What the hell is mise en scene and why is it important to filmmaking?
If you're just starting to study the craft of filmmaking you've probably come across a strange word you've never seen before: mise en scene.
This French term, which translates to "placing on stage", is used to describe the design elements of a frame, or as one of my film professors says, "everything within the frame that makes up the frame," and she meant everything. This includes lighting, wardrobe, camera placement, camera angle, props, blocking, lenses, even film stock—literally everything—I mean it.
The definition could also be "the look and feel" of the movie. How do those elements come together to create a 'feeling', or better yet... an experience?
Why should you know about, or even think about mise en scene?
Because it'll make you a complete filmmaker. This is one of those things that doesn't require you to spend money. It just requires you to think holistically about your creative process, and the end result.
Admittedly, it can feel like a convoluted and overly-complicated concept to understand, but it's necessary to look at what your camera is capturing from a wider perspective. In other words, it's a concept that helps you look at the shot as a whole, not just with the cinematographic elements (lighting, camera angle, etc.), character elements (blocking, wardrobe, etc.), or set design (props, decor, etc.) alone.
The best thing you can do with this concept is bringing awareness to each element you put on the screen, and how it affects the end result.
Before we get to the big infographic from ShoHawk, let's break things down into smaller pieces and provide some resources focusing on those.
Elements of Mise en Scene
One of the biggest and most obvious elements are the shots themselves. This complete guide on 50+ camera angles, shots, and movements is a perfect place to start.
Next up let's talk about...
Mastering a film color palette can make you a better filmmaker. It's just that simple. When it comes to mise en scene, choices about color will inform every aspect of the process. From lighting to art department to VFX.
Here is a taste of the bigger picture just to get you thinking about how your choices change an audience's experience on an emotional and psychological level:
Color and camera angles also have a pretty big role in your
There are at least 13 film lighting techniques every filmmaker should know.
Use this infographic and our other tools in that link to help you get a sense of the keys to lighting.
One more department that directly affects the mise en scene is art. A production designer will make sure everything in the frame matches the goals of the director and the project. Good versions of this mean being on the same page and using this to tell the story.
Sometimes we get into the trap of thinking that great production design means lavish wardrobe, costume made props, and large scale builds. This is not necessarily the case. The DIY approach is increasingly effective. But don't forget that even on some of the largest projects with money to spend there will be tough limitations that necessitate creative approaches.
To get a better grasp and use it to make your content better, check out this helpful, and very detailed infographic created by Michael and Christopher of ShoHawk that details 15 of its most important concepts.
Putting it together
Remember this isn't about the individual elements, it's about how they harmonize to create the mood and story. That's why we'll finally take a look at this bad boy:
[And for the record, it's pronounced "meez-on-sen"...or mēz ˌän ˈsen for all of you dictionary nerds.]
To learn more about mise-en-scene, be sure to check out ShoHawk's blog post here.