive drudgery and sameness of corporate America, a fluorescent-lit purgatory from which those able to work from home are currently freed, if only for the moment. What better way to flaunt your WFH status than by virtually sharing a workspace with poor sap Peter Gibbons (Ron Livingston) himself? Your office space is your own right now, and that’s worth celebrating.
To those somehow unfamiliar with a cinematic classic, this key setting from Casablanca may not look like much, but those in the know will all but certainly see it for what it is: the backdrop to one of the most iconic scenes in Hollywood history. Use it wisely, perhaps by delivering a dramatic monologue about regret, sacrifice and selflessness—it just might be the beginning of a beautiful friendship between you and any fellow film fanatics in the Zoom room.
The interior of Tony Montana’s insanely gaudy Miami mansion is just the backdrop for your epic rise to professional power (or, say, middle management). Is it also the site of Montana’s violent death? Sure, but that’s never stopped Scarface enthusiasts from celebrating its imagery before! Plus, that “The World Is Yours” statue really ties the room—and the Zoom—together.
This background, culled from the chilling climax of Ari Aster’s breakout feature debut, is more of a subtle slow-burn than an instant attention-grabber. But any film aficionados on your next call are likely to recognize the 2018 standout’s treehouse of horror, into which Toni Collette’s possessed matriarch has silently levitated only moments earlier at this point in the film. Like viewers of Hereditary itself, your fellow Zoom participants will find themselves both drawn to and unnerved by the treehouse, a strangely inviting, storybook-like image of evil.
It will take a truly discerning eye to place this image, the opening frame of a Coen brothers classic, into which a grinning H.I. McDunnough (Nicolas Cage) is thrust seconds later so his mugshot can be taken. We can’t promise the height measurements will translate accurately to Zoom, nor that you’ll come anywhere near matching (let alone surpassing) Cage’s devil-may-care charisma while standing in front of it, but it’s a fun scene to step into, and from a film Paste has called the best comedy of all time, no less.
Wes Anderson’s filmography is rife with meticulously crafted tableaus just begging to be used as Zoom backgrounds, but we went with one uniquely suited to the current moment. This idyllic image of the secluded beach to which young Sam (Jared Gilman) and Suzy (Kara Hayward) make their romantic getaway is like a visual oasis from the claustrophobia of quarantine. The cat peeking from the wicker bag is a detail any animal lovers on your call will surely appreciate.
Perhaps the most iconic image from a film full of them, this torrent of tumbling lines of code represents the Wachowskis’ greatest creation: The Matrix itself, an elaborate construct that simulates life so effectively that its inhabitants are none the wiser. It feels nowadays as if something’s wrong in our world—as if some glitch has disrupted the intended order of things—so what better time to pop the hood and take a closer look at the fabric of our unreality? Bonus points if you also wear a pair of Neo-esque sunglasses while Zooming with this one.
Scott Russell is Paste’s former news editor, his wife’s current husband and his couch’s eternal occupant. He’s on Twitter, if you’re into that sorta thing.