While the casual moviegoer and video watcher may not distinctly remember the editing or camera movements after watching a film or video production, their most vivid memories of the content often come from the mise-en-scene. What is the mise-en-scene?
First applied in theater direction, it translates to “putting into the scene,” and refers to a combination of aspects that, together, allow the film or videomaker to accentuate the action and engage the audience in a very specific way.
In film and video production, mise-en-scene includes everything that appears in the frame from the setting, lighting, costume and makeup to the staging and performance, and while it may sound like a lot to take in, trust us, it has too much potential powerful to fail to use to your advantage.
Setting and Lighting
Mise-en-scene can be used to achieve realism by giving settings an organic, authentic look, thus allowing the actors within them to feel and perform more naturally, or it can be used to fabricate completely unreal, fantasy worlds.
Once early film pioneer George Melies realized this, he built one of the first actual film studios precisely for the enhanced control it would give him over the setting, lighting, and mise-en-scene. And everyone pretty much followed his lead after, hence studio filmmaking.
But you don’t have to build a set to manipulate the setting and mise-en-scene. For instance, you can use a brightly lit and/or colorful setting for a scene, perhaps a real location, to overwhelm the actor and concentrate the attention on the surroundings.
Or you may want to leave the setting very dark yet the actors perfectly visible to do just the opposite, keeping the audience’s focus on the actors and their performances and the setting barely visible.
There are so many more ways to alter the mise-en-scene with light, whether it’s via high-key and low-key lighting, colored light, etc., and for some more general info, check out this post, Basic Lighting Tips and Terms for Your Next Video Production.
You can also dress the setting in different colors to accentuate certain areas of the frame or actions, or to support the narrative, or you can use various props to do the same or to create motifs.
Costume and Makeup
Costumes can be used in a variety of ways, whether to support the narrative, focus audience attention, as motifs, for purely visual reasons, etc., all of which will have a discernible effect on the mise-en-scene.
For instance, like mentioned above you can keep the surrounding setting dim or dark and then use brightly colored costumes on the actors to help them stand out rather than solely lighting, or you can just make the two contrast.
You can also do the opposite, keeping both the setting and the costumes similarly colored so that everything in the frame kind of blends together, if that aligns with the nature of your video production and your objectives for it, of course.
And you can manipulate the makeup on your actors in much the same way that you can their costumes. Yes, makeup is obviously still used to create more authentic-looking characters, whether they’re historical or period figures, aged, etc., but that’s not all it can do to alter the mise-en-scene.
You can also use makeup to accentuate certain expressive qualities of actors’ faces, for instance, or to draw attention to their eyes and emphasize the direction of their glances.
Staging and Performance
From there, the actors will also affect the mise-en-scene through their visual elements and sound, and while realism is often the goal of an actor’s performance, it’s not always the primary mission, nor the right one.
After all, if the actors’ performances are part of the mise-en-scene and the mise-en-scene may not always be intended to heighten the sense of realism in the film or video, then why should the actors aim to do it?
Think of wacky comedies, for example, fantasy films, or melodramas. The point of these kinds of content isn’t to recreate the real world but to create a different one altogether, one that better suits the narrative.
So, in cases like those, the actors’ performances should follow suit, and their bodies will also play a big role in those performances, from how they walk, stand and sit to how they take a drag of a cigarette.
The point is that the characters who appear in the frame, how they’re positioned within it, and the way they behave and talk will all affect the mise-en-scene, too, so try to keep as much control over all that as possible.
Think like Tarantino on your next film or video production.
Now, there’s more to manipulating the mise-en-scene than that. For instance, we haven’t even mentioned using the camera to convey emotion, but this should give you an idea of the power of mise-en-scene and how to start using it to your advantage.
To see it all in action, we thought we’d break down this scene from Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds in which the director made brilliant use of mise-en-scene to carefully shape the viewing experience.
As you can see in the clip below, Tarantino keeps the setting dark to accentuate the actors and action, and the lighting and costumes clearly place more emphasis on Christoph Waltz’s Colonel Hans Landa, concentrating the viewer’s attention there.
His performance is more boisterous than Brad Pitt’s in the scene as well, both in his dialogue and mannerisms, drawing more attention to it.
About Us: KVibe Productions, a New York/New Jersey full-service film & video production company, can handle every aspect of the production process. Whether it’s a commercial, corporate video, or a feature film, etc., at KVibe, we always create to inspire.