Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Mise-en-scene practical task


Mise-en-scene is one of the 4 technical areas you're asked to analyse for the TV drama exam question, and is also of course a key part of your coursework planning. For this exercise we'll be working mainly without sound.

You're tasked with thinking up an idea for a brief sequence (30-60secs) to open a film - within any genre you like - relying on shot selection and mise-en-scene to communicate your idea to the audience; pitching your idea to the class; whoever can attract a team to shoot their idea then produces the opening with this team on Friday/over the weekend for rapid editing and screening early next week. We will look at several openings in class time.

If you're unclear on any aspect of this, including the many terms used below, ask in class!!!

The Terminator spoke just 17 words in the original film
In essence, this task is simple: plan and shoot material for a 30-60sec sequence which will provide exposition for the audience on various aspects of the narrative. However, you must achieve this with no more than 17 words, without music, and rely primarily on your selection and manipulation of mise-en-scene to achieve this.
Why 17 words? This is how many words were used by the antagonist in the entirety of one of the most iconic sci-fi/action movies, James Cameron's early breakthrough film, who is now a politician in California. So its actually quite a generous number!
You will each come up with a pitch, outlining and selling your idea to the class in no more than 30 seconds (you will be timed!), hoping to convince several to sign up to your creative vision in a cut-throat free market of blue-sky thinking...

Make sure your idea is achievable!!! 

Your scene should be designed to be part of a film opening; don't worry about not squeezing in all the detail an audience needs to grasp the full narrative; you would most likely need more than the permitted 30-60secs to do this.
(A 'pitch' is an occasion when film producers briefly summarize their proposal for a film to busy film company executives, in the hope of attracting funding for production and/or distribution. Many small British companies and filmmakers will pre-sell distribution rights to their film to European countries in order to fund production. It is always a sales pitch!)
Read more on pitching: hubpages.com guide; actor Peter Capaldi; wiki; ehow.com.  

In the filmed piece you will be aiming to enable your audience to understand and recognise the following aspects of your narrative:
  1. setting: time period (give consideration to zeitgeist)
  2. setting: place/location
  3. character/s: an/protagonist; Proppian archetypes?
  4. (dis-)equilibrium; perhaps some foreshadowing of how the narrative will develop
  5. genre/s (perhaps a hybrid genre, or a sub-genre?)
  6. also: which props/items/details provide verisimilitude?
When thinking about equilibrium you are also thinking about character/s: what is their situation? Their age? Where do they live? Are they popular (jocks?) or outsiders (nerds?!) for example? Live at home? Single? Have job? Hobbies?! Nursing a broken heart/popular with the ladies/lads? Provide some idea in addition to 'this is the good/bad guy'!

The hope is that we will have 3 or 4 groups in each class, with filming taking place on Friday/weekend.

Mise-en-scene incorporates clothing/costume; hair + make-up; objects and props; location in general: house, trees ...
Think about how John Carpenter uses a detached house to signify a sense of vulnerability and isolation, even in the middle of a nice suburban neighbourhood - the inclusion of trees, and the shadows they cast, is an important factor in selecting this particular house for the opening scene of Halloween (1978). Small details also count: the chair on the porch and the pumpkin lantern; the old-fashioned clock and the candles on the table ... and then there's the boyfriend putting his top back on, visual shorthand for 'sex has just taken place'!
In Bride of Chucky (Ronny Yu, 1998) we get a range of details denoting police force before we get to see the victim in full (costume and props within this to provide verisimilitude ... plus a police car!). The smaller details you can replicate: labels stating 'evidence' for example. We also pan across a range of objects (eg Jason mask) in the evidence locker which clearly signify slasher, the more supernatural end of slasher, to the audience (provided they have enough familiarity with these films to be able to follow the preferred reading [Stuart Hall's concept], which relies on intertextual references). Then there's the nightime setting, lighting, weather, use of low and dutch angles...

Last word on pitching...
Most of you will be familiar with The Apprentice, which seems to feature a bunch of cretins proving how awful they are at business and dealing with human beings. Each week they have to pitch to sell some product ... and thats exactly what you're doing: selling your idea. Here's an example from The Apprentice:

And here's a satire on pitching - NB: contains some strong language

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