Films take us on journeys; we become immersed in worlds beyond our own. The best films lead us to ask questions about our world as well as ourselves. However sometimes it can be difficult to translate our reactions to film into meaningful English analysis. The table below provides some of the key film techniques for writing about cinematic texts.
Important Cinematic Techniques
sound effects, dialogue, music, silences and voice-overs. Like music, sound can be divided into diegetic (occurring in the world of the film) and extra-diegetic (occurring outside the world of the film).
|Camera angles refer to the tilt of the camera in relation to the scene and characters. Unusual camera angles can emphasise an action sequence, disorientate the audience, and suggest the relationship between characters.|
The main angles are: Low, Eye-Level, High, Worm’s Eye, Canted, Bird’s Eye.
|Colour, especially the choice of colour palette or scheme, can reflect the mood of the piece. Colour in a scene can also be enhanced through lighting.|
For example, in The Great Gatsby (2013), the use of a vibrant colour scheme reflects the opulent lifestyle of New York elites in the 1920s.
You can learn more about colour symbolism at Studio Binder.
Colour Palette Analysis by Movies in Color of Baz Lurman’s The Great Gatsby (Warner Bros. 2013), Cinematographer: Simon Duggan
|Cucoloris is a lighting technique where an object is placed between the light source and the subject in order to create a patterned shadow. A staple of film noir.|
Filter used for Cucloris. Image and device by Henry Nelson.
|Conversation between two characters is called dialogue. Written by scriptwriters to convey the film’s plot, dialogue is also useful in conveying character.|
|The order of each shot and how they have been put together to create a scene. This is usually based upon the storyboard used by the director.|
However, some directors such as Werner Herzog refused to use storyboards, and shoot many scenes which they edit together by trial and error.
|Images that refer to previous events in the characters` lives. Flashbacks can be used to foreshadow future events.|
|Text which is printed on a background and placed between filmed scenes through editing. In silent films, intertitles can convey dialogue and exposition.|
Intertitle from Metropolis Dir. Fritz Lang (1927)
|Lighting contributes to the mood of a film and suggests interpretations of character. Low key lighting emphasises the shadows in a shot, while lighting from above or below can suggest that a character possesses sinister qualities.|
An example of a sinister cat, lit from below.
An example of shadows from Low Key Lighting.
Mise en scène
|Mise en scène translates as ‘what is put into a scene’. This French expression refers to the composition of a scene, including placement of characters, costume, make–up and setting.|
|A montage is a type of editing sequence where a series of shots play rapidly to create a narrative. Often a montage will be accompanied by a unifying piece of music to convey the dominant mood connected with the sequence.|
A GIF of a montage from Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927)
|Mood refers to the feelings suggested by the combination of all the elements on the screen and the accompanying sound. Another way to refer to the mood is to discuss atmosphere.|
|Music can convey the theme, mood and atmosphere. There are different types of music in films. The score is extra-diegetic music composed for the film, designed to evoke the film’s desired mood for the audience. Music heard by the characters in the film is called diegetic music.|
|The place where the action of the film occurs.|
|Shot types indicate how close or far the camera is from the characters. Shot types range from Extreme Long Shot (XLS), where the characters may be very small and embedded in a landscape, to Extreme Close Up (XCU), where part of the character’s face makes up the whole shot.|
The shots are: Extreme Long Shot (XLS), Long Shot (LS), Medium Long Shot (MLS), Medium Shot (MS), Medium Close Up (MCU), Close Up (CU), Super Close Up (SCU), Extreme Close Up (XCU).
|An object used to suggest ideas in addition to, or beyond, their literal sense. For example the glass slipper in Cinderella symbolises the opportunity that Cinderella has to live a different life. Watch films carefully to spot symbols and their potential meaning to the plot. If a symbol recurs throughout the film it is a motif.|
The GIF above is from Sam Mendes’ American Beauty (1999).
The dancing plastic bag symbolises how beauty is found in things that are often discarded. The bag is rubbish to many, but its dance in the wind is beautiful.
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For Excellence, the student needs to analyse aspects of visual and/or oral text(s) perceptively, through close viewing and/or listening, supported by evidence.
This involves demonstrating insightful and/or original understanding of significant aspects of texts.
This student has perceptively analysed significant aspects of The Dark Knight through the techniques of camera work, pace, dialogue and symbolism. This is done by demonstrating insightful understanding of how camera work develops the audience’s understanding of the Joker and Batman (1), and how the editing of the pace of the film combines with the use of silence to present the Joker as a predator (2).
Perceptive understanding is shown through the analysis of how the actions and dialogue of one brave man contrast with the self-preservation of the group, and how this foreshadows later actions in the film (3). Insightful understanding is shown in the analysis of the symbolism of weaponry, where the characters are compared to terrorists and modern governments in their continual fight for society’s good (4).
For a more secure Excellence, the student could further develop the analysis of the idea that Batman is feared by Gotham’s criminal society, and that although Rachel is a strong character she still trembles in the presence of the Joker (1) .