Describing the Look and Feel of Film

Or to express the look and feel of a film another way you can use the term the mise en scene

Definition of mise en scene:

The arrangement of everything that appears in the framing – actors, lighting, décor, props, costume – is called mise-en-scène, a French term that means “placing on stage.” The frame and camerawork also constitute the mise-en-scène of a movie.

Even though many professionals are involved in its creation, the director is the one that oversees the entire mise-en-scène and all of its elements. Not just that, but during the early stages of pre-production, the director or his AD sits down with set designers, prop masters, location managers, costume designers, and scenic artists to determine the look and feel intended.

When describing the mise en scene of a film (your own or a professional one) you should be able to describe the following and reference similar films or products in terms of mise en scene:

1. Art Design/Décor

Décor refers to the decoration or decorative styles, comprising mainly of the set and props used in a movie. Instead of just dressing the set, the director must be savvy to fathom how objects may bear significance in a deeper level, while also emphasizing themes, creating meanings, and provoking thoughts.

2. Lighting

Unarguably one of the film elements that has the greatest power to evoke emotions, lightingmust be manipulated by the director to accommodate his or her desires for the movie. The two broad types of lighting approaches are: low-key lighting and high-key lighting.

High-key lighting is often seen in romantic comedies and musicals, encompassing an even lighting pattern and avoiding dark areas in the frame. Everything looks bright with little to no shadow at all. High-key lighting has little dramatic effect, and it is often used in a scene with no tension.

Low-key lighting is often seen in horror movies and thrillers, comprising of a lighting pattern that has both bright and dark areas in the frame. The chiaroscuro (Italian: bright-dark) technique, long used by painters, is characterized by strong contrast, often employed to unnerve the audience.

low-key_lighting high-key_lighting

3. Costume

The obvious purpose of costuming is to dress an actor according to his character. Lawyers wear suits, nurses wear scrubs, and a drifter could wear worn out shoes, ragged shirt, and baggy pants.

Costuming may also be used to emphasize a theme. In the first scene at the Taft Hotel in The Graduate, Mrs. Robinson wears a fur coat that makes her look like a predator hunting for her pray. Her coat bears a pattern that resembles the fur of a cheetah. Or could it be a cougar?

4. Location

Describe the look and feel of your locations and any thematic relevance they might have. If your film is set in school- how are you portraying the school? e.g In our school you could easily frame the school as being a cold and unfriendly place, a busy warm place or a futuristic, industrial environment- depending on the needs of your film. 

In Witness (1985), on the day after declining Rachel’s (Kelly McGillis) seduction, John Book (Harrison Ford) explains to her why nothing could have happened between them the night before. Quiet conveniently, the confrontation takes place in a barn, while Rachel is collecting eggs. The location emphasizes Rachel’s responsibilities as a woman. If they had made love and Rachel gotten pregnant, she would have to carry the baby and eventually give birth. Also, during the conversation, John stands outside the barn, thus being separated from Rachel by the barn’s door. In this case, the door functions as a metaphor of the social and cultural barriers that keeps them a part.

5. Describing camera work and movement:!.mp4

The Film Scholar’s Insight

Don’t be confused. Mise-en-scène isn’t a production term. Directors don’t walk around saying “Let’s create an elaborate mise-en-scène.” Not at all.

From the craftsman that builds fake bookcases to the cinematographer that chooses where the lights will go, the mise-en-scène is the result of the collaboration of many professionals. Thus in the production environment, the director is more specific with his requests and orders. Is he trying to talk to the prop master, the set designer, the actors, the make-up artists? All of them are part of different departments. But all of them, in the end, have influence in the mise-en-scène.

In the academic realm, the term mise-en-scène is always invoked when the overall look and feel of a movie is under discussion. Students taking Film Analysis should be quite familiar with the term.



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