Film Theory - Mise en scene

What is Mise en scene? The phrase refers to how scenes are framed and staged when appearing in a movie. That is, are the actors outside? Inside? What surrounds them? Does a certain shot through a doorway frame a character just so? In film theory, it is sometimes used as a way to 'pick apart' a movie and write about it.

Originally a French term that mean 'placing on stage,' the term is now used in film studies to designate how a particular scene is framed. For example, where things appear and what they're surrounded by can play a big part in how you receive a movie emotionally.

What is in and out of focus in a scene is also important in how a viewer reacts to a scene. Focus directs the viewer's eyes to different things that the director wants them to pay attention to in a particular scene.

Depth and scale of places and things - humans and objects - in a scene are sometimes manipulated by the filmmaker to subconsciously pass on a message. Using depth and scale, a director could point out, for instance, that an adversary is physically superior to the hero.

Decor - the set and props and how they are laid out helps set a mood, adding to whatever is trying to be communicated. That is, when it's done right. Bad decor (or out of place decor) can lead to horrible movies.

Lighting is also important when looking at a scene. There are three types of lighting used:

• key lighting - From the front directed toward the object in the scene

• fill lighting - Lighting from the opposite side of the key lighting, to balance the lighting out

• back lighting - Lighting from behind the main object in the scene. Having light come from three different direction, you add to the illusion of three dimensions.

Low Key Lighting results in a dark and shadowy scene. On the other end of the spectrum,High Key Lighting floods the scene with a lot of light from the front - almost unnaturally so. Varying the back lighting also has an effect on how the scene comes across.