Exploration of Film Study 8
For the past two weeks we have been watching and analyzing Elder In The Making for techniques in a documentary film. From here we will compare and contrast a feature film based on fiction to find differences and similarities that may exist.
In between these two, a time will be spent filming our own short introduction to a documentary film.
After becoming familiar with the key terms associated with film studies, our class has looked at film introductions and the national film board. We are now preparing to start our first film study and will be looking at Elder in the Making, a film by Calgarian Chris Hsiung. Stay tuned for note taking sheets and updates as we progress through it.
Today we are looking at some key terminology essential to dissect films. After looking at the vocabulary, we are applying it in quiz form to ensure that we can utilize the examples that will arise as we move forward.
The intent of gaining this background knowledge is to enable us to dissect potions of films from the National Film Board in our coming class. Students will be watching introductions to an assortment of self-selected films before they analyze one to two beginning sequences. From this activity, we will branch off into filming our own short film introduction with techniques studied and discussed in our first weeks.
It should be a great start to Film 8 and, with our road map, we will be well into the semester before we know it!
In looking at starting this course, I stumbled upon some great concepts that demonstrate some key skills that we will utilize. Prior to watching our first film, it is essential that we understand what we should be looking for so that we are active participants in the cinematic experience. The following guidelines are a fantastic place to begin:
Handout: How to “Read” a Film
We are used to watching films purely for entertainment. When we watch in this way, we are mostly passive observers of the action, not really thinking much beyond our feelings and impressions of what is on the screen. As scholars, though, we have to be more diligent in how we treat a film. A film is something we can read just as carefully and consciously as a book or poem. Thus, the first step to being a good film reader is to watch with pen and notebook (or writing journal) in hand, jotting down notes as you watch the film. This will give you specific things to talk about in our class discussions and when you write your essays. Here are some things to look for when “reading” (not watching!) a film:
-The first important thing to do when you watch a film is to not merely pay attention to the story, plot, and characters, but to how they are presented by the camera. We tend to think of film as “realistic” because the medium renders people and objects in such a life-like detail. Remember, we as an audience can only see what the camera’s “eye” shows us, and that nearly everything we see on the screen is manipulated by the director and others who make the film. So, pay careful attention to how the director “sets up” a shot in any given scene:
-Is the director using a long shot, a medium shot, a close up, or an extreme close up? Is the shot taken from a high angle, a low angle, or from eye level? Is the camera placed in an “objective” location, or does it represent the point of view of one of the characters? Does the camera move or does it stay in place? Is it handheld or stable?
-Consider also the composition of the scene. That is, how has the director arranged actors, objects, lighting, etc. to make the effect of the scene? Is there something implied going on off screen?
-Does the film utilize effects like voiceovers, text, direct addresses to the camera and other narrative devices? What is the effect of these devices?
-Pay attention to how the movie opens and ends. The first thing you see in a movie is the credits. What images are shown in these credits? How is music used to set the mood of the film?
-Editing: Most people do not pay attention to how a film is edited or how it cuts from shot to shot and scene to scene. This, though, is an important part of how film has an effect on an audience. Pay attention to whether the rhythm of the editing is fast or slow, does the director use long takes in a scene or does he/she divide the scene up with many short takes? Does the editing make for a unified and continuous effect (i.e., you don’t really notice it) or is it jarring or destabilizing? Does the editor/director use effects like fade in/fade out frequently?
-Consider the overall mood of the film as created by acting, music, lighting, sound effects, costumes, colors, sets, etc. (All of these things taken together is what film scholars call mise-en-scene, French for “put before the camera.”) These small details, all of which filmmakers often pay a great deal of attention to, often go unnoticed but play a crucial role in a film.
-Look for repetitions that cue you in to the things the director or writer thinks are important. Is there a recurring song, music, camera technique, special effect that adds meaning to the film? Just as when you read a book or play, pay attention to these repetitions.
-Finally, think about how your observations relate to the over-arching ideas, issues, and themes of the film. How do these particulars help your understanding of the whole?