Mise En Scène

Mise En Scène implies how the visual materials are staged, framed, and photographed. The frame’s aspect ratio: dimension of the screen’s height and width.

  • Was originally a French theatrical term, meaning “placing on stage.”
  • Refers to the arrangement of all the visual elements of a theatrical production within a given playing area—stage.
  • In movies, it is somewhat more complicated, a blend of the visual conventions of the live theatre with those of the plastic arts.

The Frame:

  • The frame functions as the basis of composition in a movie image.
  • The ratio of the frame’s horizontal and vertical dimensions—known as the aspect ratio—remains constant throughout the movie.
  • Screens come in a variety of aspect ratios, especially since the introduction of widescreen in the early 1950s. Before this time, most movies were shot in a 1.33:1 aspect ratio.
  • Today, most movies are projected in one of two aspect ratios: the 1.85:1 (standard) and the 2.35:1 (widescreen).
  • In the traditional visual arts, frame dimensions are governed by the nature of the subject matter.  The frame selects and delimits the subject, editing out all irrelevancies and presenting us with only a ‘piece’ of reality
  • The materials included within a shot are unified by the frame, which in effect imposes order on them—the order that art carves out of the chaos of reality.
  • The frame is thus essentially an isolating device, a technique that permits the director to confer special attention on what might be overlooked in a wider context.
  • The movie frame can function as a metaphor for other types of enclosures.
  • Certain areas within the frame can suggest symbolic ideas. Each of the major sections of the frame—centre, top, bottom, and edges—can be exploited for such symbolic and metaphoric purposes.
  • The central portions of the screen are generally reserved for the most important visual elements. This area is instinctively regarded by most people as the intrinsic centre of interest.
  • The area near the top of the frame can suggest ideas dealing with power, authority, and aspiration. A person placed here seems to control all the visual elements below, and for this reason, authority figures are often photographed in this manner.
  • The areas near the bottom of the frame tend to suggest opposite meanings from the top: subservience, vulnerability, and powerlessness. Objects and figures placed in these positions seem to be in danger of slipping out of the frame entirely.
  • The left and right edges of the frame tend to suggest insignificance, because these are the areas farthest removed from the center of the screen. Objects and figures placed near the edges are literally close to the darkness outside the frame.
  • In some instances a director places the most important visual elements completely off frame.
  • Especially when a character is associated with darkness, mystery, or death, this technique can be highly effective, for the audience is most fearful of what it cannot see.
  • Two other off-frame areas can be exploited for symbolic purposes: the space behind the set and the space in front of the camera.
  • The areas in front of the camera can also create unsettling effects of this sort.

Composition and Design:

  • When a visual artist wants to stress a lack of equilibrium, many of the standard conventions of classical composition are deliberately violated.
  • In movies a variety of techniques can be used to convey the same ideas and emotions. The dramatic context is usually the determining factor in composition.
  • The human eye automatically attempts to harmonize the formal elements of a composition into a unified whole. The eye can detect as many a seven or eight major elements of a composition simultaneously. The director accomplishes attraction through the use of a dominant contrast, also known as the dominant. The dominant is that area of an image that immediately attracts our attention because of a conspicuous and compelling contrast. It stands out in some kind of isolation from the other elements within the image.
  • Movement is usually an automatic dominant contrast, if the other elements in the image are stationary. Movement tends to be less distracting in the longer shots and highly conspicuous in the closer ranges.
  • The upper part of the composition is heavier than the lower.
  • Isolated figures and objects tend to be heavier than those in a cluster. Sometimes one object—merely by virtue of its isolation—can balance a whole group of otherwise equal objects.
  • Psychological experiments have revealed that certain lines suggest directional movements. Although vertical and horizontal lines seem to be visually at rest, if movement is perceived, horizontal lines tend to move from left to right, vertical lines from bottom to top. Diagonal oblique lines are more dynamic—that is, in transition. They sweep upward
  • Throughout the ages, artists have especially favoured S and X shapes, triangular designs, and circles.
  • These designs are often used simply because they are thought to be inherently beautiful.
  • Design is generally fused with a thematic idea, at least in the best movies.


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