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Mise-en-scéne is a French term that, when applied to film, describes everything that we see and hear on the screen. It is a fairly grand term and can be somewhat hard to nail down, but I will make it as straightforward as I can for the sake of this lesson.

Let me first preface by saying that all films contain scenes. Scenes are “sections” of a film that take place in one location in what appears to be real-time. There can be multiple camera angles (and usually will be), but they tell the story of a particular time and place (before moving to the next scene – a part of the film that is different in both place and time).

We will tackle the mise-en-scéne by using the following elements to describe it:

For the assignment in this lesson, you are going to choose a film. This could be a favorite film of yours, or perhaps a film that you think would work well for this assignment. You will select a scene from this film that you will analyze, factoring in particular elements of mise-en-scéne that it contains. Here is what I am expecting from you:

1. Full title of film, the year it was released, and the name of the director.

2. You will provide a brief summary of what the film is about (4 sentences).

3. A list of 4 elements from the mise-en-scéne that are used effectively in the scene that you have chosen. In that list you will name the element and then describe how it used in the scene. You can refer back to the example from the American Beauty analysis video that was presented earlier in this module as a reference for how that is done. You can not use that scene from American Beauty, or any other scene that has already been dissected in an online video made by someone else.

Breakdown what you see. Consider what it means.

We will tackle the mise-en-scéne by using the following elements to describe it:

  • Shot composition
  • Sets refer to the physical environment where the scene takes place. These can be sets built by the production company, produced digitally, or they can be real-life locations used by the filmmakers. Sometimes this difference can be hard to discern
  • Lighting is the way the light is handled in order to accentuate emotion, feeling, and narrative information. This can be either highly controlled and artificial or it can be natural light
  • Props are the objects that are in the scene along with the actors. They can add to the story by telling you more about the characters or location by what those props are and how the characters interact with them
  • Costumes are the clothing that the actors are wearing. A simple example of the power of costumes would be the ability for them to inform you of the social status or wealth of a character
  • Actor blocking or simply blocking, describes where and how the actors are arranged in the scene, and can inform the viewer of their importance or mental state (ex: someone positioned larger in the foreground would most likely be of more importance and power in a scene versus someone further back in the shot).
  • Foley sounds often has a tremendous effect on the mise-en-scéne because it can stir up emotion in us so easily. Think about the thunderous sound effects of Marvel films, or the delicate tinkering on the keys of a piano in a sad scene. The audio that accompanies the moving image guides us heavily in how we’re to process the scene. This is achieved primarily through foley sounds, which are sound effects added after the film has already been shot. You may be surprised to know that virtually all sounds – even the mundane ones – are added after shooting, so that the audio can be embellished and controlled precisely, so as to make you experience the scene in a particular way.
  • Music affects us intimately, as it is an art form unto itself, and one that we may already have experience with (a scene in a film that has a favorite song of yours is way better because of it, right?). Music affects the way we see the entire scene, as was evidenced by John Berger in his analysis of music accompanying video. Music is different than sound (or original film soundtrack) in that it has a life of its own in the work of the artist who performed it.

***Please do not assume I have seen the film, or if I have that I enjoyed it. If something is amazing to you, you need to explain in detail why it is so. Simply stating it’s brilliant without clarification is not enough. Do not assume that because you liked it that everyone must have loved it as well. Be thorough! ****


Please refer to the attached rubric for a breakdown of how the assignment will be graded.

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