Mise en Scene & Lighting Visual and Technical Codes
What is Mise en scene?
Originally a theatre term that is now used in Film Studies meaning ‘staging’ it crossed over to signify the film production practices involved in the framing of shots.
“ Mise-en-scene may be described as the expressive tool at the filmmaker’s disposal which a critic can read to determine the specificity of the cinematographic work.” (Hayward, S, 1996)
Critics can identify the particular style of a specific filmmaker and thereby point to it as an ‘authorial’ style.
We can also distinguish genre and sub-genre through the use of iconography.
Use of mise-en-scene is often very symbolic and may infer several meanings to the audience about a given situation, character or location.
When we study a text’s mise-en-scene we are concerned with everything within the frame!
What constitutes the Mise-en-scene?
The setting – location where the action takes place. It may be artificially constructed (studio sets) or ‘shot on location’. Certain genres are associated with certain settings. Eg. Soap Operas in domestic settings such as homes or social settings such as pubs or cafes.
Clothing, accessories, prosthetics etc. (Colour, style, authenticity etc.) Costume often signifies more about a character’s life or personality than we may be actually told through dialogue.
For example, consider a character like Clark Kent in the American TV Drama, Smallville . Always in red, white and blue – patriotic, fresh-faced ‘All-American boy’ here to save the world!
However, when affected by black kryptonite, he becomes a ‘baddie’ and his costume expresses this!
Watch the extract from Moulin Rouge
Consider the use of costume in the extract – what does it suggest about the characters’ personalities or attitudes that is not expressed through the dialogue?
Why did the director choose to use costume in this way?
Connotations of use of colour within the frame .
Whilst most British films and dramas operate within realism and favour a more naturalistic look, some are extravagant with colour. Sci-fi texts often use bright colour palettes since they are not bound by the constraints of realism. However, some use colour to signify further plot information.
Watch the extract from Edward Scissorhands
Consider the purpose of the colour palette.
What does it tell us about character?
What does it tell us about the narrative at this stage of the film?
Characters and Character Movement
The way a character walks, their body language, gestures, facial expressions etc all create different connotations for the viewer and are vital in supplying plot information for the viewer.
Watch the extract from Gladiator
Focusing on the characters – the way they move, their body language, gestures and facial expressions – consider what assumptions we can make about their personalities, agendas and roles in the narrative.
Use the worksheet to make detailed notes on each.
How do costumes, setting, colour and lighting further this image?
Generally, the way a scene is lit will impact upon the overall visual style of the text. In film, certain directors may use lighting as part of their own unique visual style and may make their work recognisable. Think of Tim Burton!
In TV, however, lighting is often limited to naturalistic lighting due to the desire to achieve a sense of realism. Occasionally though, even TV producers can get creative!
Three point lighting – This is standard lighting in mainstream film/TV. Used in classical Hollywood cinema. There are three lights: key, fill and back. The balance can be altered to create different effects.
High-key lighting/Soft lighting – Here there is key light is brighter than the fill light. As a result, the subject being lit appears brighter and softer.
Eg. Old Hollywood films where the heroine appeared to have a bright, light face.
Low-key lighting/ Hard lighting – Here the key light is weaker than the fill. The result is harsh shadows on the subject. This technique is most commonly associated with film noir, gangster or horror genres.
Back lighting – Most commonly associated with horror films. The subject is lit only from the back, creating a silhouette effect. The features of the subject are not visible and may, therefore, appear more menacing.
Side lighting – This highlights the subject and distorts the image, making it feel imbalanced.
Chiaroscuro Lighting – This type of lighting is most commonly associated with film noir. It may be defined as an extreme contrast between light and dark. White and black contrast harshly and establish questions around identity of the character and a separation between the blanc and noir worlds.
View the extract from The Hogfather .
Identify the types of lighting in use in the three scenes.
Why has the director chosen each type of lighting? What does it add to the mood of the scene?
What does it add to our understanding of the narrative at this stage of the drama?