Lights! Cameras! Action!

“You know how football coaches use a stop-action 16mm projector to study game films?” he asked me. “You can use that
approach to study films. Just pause the film and think about what you see.”

How do you read a movie? Roger Ebert`s How to read a movie talks about the simple ways you can study film. Movies are more than just moving pictures, you have to consider the setting of the scene, the lighting, the placement of the characters, the mood, the style of the director, and many other possibilities. Some would argue that half of a film is the scenery and the other half is the audio, but even with silent movies, you can examine the body actions of the characters and their facial expressions and still get a sense of the plot. Where are the characters standing? Where is the light falling? Who is doing what? These are just a few of the questions to think about when examining a scene.

The Ten Commandments, 1923, directed by Cecil B. DeMille

An easy way to examine a film is to just pause it at any point and examine what you are looking at and not just by yourself, but with an audience or friends or family, anyone you can have a good discussion with. 

“…visual compositions have “intrinsic weighting.” By that I believe he means that certain areas of the available visual space have tendencies to stir emotional or aesthetic reactions…I believe he means that certain areas of the available visual space have tendencies to stir emotional or aesthetic reactions.”

Just like in photography and design, we want to see and create images that are visually appealing. Certain shots and scenes are taken for that purpose. Certain people are placed either left, right, or center. Depending on the position, the character is either in a dominant position or objectified. 

Singin’ in the Rain, 1952, directed by Gene Kelly

Human eyes are naturally drawn to the right and dominant side. The human eye wants to make sense and organize what it sees, so it organizes all the information it receives any way it can. Not everything is absolute though, things exist to create tension, emotions, and feelings. You go in blind to a movie and then you examine it, watch it again it and examine it all over again and find something new. 

Reading and understanding a film takes time and practice. Some movies repeat certain themes and ideas, just as directors have a certain style to their movies. I have some experience with movie editing and I can relate to some of the examples given by Ebert. You want to consider the theme and purpose of your piece and then add edits accordingly.

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