Analyzing Mise En Scène


  • In the best movies, settings are not merely backdrops for the action but symbolic extensions of the theme and characterization.
  • Settings can convey an immense amount of information, whether they are specially constructed in a studio or filmed on location.
  • In set design, as in other aspects of movies, the terms realism and formalism are simply convenient critical labels.
  • Spectacle films usually require the most elaborate sets.
  • Expressionistic sets are usually created in the studio, where the contaminations of reality cannotpenetrate. Magic, not realism is the aim.
  • Expressionistic sets appeal to our sense of the marvelous.
  • What matters in a setting is how it embodies the essence of the story materials and the artistic visionof the filmmaker.
  • The set must present the character before he has even appeared. It must indicate his social position, his tastes, his habits, his lifestyle, his personality. The set must be intimately linked with the action.
  • Settings can also be used to suggest a sense of progression in the characters.
  • A film can fragment a set into a series of shots, now emphasizing one aspect of a room, later another; depending on the needs of the director in finding the appropriate visual analogues for thematic and psychological ideas.
  • Even the furniture of a room can be exploited for psychological and thematic reasons.


  • Space is the medium of communication, and the way we respond to objects and people within a given area is a constant source of information in life as well as movies.
  • In virtually any social situation, we receive and give signals relating to our use of space and those people who share it.
  • Most of us are not particularly conscious of this medium, but we instinctively become alerted whenever we feel that certain social conventions about space are being violated.
  • Several psychologists and anthropologists have explored these and related questions. Their findings are especially revealing in terms of how space is used in cinema.
  • Territories also have a spatial hierarchy of power. That is, the most dominant organism of a community is literally given more space, whereas the less dominant are crowded together.
  • The amount of space an organism occupies is generally proportional to the degree of control it enjoys within a given territory.
  • Space is one of the principal media of communication in film. The way people are arranged in space can tell us a lot about their social and psychological relationships.
  • Dominance is defined contextually in film, not necessarily the way it is perceived in real life.
  • The movie frame is also a kind of territory, though a temporary one, existing only for the duration of the shot. The space is shared within the frame is one of the major tools of the director, who can define, adjust, and redefine human relationships by exploiting spatial conventions.
  • An actor can be photographed in any of 5 basic positions, each conveying different psychological undertones: 1) full front; 2) the quarter turn; 3) profile; 4) the tree-quarter turn; and 4) back to camera.
    • Full front position:
      • Is the most intimate—the character is looking in our direction, inviting our complicity.
      • In most cases, actors ignore the camera—ignore us—yet our privileged position allows us to observe them when their defenses are down.
    • Quarter turn:
      • Is the favoured position of most filmmakers, as it provides a high degree of intimacy but with less emotional involvement than the full-front position.
      • The profile is more remote
      • The character seems unaware of being observed, lost in his or her own thoughts.
      • More anonymous
      • Useful for conveying a character’s unfriendly or antisocial feelings, since in effectthe character is partially turning his or her back on us, rejecting our interest.
      • When a character has his or her back to the camera, we can only guess what is taking place internally. This position is often used to suggest a character’s alienation from the world. It is useful in conveying a sense of concealment,mystery.
  • The amount of open space within the territory of the frame can be exploited for symbolic purposes.
  • Generally, the closer the shot, the more confined the photographed figures appear to be. Such shots are usually said to have tight framing.
  • Conversely, the longer shots with loose framing tend to suggest freedom.
  • Often a director can suggest ideas of entrapment by exploiting perfectly neutral objects and lines onthe set. When figures are framed within a frame in this manner, a sense of confinement is usually emphasized.
  • Territorial space within a frame can be manipulated with considerable psychological complexity.
  • When a figure leaves the frame, the camera can adjust to this sudden vacuum in the composition bypanning slightly to make allowances for a new balance of weights.


  • Imply the spatial relationships among characters within a frame.
  • Can be influenced by surroundings such as noise, light, and/or character emotions. (e.g. Lack of light, noise, and danger tend to make people move closer together).
  • Four major Proxemic patterns:
    • Intimate distances
      • Intimate distances range from skin contact to about half a metre away (physical involvement).
      • Portrays a level of love, comfort, and tenderness among people who are familiar with each other.
      • A level of suspicion, discomfort, and hostility will exist among strangers. This would be called intrusive rather than intimate.
    • Personal distances
      • From half a metre to a metre away. Individuals can touch if necessary; they are about an arm’s-length apart.
      • Tend to be for friends and/or acquaintances since they maintain adequate privacy among two individuals.
    • Social distances
      • Range from a metre to 4 metres away.
      • Common for impersonal business and causal social gatherings in which there are more than 3 people.
      • Personal distances among 2 individuals of a social group would be considered rude/unforthcoming.
    • Public distances
      • Range from 4 to 8 metres (or more).
      • Tends to be formal rather than detached.
      • Important public figures are generally seen from a public distance
      • Displays of emotion are considered bad form at these distances since a considerable amount of space is involved; therefore, characters must exaggerate their gestures and raise their voices to be understood clearly.
  • Each proxemic distance has an equivalent camera angle. Intimate distances can be likened to close and extreme close range shots. The personal distance is approximately a medium close range. The social distances correspond to the medium and full shot ranges. Finally, the public distances are roughly within the long and extreme long shot ranges.
  • Social context is a determining factor in proxemic patterns. For example, on a crowded bus, people are at intimate range but still maintain a public attitude. However, if a stranger were to stand next to us in an open space, we would involuntarily step away. The same would apply in a classroom or in a public washroom. Strangers often do not sit/stand next to each other; instead they leave a space in between.
  • Distances affect audience emotions. For example, in a close up shot, we would feel an intimate relationship with the character, or we could feel hatred towards him/her if that person were to be the antagonist of the film (this would be the intrusive distance). Hence, the audience would be more emotionally involved at an intimate range rather than a public range (e.g. If we see at a close range a person slipping on a banana peel, it would not be as humorous if we were to see it at a long range distance because we would be more concerned about the persons safety).


  • No movie is either completely open or completely closed in form. These two forms are loosely related to the concepts of realism (generally open forms) and formalism (generally closed forms).
  • Open Form
    • Rather simple techniques; they emphasizes informal, unobtrusive compositions.
    • Objects within the frame are not planned out in advance. Instead, they are randomly composed on the spot by a camera operator – known as Aleatory Techniques.
    • Make us aware that reality extends beyond the films frame. The frame is deemphasized, implying that more important information lies outside the composition.
    • Directors tend to favour panning the camera across the setting in order to show the continuity of the outside frame. Thus, the dramatic action on the screen leads the camera to where it will go next.
    • Formal beauty is sacrificed for truth in open forms
  • Closed Form
    • Images are rich in textural contrasts and compelling visual effects; they are more densely saturated with visual information.
    • Emphasize a more stylized design, where objects and figures are more precisely placed within a frame.
    • Shots are carefully constructed within the frame so that elements outside the frame are irrelevant. Thus, the camera anticipates the dramatic action – known as anticipatory camera – and therefore, the characters do not make the important decisions as to what happens next in the film, the camera does.
    • Truth is sacrificed for beauty in closed forms.


  1. Dominant – Where is out eye attracted first? Why?
  2. Lighting key – Is it high key? Low key? High contrast? Some combination of these?
  3. Shot and camera proxemics – What type of shot? How far away is the camera from the action?
  4. Angle – Are we (and the camera) looking up at or down on the subject? Or is the camera neutral (eye level)?
  5. Colour values – What is the dominant colour? Are there contrasting foils? Is there colour symbolism?
  6. Lens/filter/stock – How do these distort or comment on the photographed materials?
  7. Subsidiary contrasts – What are the main eye-stops after taking in the dominant?
  8. Density – How much visual information is packed into the image? Is the texture bare, moderate, or highly detailed?
  9. Composition – How is the two-dimensional space segmented and organized? What is the underlying design?
  10. Form – Is it open or closed? Does the image suggest a window that arbitrarily isolates a fragment of the scene? Or is it a proscenium arch, in which the visual elements are carefully arranged and held in balance?
  11. Framing – Is it tight or loose? Do the characters have no room to move around? Or can they move freely without obstruction?
  12. Depth – On how many planes is the image composed? Does the background or foreground comment in any way on the midground?
  13. Character placement – What part of the framed space do the characters occupy? Center? Top? Bottom? Edges? Why?
  14. Staging positions – Which way do the characters look vis-à-vis the camera?
  15. Character proxemics – How much space is there between the characters?


  1. Exterior or interior. If the set is an exterior; how does nature function as a symbolic analogue to the mood, theme, or characterization?
  2. Style. Is the set realistic and lifelike, or is it stylized and deliberately distorted? Is it in a particular style, such as colonial American, art deco, or sleek contemporary?
  3. Studio or Location. If the set is an actual location, why was it chosen? What does it say about the characters?
  4. Period. What era does the set represent?
  5. Class. What is the apparent income level of the owners?
  6. Size. How large is the set? Rich people tend to take up more space than the poor; who are usuallycrowded in their living area?
  7. Decoration. How is the set furnished? Are there any status symbols, oddities of taste, and so forth?
  8. Symbolic Function. What kind of overall image does the set and its furnishings project?