Artistic Elements | Mise en Scene

Mise en Scene, from French, means something like "Arranging the scene". Essentially this is the name given to the design and arranging of the frame. This generally includes the locations design, props, and also design of actors clothing and additional props that provide information about the film's characters.

A film watcher's first perception of the film he is watching is usually the location where the first scene occurs, or the outer appearance of the character taking part in the opening of the scene. This first impression (if you will), can provide watchers with a wealth of information regarding the character and the location, without that information having to be "spoken". On a higher level, this information can be used as a subtext, to enhance the ideas the film is trying to make.

For instance, when we first meet Barton in the Coen brother's Barton Fink, he is celebrating in a New-York bar (I think). Before he even says a word, we have already read a wealth of information - the time span when the film is taking place, first details regarding our hero's tidiness and maybe even his profession, and of course about the places he likes to frequent.

Each discipline of Mise en Scene encompasses tools that may be used to enhance the film. The following examples give a certain idea as to how this works:


Character DressDress provides lots of information about a character's job, behaviour, status, and many other details.
In the opening sequence of "the Big Chill", we "meet" each one of Alex's friends, the scene cuts from one friend to another. One of the main sources of information regarding the characters is their dress - whether it is a tidy v-neck sweater, a tailored woman's business suit, or an unkempt jacket. Each friend is categorized, even though in broad lines, by he's choice and use of clothes.
Additional PropsProps complete a characters dress by adding more particular detail and refining our picture of the character.
Continuing the example of "the Big Chill" opening sequence. The second clue to each of the characters personality is the things they keep at home. Be it the two piece built-in stove, or the bottle of pills in the Porsche.
SpeechThe way a character speaks, dialect, accent, vocabulary and the level of language, provides additional information about the character which is added to the dialogue, in providing a picture of who the character is.
and moreThere are many different things that can be used in this manner - the limit is only the director and scriptwriters creativity in working with the set and costume designers.


Location ArchitectureThe basic architecture of a location, be it a house, hangar, or a beach, is very similar in it's functionality to a character's dress. It provides a lot of information about the persons that fit in it, and sometimes even about what is most likely to take place (eg. the ubiquitous factory shootdown).
In David Fincher's Se7en, the locations of the victims deaths are always the most fittingly designed location for the person - if it is the tiny dark broken down shack of the Glutton, the shiny lawyers office of the Greedy or the white, fancy bedroom of the Proud.
Interior DesignBeyond the general level of what the actual location is, the locations actual design, layout, and selection of style, provides another refrence point that allows us to learn more about the location and the related charachter.
Staying with the seven example, John Doe's (the killer) room, beautifully designed by the movies design team, portrays the killers mind in a geographical representation. Combined with the camera movement, the walls create a segmented space, where people, are cut off from each other, and two sides of one room seem to be seen. A complex space, hard to comprehend, just like Doe's mind...
Additional PropsLike characters, locations are also a sum of their parts. Props can add additional information about what this specific location is, and about the person it belongs to.
Also in John Doe's room (still in Se7en) The meticulously documented notebooks are an example of how extra elements can relate and enhance our understanding of both the character itself, and the space they are found in. The visual representation of Doe's deeds, helps press the terrible implications through a more emotional experience rather than the logical approach the detectives use.
and more...

Creation Phases
These are the stages that bring a film from idea to existence
Artistic Elements
These are the words of the cinematic language
From the idea to the script Mise en Scene
From the script to the storyboard Acting and Directing
On the set Photography and Lighting
Mayhem (also known as post production) Sound and Music
- Editing

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This page last modified on - Friday, August 14, 1998.