Green Screen Cinema Filmmaking for the 21st century

Free Film School: Mise en scène

Monday, May 19 2008 @ 04:32 PM UTC
Contributed by: Jimbo
Views: 15,563
Free Film SchoolNow that you've heard more career advice than you'll ever need it's finally time to start developing the technical competency you'll need to make compelling content. There are dozens of departments that you could specialize in, but there is one concept that you must learn first no matter who you are or what you do. Since you're enrolled in Free Film School you should refer to this concept as "mise en scène" (you'll sound more like a film student if you use random french terms like this).

What this concept refers to (other than the literal translation of "put in the scene") is the unique affect that sets, lighting and camera placement have. Why should you care about mise en scène? Well, since you're not developing content for the theater you can move the audience perspective around (you have the option of using different shots, different locations, etc.). This makes film unique and compelling and as a result we need some way to describe this unique effect. Today we will review the mise en scène of "V for Vendetta".

This is V's lair. This is what happens when you have amazing camera and art departments. Notice that even though the focus has been pulled off V and the background is completely blurred you still get a sense of the full depth of the location. This is because the lighting design highlights object edges and at the same time allows for deep shadows. There's also a great three point set-up that really makes Natalie Portman stand out.

Let's look at some additional examples...

The production decided to add fog effects to many scenes (the story is set in London after all). Notice how the fog seems to have depth to it? The pinpoint light in the background helps, as does the actor standing in front of V. By pulling focus on the foreground guy and keeping the fog off V, the scene seems to have three layers (foreground, V, foggy background).

Here's another shot of V's hideout. Notice all the red objects in the scene (the rug, the chair, the table runner). To get a shadowy, red environment like this you need all the production departments working together from day one. Red velvet sofas do not light themselves. This scene probably has something like two dozen independent light sources.

Here is another amazing set. Of all the subway scenes you've been forced to sit through in all your years how many featured shadows on the subway cars? Not many, because subway terminals are already well lit (from above) and thus most productions just add pinpoint lighting and call it a day. Here they solve the lighting problem by throwing light up the gorgeously curved walls (so you can see the depth of the set) and then splashing light down on the cars at intervals, resulting in shadows. What else is great about this shot? It's another great example of multiple layers. The blurred, foreground V is both someone for Natalie Portman to act against and the first layer of the shot.

How can you apply the examples from "V for Vendetta" to your own work? Remember that sets, lights and camera placement are all within your control. They are one of the few things that makes your production engaging and can be easily fixed. Check out your locations in advance and design your lighting and camera set-ups in advance so that you get the effect you want. Free Film School has a long tradition of turning out graduates that produce content that has a feeling of depth to it. If you look at your dailies and everything you shot looks like it lives on the same plane (because of flat lighting and a wide lens) I just hope it's a wedding. Preferably yours.