We've all gotten into a debate about a movie with our friends. One says it sucks, another says it's great, and they go back and forth. If your friends are anything like mine, it probably gets personal after that.

But that's not the way it should go.

If you want to work in Hollywood, be a critic, or make films or TV shows, you should know how to speak about them in an educated way.

Late last year, I went on a rant about how important media literacy was to your film and TV career, and I'm back to tell you about this incredible course I watched FOR FREE on YouTube. It helped me in my ongoing journey to understand how to write and talk about filmmaking.

It's from video essayist Patrick (H) Willems, and it's spectacular. Over about 90 minutes, he takes you through the ins and outs of the process, theories, and coherent ways to make an argument.

Check out this amazing video from Willems, and let's talk after.

Key Areas of Film Analysis

  • Mise-en-Scène: Everything you see within the frame of the shot. This includes:
    • Lighting (how a scene is lit)
    • Setting (location and décor)
    • Props (objects with significance)
    • Costumes and makeup
    • Actor movement and blocking (how they are positioned and move)
  • Cinematography: The technical choices behind the camera:
    • Camera angles (high, low, tilted, etc.)
    • Shot types (close-up, wide shot, long take, etc.)
    • Camera movement (pans, zooms, tracking shots, etc.)
    • Focus (what's sharp, what's blurry)
  • Editing: How shots are assembled:
    • Types of cuts (fades, jump cuts, etc.)
    • Rhythm and pacing of editing
    • Montage (stringing shots together to create meaning)
  • Sound: Everything you hear:
    • Dialogue
    • Sound effects
    • Music (both score and existing songs)
  • Narrative: The story and its construction:
    • Plot structure
    • Characters and their development
    • Themes
  • Steps For Analyzing Films

  • Active Viewing: Watch the film mindfully. Take notes on things that catch your interest - shots, use of music, a recurring object, etc. Watch it multiple times if possible!
  • Identify Your Focus: After watching, choose a specific element or a few elements you want to analyze further. This could be a theme you noticed, a particular camera technique, or how sound builds suspense, etc.
  • Gather Evidence: Rewatch with your focus in mind. Collect specific examples: a particular shot, a line of dialogue, a musical motif.
  • Form Your Thesis: What are you trying to argue about the film? How do your chosen elements contribute to this overall idea?
  • Build Your Argument: Use your evidence to support your thesis. Analyze individual examples, and then connect them to the broader meaning you've identified.
  • Types of Film Analysis

  • Formalist: Focuses on the technical elements (cinematography, editing, sound, etc.) and how they create meaning.
  • Narrative: Examines the story, characters, and themes of the film.
  • Ideological: Looks at how a film reflects or challenges social, political, or cultural ideas.
  • Psychoanalytic: Explores unconscious desires or symbolism within the film.
  • Cultural/Historical: Investigates the film within its historical, social, and cultural context.
  • Learn Film Analysis With This Cheat Sheet

    What I loved about that video was how it guided you through ways to break down and study a movie. It's not just about pot or characters but about the choices the filmmakers made in everything from lenses to music to the very genre of the plot.

    If you watch that video, there's not much more for me to explain - Willems does it much better than I could. But I drew up a little cheat sheet for you if you wanted to practice analyzing films and TV shows at home. I use these whenever I write about film here.

    And I hope it helps you too.

    Tips for Analyzing a Movie or TV Show:

    1. Plot: Examine the storyline, conflicts, and themes presented.
    2. Character Development: Evaluate the characters, their motivations, and how they change over time.
    3. Cinematography: Analyze the visual style, camera angles, and lighting.
    4. Sound: Consider the soundtrack, sound effects, and dialogue.
    5. Direction: Evaluate the director's choices, such as shot composition and pacing.
    6. Acting: Assess the performances of the actors, particularly regarding their characters.
    7. Historical Context: Analyze the film in the context of the time period in which it was made.
    8. Cultural Significance: Consider the impact of the film on society and culture.
    9. Personal Response: Reflect on your thoughts, feelings, and opinions about the film.

    Remember, the goal is to develop a critical and nuanced understanding of the film. Avoid making overly simplistic or subjective evaluations.

    The point of art is not only to explore someone else's vision but also to dig into your own. What does the material make you feel? what can it help you understand? What can you discover about yourself?

    Leave your tips and tricks for film analysis in the comments.