List of Formal Elements
FORMAL ELEMENTS TO LOOK FOR & WRITE ABOUT IN YOUR ESSAYS
• How does the filmmaker set up, shape and resolve a viewer’s expectations
• Three types of active participation: are you in suspense about FUTURE events, curious about the PAST, or surprised by what happens?
• How does the filmmaker resolve your expectation: satisfy it, suspend it for awhile, undercut it with a surprise, disturb it with a shock
• Are there any signification patterns?
• Are there any motifs (significant, repeated images, phrases etc. that reveal deeper meaning)? Parallels or contrasts?
• Types of meaning: referential, explicit, implicit, symptomatic — and how meaning is different from the subject matter of a film
• Differences between STORY and PLOT – and more importantly, how the director turns the film’s STORY into a PLOT
• Playing with PLOT through TIME – manipulating the order, duration and frequency of story events to turn them into a plot
• Playing with PLOT through NARRATION – manipulating WHO we get story events through, and HOW DEEPLY into that person we go …
o restricted vs. unrestricted narration: one character’s point of view or bounce between many characters’ stories?
o objective vs. subjective narration: see only what the character is doing/saying, or going inside their head through flashbacks, dream sequences?
(Note: don’t write about character, dialogue, metaphor, allegory, etc. – save these things for an English class)
• Set design
• SIGNIFICANT props – that really influence the story – or that become motifs
• Costumes – do they coordinate with the setting? – with the colour scheme? – what do they express about the characters?
• Hair and make-up: three purposes – and which expressive qualities do they accentuate? BE SPECIFIC!
• Compositions – rule of thirds, balanced vs. unbalanced, frontality (and frontality denied), deep space, shallow space
• Performance – naturalistic vs. stylized? How does the performance help express the meaning of the film?
• Lighting – available light or supplied light?, three-point lighting, high-key vs. low-key, hard vs. soft, direction of light, intensity of light
• Colour schemes
• Film tone: contrast, exposure, filters, tinting
• Frame rate / film speeds – only if it’s significant! Standard frame rate isn’t worth mentioning in your essay
• Camera lens: telephoto, medium, wide-angle, zoom
• Depth of field: deep focus vs. shallow focus, rack focus
• Framing choices: camera angle, height, level, distance, movements
o WHAT DO THESE FRAMING CHOICES DO FOR YOU AS A VIEWER? How do they affect how you interpret the character, the story, the meaning of the films?
• Any special effects done through cinematography? Superimposition, rear projection, visual effects (CGI)
• Types of transitions: cut, dissolve, wipe, fade in or fade out, fade to black or white
• Continuity editing: graphic, spatial, temporal, rhythmic – THESE THINGS MAY SUPPORT THE MEANING more than transitions
• Match cut, eyeline match cut, shot-reverse-shot – think about WHY these are used!
• Jump cut
• The 180 degree rule – is it broken? How? Why?
• Long take – why let a shot go on and on, not use edits?
• How does sound help tell the story? Shape our feelings towards certain characters?
• Sound properties: loudness, pitch, timbre, rhythm, fidelity
• Diegetic vs non-diegetic sound: can the characters hear the sound? Then it’s DIEGETIC!
• Sound mixing: where are sounds coming from in your headphones/speakers? Surround sound? Does where the sound is placed guide your attention to something onscreen?
• Synchronous vs. non-synchronous sound mixing: does the sound match the action onscreen? Then it’s SYNCHRONOUS! Do you hear the sound and then see the action? Or the other way around? Then it’s NON-SYNCHRONOUS!
• Sound perspective: who are we paying attention to sounds THROUGH? Types of narration – subjective vs. objective, restricted vs. unrestricted
• HOW are sounds organized across the scene/film? What patterns are formed? How do they reinforce aspects of overall form of film?
• What purposes are fulfilled and what effects are achieved by the way sound is manipulated in this film?
• Which genre does this film fall into?
• How can you tell? Which CONVENTIONS can you identify?
• How does the film’s genre shape your expectations about what will happen in film? How does the filmmaker resolve your expectations? Do they do anything new or innovative with the genre? Mix genres? Use a sub-genre? How does that affect your response or feelings towards the characters? How does it affect your interpretation of the MEANING of the film?
Expressionism, Neorealism, New Wave
• How can you tell if a film is expressionist, neorealist or New Wave?
• Which specific formal elements are found in films from these movements?
• What typically happens in these films? How does that relate to GENRE? To MEANING?